What Is Hair-Pulling Disorder And How Can It Affect Your Life?

Updated March 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Living With A Mental Health Condition Can Complicate Life

If you experience hair-pulling disorder, you likely already know that it can affect your life significantly, whether by making it difficult to interact with others or feel in control of your behavior. It all comes down to how soon you should respond to solve the situation since not everyone is adept at dealing with the "pulling hair out causes". Because it is often connected to other mental illnesses, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hair-pulling disorder can be tough to completely manage on your own. In many cases, the compulsion to pull hair can be so strong that it can interfere with daily functioning. Fortunately, with the right support, it is typically possible to find relief from symptoms of hair-pulling disorder and become a more confident, happier version of yourself.

What Is Hair-Pulling Disorder?

Hair-pulling disorder, known formally as trichotillomania, is a mental health disorder that typically involves recurrent, intense urges to pull hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other parts of the body. Those experiencing hair-pulling disorder often find it difficult or even impossible to resist the overwhelming impulse to pull their hair, even if they want to. 

Someone with trichotillomania may  try to stop pulling hair on their many times, but the compulsions and impulses are often too strong to ignore. It's estimated that less than 2% of adolescents and adults live with this disorder, which may be why many people don't even know that it exists until they experience it firsthand.

Though it is generally focused on pulling hair out on the scalp, eyebrows or eyelids, trichotillomania can cause compulsive pulling of any body hair. It's often important to watch for the signs and symptoms of this disorder because it may lead to serious consequences if left untreated for too long. Excessive hair pulling can result in baldness, which may cause significant emotional distress and interfere an individual’s ability to function.

As a result, many people with trichotillomania may go to significant lengths to disguise their hair loss and other symptoms of the disorder, which can be a stressful and isolating experience.

The Symptoms Of Hair-Pulling Disorder

Perhaps the most obvious sign of hair-pulling disorder is the actual hair pulling itself. Those with the disorder may pick at their eyebrows, eyelashes, and scalp often. Also notable in many cases are the bald spots that may appear in these areas. 

As mentioned, someone living with trichotillomania may dedicate a lot of effort to trying to hide their behavior. They may feel a sense of guilt or shame that motivates them to withdraw from others, a tendency that often only exacerbates symptoms. The urge to cover up hair loss and hair-pulling habits in general might lead someone living with hair-pulling disorder to turn to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms, like excessive substance use, or lead to the development of mental health disorders. 

Understanding the intensity of the urges may that come with trichotillomania can be a key part of differentiating it from other mental health symptoms. Typically, an individual will feel a sense of tension or overwhelming anxiety right before they engage in the behavior, which may get stronger and stronger the longer they try to resist the impulse. 

As soon as they pull the hair, they might feel a sense of gratification or even a sense of pleasure that can feel intensely rewarding, though it’s often short-lived. This pattern is often cyclical, and the impulse to pull hair again may return soon after relief is found.

Other behaviors involving hair may also be commonplace for those experiencing  this disorder. They may play with their hair after they pull it out, eat it, examine it, chew on it or any number of other activities. 

By watching for any of these types of behaviors, it can be possible to encourage someone with this disorder to seek the help they may need to manage symptoms. 

Who Has Hair-Pulling Disorder?

While anyone can develop hair-pulling disorder, it's common for it to run in families, which means if someone in your immediate family has the disorder you may have a higher likelihood of developing it yourself. Knowing your risk may help you keep an eye out for symptoms yourself and learn to identify them in others who are close to you.

Additionally, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may experience trichotillomania as a manifestation of its symptoms. Because it's considered an impulse control disorder, trichotillomania can be tied to the anxiety that may occur as a result of OCD or similar mental illnesses. If you’re living with OCD, an anxiety disorder, or another condition that may produce heightened feelings of anxiety, it's possible that trichotillomania could be connected to it. 

Because of this, it can be important to watch for symptoms that don't fit with other disorders you've been diagnosed with, so you can be fully diagnosed or diagnosed properly.

Finally, those who experience high amounts of stress, even in the absence of a mental health diagnosis, may be susceptible to this disorder. For many who live with it, trichotillomania acts as a stress reliever. Pulling hair can feel like a way to express and let go of pent-up stress in the body; though it may temporarily relieve tension and offer an outlet for stress, this sort of behavior can quickly and easily spiral out of an individual’s control.  

Getting Help For Hair Pulling Disorder

Living With A Mental Health Condition Can Complicate Life

If you or someone you know show signs of hair-pulling disorder, it can be beneficial to speak with both a physician and a mental health professional, like a therapist. Seeking a medical opinion can help you make sure that the symptoms you're experiencing aren't the result of an underlying medical condition or side effects of medication you're taking. A mental health professional can help you understand what might be driving you to pull your hair, what you can do to halt the behavior, and other solutions that might help address underlying emotions in a healthier way.

Because hair-pulling disorder is considered a type of impulse control disorder and often coincides with other mental illnesses, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it may be difficult to manage symptoms on your own. Resources that make receiving care and support more accessible may be useful, especially if you’re not comfortable navigating traditional in-person treatment options. Online therapy may allow you to connect with a professional without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Current research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating symptoms of a variety of mental health disorders. In fact, one literature review analyzing the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) found that the treatment could significantly improve mental health symptoms related to conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, panic disorder, and more. Regardless of whether your hair pulling is connected to another mental illness, seeking the support of a professional may help you find relief from your symptoms and develop other long-term solutions.


Hair-pulling disorder, or trichotillomania, is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive and oftentimes uncontrollable pulling of hair on the face, scalp, or body. Though its symptoms can be challenging to manage and may require professional intervention, it is possible to take control of the urge to pull. Seeking out the guidance of a therapist and a physician, if necessary, can help set you on the path toward success.

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