In recent years, there has been more awareness surrounding the "Body-Focused Repetitive Disorder" called "Trichotillomania. In fact, our salon has hundreds of clients with "trich," and more seem to develop on a weekly basis. Fortunately, there are hospitals, such as Mass General of Boston, with clinics devoted to Trichotillomania, OCD, and anxiety disorders. Our salon is the first line of defense where people initially address their appearance, and seek help with hair loss due to "trich."
What appears to have less awareness is what is done with the hair after it is pulled out such as eating one's hair, which is called "Trichophagia" or a less pleasing name "Rapunzel Syndrome." Trichophagia occurs when the hair puller eats part of the hair such as roots, tips, or even the entire strand(s). No one seems to talk about this part of Trichotillomania, most likely due to embarrassment, but it is real and needs to be addressed.
During the years of working with "Trich," many clients have described the sensation of pulling out certain strands (mostly in hair growth areas of the head) and seeking the white bulb at the end of the hair follicle. In fact, we run a Facebook group devoted to Trich, and many have posted pictures of the strand of hair with blood and the white bulb at the end of it. But, no one has yet to share the fact that not only do they play with the bulb, but many ingest it. Ingesting the hair can lead to "Trichobezoar" which is essentially a hairball, we are not meant to eat hair and this behavior can lead to gastric obstruction and worse. I have yet to find a study of how many hairpullers ingest their own hair, but I would caution that it is quite a lot. To date, I have only had one client admit to consuming their hair, but it is quite concerning.
I caution parents to look out for warning signs of this habit, below are some suggestions.
1) Look for the hair that has been pulled out, and ask your child what they are doing with the hair.
2) Lack of appetite
4) Abdominal pain
5) Weight loss
I am in no way a physician, but I know this condition is prevalent amongst hair pullers, this is why it is important to share their trichotillomania disorder with their pediatrician.
Seeking both habit reversal therapy and medical attention is paramount for those with Trich since it may be hard for a child to admit they are eating their hair.
For adults, it is essential to address if you have Trichophagia with your health care professional. Habit reversal therapy tends to be one piece of the puzzle that can help. Additionally, there is a book written to help people from smoking, that has the added benefit of helping with all unwanted behaviors called; "The Easy Way" by Allen Carr. The book has helped hundreds of thousands of people quit smoking and other compulsive behavior and addictions.
From The Book:
“The existence of pleasure doesn’t play a big part in addiction." “The addiction creates a feeling of withdrawal. Once the drug starts leaving the body, that’s an uncomfortable feeling. When the addict takes the next shot, the uncomfortable feeling goes. It wasn’t there before the drug was taken. So it’s that kind of illusion of relief."
It is my intent to shed light on "Trichophagia" because I know it exists, and I want to help make professionals, parents, and clients aware that they are not alone, and that there is help.
I also encourage those with Trichophagia to speak their truth. We all have behaviors that cause shame, but there is power in awareness. Twenty years ago, most of my clients did not admit they pulled out their own hair, but today they are able to speak about it and seek help.
Hair Loss background
With Alopecia Areata, fungal infections, other autoimmune diseases, thinning hair by Trichotillomania which removes hair follicles by physical means. At Noelle Salon, we cover the various approaches to hair solutions to treat hair loss, female pattern baldness, balding spots, and other conditions to which you lose hair. At Noelle Salon we focus on hair growth techniques. Hair systems and hair extension maintenance is part of the journey while wearing them. For Trichotillomania, as our hair grows they both will loosen, and service is required. The difference between a hair system and hair extensions for Trichotillomania clients varies based on the location of hair loss.