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  • Trichotillomania: Hair-Pulling Disorder and Eyelashes

    Reviewed By Brenda Pagan-Duran MD
    Published Jun. 18, 2019

    What Is Trichotillomania?

    Trichotillomania is when someone has a constant urge to tug at or pull out their own hair. Known as a body-focused repetitive behavior, this most often involves hair on the scalp or on the face, including the eyelashes and the eyebrows.

    Some people pull their eyelashes from only one eyelid, while others pull from both top and bottom lids on both eyes. People who pull their eyelashes out often pull their eyebrows too. They can do it intentionally to relieve tension or distress, or automatically without realizing they are doing it.

    In some cases, people who pull their eyelashes out may do other things with the lashes or brow hair. For instance, they might roll the hair between their fingers or put the lashes in their mouth.

    For some people, the urge to pull their eyelashes may be somewhat manageable. For others, the compulsive urge to pluck out their eyelashes is overwhelming.

    People with hair plucking disorder most often begin to pull their hair when they are between about 9 and 13 years old. A person may pull their hair or eyelashes when they feel bored or anxious. It can also be triggered by a stressful event such as a death, abuse or conflict.

    In general, hair pulling is an ongoing condition that comes and goes throughout someone’s life if this problem is not treated. It is a mental health disorder and is unlikely to get better without treatment.

    Why Do People Pluck Their Eyelashes?

    Trichotillomania may come about as a way for some people to deal with negative and uncomfortable feelings or because it provides them satisfaction or relief. Often people who pull out their eyelashes say that one or more of their eyelashes bothers them when they blink. The person feels their eyelashes to find the one that bothers them, which then leads to pulling eyelashes out.

    Despite the pain of pulling an eyelash out, the person often finds relief or pleasure when they do it. This reinforces the behavior, which leads to more eyelash plucking.

    Mental health specialists describe hair pulling as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, similar to one that makes someone constantly check on something, count numbers or wash their hands. There may be a genetic trait for hair pulling, meaning the disorder runs in families.

    People who pull their hair and lashes may also pick their skin, bite their nails or constantly scratch their skin. They may also have symptoms of depression.

    Effects of Eyelash Plucking

    Repeatedly pulling out eyelashes will make them grow back more slowly—to the point where they may not grow back at all.

    Aside from cosmetically framing the eye, our lashes also protect our eyes from dust, dirt and other substances. People who constantly pluck out their eyelashes may damage the skin of their eyelids, and also have a greater risk of eye injury, scarring or infection.

    Hair pulling also affects a person’s mood and self-esteem. When the physical effects of this disorder are obvious, people may feel shame, lose confidence and avoid social situations. Also, in the cases of eating the hair, hairballs could lead to digestive tract problems in the long term.

    How To Stop Plucking Eyelashes

    There are two ways to treat an eyelash pulling disorder.

    With behavioral therapy, people who pull their hair learn specific ways to manage this compulsive habit. They may learn relaxation techniques and how to replace eyelash pulling with a non-destructive behavior.

    Medications, such as antidepressants and other types of drugs, can help stop hair pulling by reducing depression and obsessive-compulsive feelings.

    These two methods of hair pulling treatment together often help people find some relief, allowing them to lead more fulfilling lives. Applying ophthalmic ointment to the affected eye areas may help lubricate and allow the eyelashes or eyebrows to regrow. The main treatment, however, is aimed towards changing the actual behavior.