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Hair twirling gone dangerous

Chrissy Callahan is the Contributing Beauty Editor for SheKnows and helps manage the Beauty & Love sites' content. Before joining SheKnows, Chrissy freelanced for a variety of different websites and covered everything from NY Fashion Wee...

Think twice when twirling

We all have nervous little habits. Whether you bite your nails or tap your hands on your knees, they’re all seemingly harmless, right? When it comes to hair twirling – a habit many ladies have – a nervous habit could actually turn harmful.

Woman with Trichotillomania

Ever heard of Trichotillomania? If not, you should. We chatted with Liz Cunanne Philips, trichologist at Philip Kingsley, about the serious condition that many of us never knew existed. Here's what she had to say!

What exactly is Trichotillomania?

According to Philips, the condition has been around for decades. Trichotillomania, self-inflicted hair loss, occurs when harmless twirling gradually reaches the pulling stage. At this point, the patient pulls out hairs one by one, eventually causing a thin or bald patch that can cover large areas.

And like many bad habits, this is one that isn't quite easy to break. Trichotillomania – which is more common in women than men, by a four to one ratio, Philips says – can last for years if the patient doesn't get help.

What causes the condition?

Pinpointing why each of us do the little odd things we do is never easy, but Philips has enough experience in dealing with Trichotillomania that she paints a pretty accurate of its causes: "There are an infinite number of reasons that can set the urge to pull in motion. While many people twirl and play with their hair, a small percentage of those actually pull it out… The satisfaction achieved by the process of twirling and eventually leading to pulling can be rooted in deep psychological undertones."

Philips says she sees a couple of cases of the condition at her New York clinic on average in any given month and that for many patients, the whole process is exhilarating: "The sensation of pain creates a sensation that is one of exhilaration, which can then develop to patch, which can grow over time."

One other major factor? Stress. "Often times the patient reports a period of elevated stress that then spurred the condition," she says. "I have never observed a case where stress was not one of the presenting factors."

What are the dangers?

As with any condition, Trichotillomania has certain negative side effects. "Repeated and constant twirling and pulling can lead to frizzier hairs re growing, and in some cases where the pulling is long term there can be follicular damage where the re growth potential can be diminished," Philips says.

Philips says she's seen numerous levels of the condition, from subtle non-visible areas to cases so severe that the patient needs a wig.

What does recovery look like?

No two recovery proccesses are alike, but Philips sasy they all have one thing in common: "Any action like twirling brushing and twisting can cross the line from normal to compulsive, so recognizing that this is not healthy is a vital first step in the process of dealing with the condition."

To get started, here are some helpful suggestions:

  • If you've been to therapy before and it has proven helpful in the past, managing any emotional and psychological issues is both vital and mandatory.
  • Implement stress management techniques – anything from behavioral management to yoga.
  • Identify individual triggers and set up way to catch those.
  • Wear gloves while reading watching TV, or talking on the phone.
  • Try therapy balls that are often used for sensory therapy or rehabilitation post hand surgery.

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