Excessive Hair Pulling and Skin Picking in Teens are Mental Illnesses




It might seem odd that your teen wants to continue to pull their hair out. And you may notice that they’re not only pulling out their hair, but there’s also plenty of anxiety that accompanies their behavior. If you’re noticing bald spots from your teen’s scalp or body, there’s a reason to be concerned. In fact, there’s a good reason to take your teen to see a mental health professional.


Excessive hair pulling is the primary symptom of an illness called Trichotillomania.  In addition to pulling their hair, a teen  may also feel an increased sense of tension right before pulling,  and at the same time, they may feel a strong desire to resist any pulling. Yet, pulling hair might bring a sense of gratification, relief, and even pleasure. Those with Trichotillomania will pull hair from their scalp, eyelashes, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest, legs, and other parts of the body.  Sadly, having the illness can result in significant hair loss and bald spots, influencing functioning at home and school.


Here are some characteristics of Trichotillomania:

  • The illness varies in severity from person to person.
  • There is not a known cause, and researchers continue to explore the various factors that bring about hair pulling.
  • The hair pulling is often used as a coping tool. When challenging emotions surface, teens pull their hair as a self-soothing tool, a way to regulate their emotions.
  • The average age in which its symptoms emerge is around 11 years old.
  • This disorder is seen across all ages, genders, ethnicities, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Depression often accompanies Trichotillomania.
  • Sometimes, a teen may be able to make a conscious choice not to pull their hair. However, other times, the behavior may seem compulsory.


Similar to Trichotillomania is a disorder that includes skin picking. It is has a separate clinical term and is known as Skin Picking Disorder. This illness is similar to Trichotillomania in that picking the skin is also often used as a coping tool. Both illnesses can be treated with psychotherapy and medication.


In fact, psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and alternative therapies can be successful ways to treat these illnesses. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the form of therapy likely used in treatment. This modality explores underlying beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that lead to the unhealthy behavior. CBT would attempt to curb hair pulling and skin picking by looking at the belief or thoughts that lead to those behaviors.


With enough therapy, a teen may be able to make the conscious choice not to pull their hair or pick their skin. However, other times, the urge to pull hair might be so strong that it requires other means of treatment. Other forms of treatment may include support groups, relaxation techniques, and alternative therapies. For example, yoga, prayer, meditation, or herbal remedies may be used. Also, because depression can sometimes accompany these illnesses, it’s important that parents and caregivers continue to monitor the psychological health of their teen – even as the symptoms of Trichotillomania disappear.