For Compulsive Hair Pullers And Skin Pickers, There Is Need For More Help

I feel the urge again. My fingertips run along my face, feeling for imperfections, and I slip into the bathroom to be alone. After a glance in the mirror, I stalk back out, my nails digging into my palms. Not today.

Since my adolescence, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my reflection. That’s because I suffered from trichotillomania, or hair pulling, and currently struggle with its cousin excoriation disorder, dermatillomania, or skin picking.

Trichotillomania and skin-picking disorder are referred to as body-focused repetitive behaviors, an umbrella term for self-grooming behaviors that result in damage to the body.

But the difference between everyday fidgeting — say, occasionally playing with a hangnail when you’re antsy — and BFRBs, is that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or interfere with daily functioning. A day at the spa, or on the beach, for instance, would only lead me to wonder how I’d hide my scarring.

Despite attempts to stop, people can pull or pick for long periods of time and even miss school, work, or outings.

And there is no long-term cure for either disorder.

One study suggests that around 13 percent of adults in the U.S. engage in at least one BFRB. But a non-profit organization dedicated to the cause gave me more conservative figures. Per their research, an estimated 1 to 2 percent of the population has trichotillomania and about 1.4 percent has skin picking disorder.

That still makes them two of the most common BFRBs, which may affect more than 10 million people in the U.S. alone.

Since these disorders are sometimes comorbid, meaning a person can have both at the same time, figuring out how many people have them it isn’t quite as simple as adding the two statistics together, says Jennifer Raikes, executive director the TLC Foundation, the BFRB focused non-profit.

There’s also a range of severity of these disorders. “For some people, they’re relatively minor, and for some people, they’re really life-warping and potentially dangerous,” Raikes adds. To read more from KASIA GALAZKA, click here.