Eyelashes & Trichotillomania - Eyelash Pulling Compulsion
Trichotillomania is characterised by an irresistible urge to tug at, or pull out one’s hair. While the scalp is the most common site affected by this behaviour, any part of the body where hair grows is vulnerable, including the eyelashes. While the act of pulling the hair out can have a relaxing or anxiety-reducing effect, it can also be physically quite painful. In some cases an individual with trichotillomania may desire this sensation of pain as part of their urge to pull. The area around the eye is quite sensitive, so pulling hair from this area may provide an enhanced pain sensation as compared to other areas like the scalp.
How Common is Eyelash Pulling?
Much of the scientific research studies conducted point to the fact that scalp pulling is the most prevalent site affected in trichotillomania. However, one UK based trichotillomania support website conducted an online survey of over 33,000 people with trichotillomania and made the surprising discovery that eyelash and eyebrow pulling is much more common than expected. Their survey revealed that 73% of the respondents pulled from their eyelashes, 72% from eyebrows and only 27% from scalp. The website goes on to suggest that one possible reason is because that many scalp pullers also pull from their lashes and brows, but there are many lash and brow pullers who don’t pull from their scalp. Another possible reason is that scalp pulling can vary much more in severity and can be more easily passed off as a bad habit than eyelash pulling, which means that most eyelash or brow pullers would be aware there is a problem and seek out support via online channels such as the one that conducted the survey.
Eyelash Pulling as a Symptom of Trichotillomania
The irresistible urge to pull can be experienced in various ways. Trichotillomania sufferers, who pull eyelashes, when describing the urge to pull, often talk about feeling individual or all their eyelashes each time they blink and feeling bothered by it. This often leads to the person feeling the eyelashes for “the one” that is bothering them and this then leads to pulling. Although pulling the eyelash out is painful, the individual often experiences relief or pleasure. This reinforces the behaviour which causes the individual to continue pulling the eyelashes. There are also different patterns of pulling with some pulling only one lid while others pulling on both top and bottom and on both eyes. Eyelash pulling is also often accompanied by eyebrow pulling.
Effects of eyelash pulling
The physical function of the eyelash is to protect the eye from debris, but it also contributes to the aesthetic appearance of an individual. Pulling out the eyelashes renders the eye susceptible to getting particles in the eye, which at best is very uncomfortable, and at worst can lead to infection. Aesthetically it very noticeable when an individual does not have eyelashes, which can be a source of embarrassment and shame and this can then negatively impacting on self esteem and confidence. Many eyelash pullers wear fake eyelashes or sunglasses to disguise the problem, while others become socially withdrawn. This leads to a decreases quality of life.