By Dorin Azerad, Stylist, Élan Hair Studio, Houston, Texas

I am a hair puller and a hairstylist.

My journey with trichotillomania    the hair-pulling disorder    began more than 20 years ago when I started pulling out my eyelashes and eyebrows at age 4. A few years later, my hands moved to my left hairline. With that, the number of hairs I pulled increased exponentially. 

Just a few years ago, if you even mentioned the word “hair” around me, I would flinch and change the conversation. Wanting nothing more than to stop pulling, I tried everything from doctors and medications to fidget toys and hair-pulling journals. Nothing worked. My bald spots only got bigger and bigger. 

My hair pulling got so bad that I wore a headband every day from the age of 12 to 16. Over the years, my headbands got thicker and thicker. What once just covered up my front hairline eventually covered from my front hairline to the crown of my head. At the age of 16, my headbands were not enough to cover up my bald spots, and my mom found me a hairstylist who worked with alternative hair. 

This was a game-changer for me. It’s helped me change my relationship with my hair loss and my trichotillomania.

For many of us living with trichotillomania, going into a hair salon can be a vulnerable and uncomfortable place. I am no stranger to that. I know how uncomfortable it is to sit in a salon chair and expose bald or thin spots in front of strangers.

A few years ago, I was grappling with my trichotillomania. I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that after 20 years of hair-pulling, it was not going away any time soon. Even if I did stop pulling out my hair at some point in my life, my trichotillomania was always going to be a part of my story and who I am.

It was then that I decided I wanted to become a hairstylist for people with hair loss. 

I quit my first job out of college and enrolled in cosmetology school. After finishing, I apprenticed in a traditional hair salon for a year. In 2018, I moved back to Houston where I now work at Élan Hair Studio, a salon that specializes in hair loss solutions for men, women and children. I’m lucky enough to have a clientele of people experiencing all forms of hair loss from all walks of life.

As someone who has experienced both sides of the chair — hair loss hairstylist and trichotillomania client    I understand how challenging it can be to support trichotillomania clients.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have seen a large uptick in trichotillomania clients coming into the salon seeking alternative hair options. For many, myself included, the pandemic was a time when people began pulling at a higher rate than they had previously or even started pulling for the first time.

As a hairstylist, the first step in working with a trichotillomania client is creating a judgment-free zone. Like many other clients experiencing hair loss, trichotillomania clients might have avoided the hair salon for years. It is also not uncommon for many people with trichotillomania to be private about the disorder, not sharing it with many people in their life. For these reasons, it is important that your salon chair is a safe space.

Beyond creating a safe environment, it is important that you educate yourself about trichotillomania. There are organizations such as The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors that provide education about trichotillomania, offer support groups, and educate beauty professionals on how to work with trichotillomania clients.

Here are some other tips for working with trichotillomania clients:

• Meet your client where they are in their journey. Wait for your client to open up to you about their experience.

• Offer your client a private room.

• Avoid phrases like “it makes me want to pull my hair out.”

• Don’t tell your clients to “just stop” pulling out their hair. This is offensive and hurtful for those with trichotillomania.

• Offer solutions for how you can help them without making them feel like their hair loss is their fault. 

For so many years it felt like my trichotillomania and my hair loss was my burden to bear alone. I thought I would be judged if I reached out for help. I never could have imagined that my hair-pulling disorder would lead me to a life as a hair loss hairstylist. When I work with hair loss clients today, I aim to make my chair a safe space where they no longer feel the burden that taking care of their hair is solely in their hands and where they can begin taking control of their hair loss journey.