Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling) & Onychophagia / Dermatophagia (Nail / Skin Biting) | Causes & Remedies

Hair pulling, nail biting, and skin biting are all body-focused repetitive behaviors that cause harm to the physical body. Learn more about the condition, what causes it, and how to remedy it.


Trichotillomania, also known as hair pulling, and onychophagia and dermatophagia, also known as nail and skin biting, are mental health conditions that fall under obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. They are a type of body-focused repetitive behavior, BFRB, where the individual compulsively does behavior that damages their body. Other BFRBs include lip smacking, lip and cheek biting, skin pinching and peeling, and so on.

These are conditions that affect many people and are often a habit that is formed to cope with intense anxiety and other emotional turmoil. Since these conditions become a habit, they will happen at any time, not just when the person is highly stressed and anxious. However, stress and anxiety exacerbates the symptoms.

Trichotillomania or hair pulling disorder
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Trichotillomania is a condition where the person pulls out their hair. The person will repeatedly pull their own hair out, either on their head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and/or other parts of their body. They will feel a sense of satisfaction upon pulling one out as it helps them deal with stress. They may be consciously aware of the act, or it could be something that’s subconscious where they will start to pull without even realizing it. They may do other things with their pulled out hair, such as winding it around their fingers or an object, knot it, or anything else imaginable they could do with hair.

Onychophagia and dermatophagia is a condition where the person bites their nails and/or skin. The person will repeatedly bite their nails, often very close, even to the point of bleeding. With dermatophagia specifically, they will often bite the skin around their nails, or other areas of their body, but nail and skin biting around the fingers can go hand in hand. Much like hair pulling, the person may be completely unaware they’re doing it, and may feel a sense of satisfaction when they are biting.

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Closeup of fingers and nails bitten
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With all of these conditions, the person may feel a moment of relief upon performing the action. However, it’s later replaced by intense guilt and regret, especially if someone else sees the damage they’ve caused their body. They may go to great lengths to cover up their balding scalp from all the hair they’ve pulled out, or refuse to shake hands and hide their hands when around others.

Remedying the condition comes in stages and multiple things have to be addressed. For one, the reason why the person has compulsive tendencies has to be uncovered. This can often be linked to some traumatic event that occurred in their past and they are using the pulling or biting as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress and anxiety in their life. Second, they have to replace the negative coping mechanism with something more positive. A solution to stop biting their nails and the skin around them is to wear gloves to physically prevent them. This will be hard and anxiety could come up, which is when it’s important to learn other coping mechanisms that help them in better ways. There can be many things that could help them, but it will be unique to that individual as each person’s coping mechanism that helps them the best will vary.

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Silhouette of troubled person head
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If you wish to remedy these conditions, there is no hope. Find creative ways of stopping you from damaging your body further, such as a physical barrier, and focus on more positive coping mechanisms. Then seek help to uncover the reasons you’re doing it in the first place.

Let me know how this works for you. Have a great day!

Additional Info

I have known a few people with these conditions and it’s quite rough to see the damage they’ve done to their body. Fortunately, I’ve never dealt with these issues. However, there was a time I would keep touching and even pulling a spot on my head. A bald spot developed, but not likely related to the touching and pulling as I had a hair loss condition. Even now I will touch my hair a lot and feel my scalp for suspicious hair, or hair that feels very coarse like pubic hair, and rip those out. But, that’s it.

Published:

Mental & Physical HealthAnxietyDermatophagiaOnychophagiaTrichotillomania

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Autumn Asphodel
Autumn Asphodel helps others live a better life through natural means, hard work, and dedication.

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