Student creates treatment for hair pulling compulsion that left her bald, like a freak and hiding head for 20 years
An engineering student has created a treatment for the hair pulling compulsion that left her bald, feeling like a ‘freak’ and hiding her head for two decades.
Emily Kight, 27, from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, USA, became addicted to hairpulling after being told – aged seven – her wishes would come true if she plucked out eyelashes and blew them.
Over time she developed trichotillomania, which progressed to her plucking out all her eyebrows and patches of hair on her head, as a way to deal with stress.
She hid beneath wigs, hats and even pencilled in her eyebrows to blend in, but was regularly left crying in the bathroom after classmates cruelly called her ‘freak’ and ‘bald‘.
Last year, the biomedical engineer researcher started work on a conditioner based remedy for her disorder as part of a school project and remarkably has been able to treat her hairpulling.
She says the leave-in conditioner creates a relaxing, hot and cold sensation that helped her urges and now she has a full head of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes for the first time in 20 years.
Emily said: “I started off pulling out eyelashes to wish for world peace, then my cat and things for my family, it was my seven-year-old version of fixing things and became a way of coping.
“I remember my parents being so disappointed with me when I had pulled out all of my eyelashes, but it became a thing I couldn’t stop for some reason and moved onto other areas.
“At my worst point I remember being very depressed, with exacerbating stress and growing pains, which left me pulling so much that I had a landing strip on my head, no eyebrows or eyelashes.
“At school, I would leave the room and cry in the bathrooms when classmates would ask why I didn’t have eyelashes, why I had bald spots or called me freak.
“I used to look bald, but there were hats and wigs that I hid behind for many years and pencilled in my eyebrows until now.
“I went to therapists growing-up but they were expensive and no medication worked, so when I got older I wanted to start work on a product myself.
“I made a leave-in conditioner that when put in creates a sensation to replace hairpulling and use it to create awareness of when a person is doing it so they don’t get a bald patch.
“For me now, the impulse is no longer engraved in my brain, I’m able to say ‘No’ and choose not to pull instead of instinctively doing it without realising.
“I have a full head of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes now, I still keep the cream with me in case the impulse comes back so I don’t pull and use that instead.
“It’s a big relief, I can walk around without a hat and feel like I have overcome the urge now, I struggled for 20 years with this thing I couldn’t stop and now I finally made myself a treatment.”
Emily’s trichotillomania, a disorder which is believed to affect up to 4% of the world’s population, developed during childhood and became exacerbated during her parents’ divorce.
She sought the help of therapists, medication and distraction devices including rubber bands and fidget spinners but nothing worked.
Emily said: “Trichotillomania is such a manic thing, everything with my life was out of my control, I struggled with anxiety and depression, I didn’t manage any of it so pulled at my hair.
“It was worsened when people would make comments about me balding, it made me feel like a weirdo, those who I did explain it to didn’t understand and often broke my confidence.
“I had this feeling of inadequacy and a longing to be normal, people would say ‘at least I don’t pull my hair out like a freak’ that kind of thing, which just cut me down.”
For years, Emily felt like an outcast and often made up stories to excuse the bald patches that had formed from her persistent hair pulling.
She would hide her hairless spots with hats, wigs and use make-up to disguise the fact that she didn’t have eyelashes or eyebrows.
Emily said: “I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to say to people that I was pulling out my hair and so I would come up with crazy stories to justify it.
“I told someone I was in a horse riding accident, that Velcro caused my hair to come off and other things.
“I literally ran out of any stories to make-up, people would always ask me about and it was horrible, I felt on the spot and just tried to hide.”
While studying, Emily’s class were set a project to create a solution to a medical problem and she decided to work on the world’s first lotion for trichotillomania.
She sought to attack the physiological impulses driving the disorder, meaning that many sufferers are unaware they are pulling hair until it’s too late.
Emily said: “When you get stung by a bee or have itchy skin from a bug bite there is a cream, so I thought why not work on a remedy to address this urge.
“It makes your skin feel hot and cold and more relaxed, like a hot ice-cube on your head, I found it doesn’t make me want to pull.”
Since using her product Prohibere, she’s learned to recognise her urge to hair pull and use the treatment as an alternative.
Emily said: “I was done and didn’t feel the impulses as much after three months, I’m used to stopping myself now and have developed a new pattern in my brain circuits.
“Soon I felt the bald patches growing back, now I have a full head of hair for the first time since I was eight-years-old and can finally go to the hairdressers without having to explain anything.”
Emily is now fundraising to get her product out there to help others – she launches samples in September.
She said: “It’s not going to cure a person of wanting to pull their hair but it grabs their attention in the moment of mania and puts a cold-hot sensation, that makes them not want to pull.
“Rubbed bands didn’t help me, fidget toys didn’t help, so it’s really rewarding knowing I’ve managed to find something that could help others.
“I hid under make-up, hats, wigs and pushed people away so they wouldn’t know me, I’d like for people not to have the experiences I had.”
To donate toward her fund visit: www.gofundme.com/Prohibere