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Problem With Split End Picking

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I have a serious problem with split end picking. I pull out my split ends nearly all day. It's became a real problem, I can't stop myself from doing it in public even though I know I shouldn't, I will also stop and pick in the middle of an exam if I see a split end. My parents yell at me to stop and I try but its like a horrible urge. I'm embaressed and don't know what to do. I also pick off dry skin, and pick at my pores and scabs. Do I have OCD or Trich, or is this just a bad habit? Can someone help me stop please!?!?!
Signed: Problem With Split End Picking

Dear Problem With Split End Picking,


Pulling out your split ends, picking off dry skin, and picking at your pores and scabs are all examples of compulsive behaviors. A person with a compulsion like this feels an overwhelming urge to act on it – it can feel to that person almost like the behavior is out of their control. Many people with these types of compulsions feel embarrassed about their behaviors and have tremendous difficulties in knowing how to stop – so you are not alone in feeling this way. Very often these types of pulling and picking behaviors also come from being agitated – the picking and pulling becomes a way to release those agitated feelings. The next time you have the urge to pull hair or pick at your skin, you might try to take a moment to see whether or not you are feeling agitated or anxious about anything.


As for your question, it is possible that you have OCD, trichotilomania or a combination of the two based on the symptoms you have described. However, FX cannot make an accurate diagnosis over the web and cannot know for sure whether you have one or both of these disorders without having more information about you and the history of these behaviors. TeenHealthFX has listed brief overviews of OCD and trichotillomania below, but strongly suggests that you meet with a mental health professional as soon as possible so that you can be accurately diagnosed and so that you can receive the appropriate treatment. It is also important for your parents to be a part of your treatment so that they can understand what you are dealing with and how to be supportive and helpful to you while you are in treatment (as yelling at you to stop is obviously not going to be effective in a situation like this).  


If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.



Overviews on OCD and trichotillomania:


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness characterized by either obsessions or compulsions.


Obsessions are defined by:

1)      Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced (at some time during the disturbance) as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress.

2)      The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems.

3)      The person attempts to ignore or suppress these thoughts, impulses, or images, or neutralize them with some other thought or action.

4)      The person recognizes that the obsessive thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind.


Compulsions are defined by:

1)      Repetitive behaviors (such as hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.

2)      The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive.


To have OCD, the following must also occur:

1)      At some point during the course of the disorder, the adult has recognized that the obsessions or compulsion are excessive or unreasonable (not applicable to children).

2)      The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (taking more that 1 hour of the day), or significantly interfere with the person’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.

3)      The content of the obsessions or compulsions is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as a drug or medication) or a general medical condition.





Trichotillomania is a medical condition where people pull hair out at the root from places like the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or pubic area. Some people pull large handfuls or hair, while other pull out the hairs one at a time. Some inspect the strand after pulling it out, and about half put the hair in their mouths after pulling it out. Trichotillomania is a type of compulsive behavior, meaning there is an overwhelming urge to pull the hair. Some people with trichotillomania have other compulsive habits, such as nail biting or skin picking, or deal with mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, or OCD.


Symptoms of trichotillomania include:

1)      Recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in noticeable hair loss.

2)      An increased sense of tension immediately before pulling out the hair or when attempting to resist the behavior.

3)      Pleasure, gratification, or relief when pulling out the hair.

4)      The disturbance is not due to another mental disorder or a general medical condition.

5)      The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or academic, or other important areas of functioning.

Signed: TeenHealthFX