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, became addicted to hair pulling after being told at seven years old her wishes would come true if she plucked out her eyelashes and blew them.
Over time Ms Kight developed a condition known as trichotillomania, which caused her to pluck out all her eyebrows and remove patches of hair on her head as a coping mechanism.
Called a ‘freak’ and ‘bald’ by her classmates, Ms Kight hid beneath wigs and hats, as well as penciling in her eyebrows in an effort to blend in.
Yet, last year, the biomedical engineer researcher started work on the world’s first lotion-based remedy for her disorder, which has given her a full head of hair for the first time in 20 years.
Ms Kight’s class were set a project to create a solution to a medical problem. She decided to work on the world’s first lotion for trichotillomania.
According to Ms Kight, the leave-in conditioner creates a relaxing, hot and cold sensation that eases pulling urges, meaning she now has a full head of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes for the first time in 20 years.
She said: ‘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 hair pulling and use it to create awareness of when a person is doing it so they don’t get a bald patch.
‘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.’
She said: ‘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 realizing.
‘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 cure.’
Ms Kight’s trichotillomania developed during childhood and worsened during her parents’ divorce.
She 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.
‘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.
‘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.
She said: ‘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, Ms Kight felt like an outcast, hiding beneath hats and wigs, as well as penciling in her eyebrows. She also often made up stories to excuse her bald patches.
She 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.’
Ms Kight is fundraising to help make her product available to other sufferers. Donate here.