A young woman who shaved her head because she couldn’t stop ripping out her locks is now a hair stylist helping other people disguise their bald patches.
Dorin Azerad, 25, suffers from trichotillomania, a rare condition where individuals experience irresistible urges to rip out their hair.
She began tugging on her eyebrows and eyelashes when she was just four, and by the age of eight she was tearing out handfuls of her head hair.
Dorin spent 10 years in therapy grappling with the compulsion and even hid her hair loss from her boyfriends, pretending a wig was her real locks.
Eventually she grew tired of the uneven bald patches and last February filmed herself shaving her head.
She now wears wigs and false eyelashes daily and works as a stylist in a salon dedicated to helping clients cope with hair loss.
Dorin, of Houston, Texas, said: “Some of my clients have been pulling their hair out for 40 years and I’m the first person they’ve spoken to about it.
“There’s so much shame associated with trichotillomania.
“It’s difficult to accept permanent hair loss when our hair looks different from typical beauty norms.
“I want to show that there’s more to life than just our hair.”
When Dorin first started pulling out her hair as a child, doctors initially diagnosed her with allergies.
“I was four years old when I developed trichotillomania,” she said.
“I was pulling the hair out from my eyebrows and eyelashes.
“My doctor said I had allergies, that my eyes were irritated and that was why I was pulling out my hair.
“When I started ripping the hair out from my head, I pulled out two inches of my hairline.
“I went to a neurologist and a psychiatrist and they tried everything they could to make me stop.
“The internet then wasn’t as big as it is now – there wasn’t much information on trichotillomania.
“I was my doctor’s first patient diagnosed with the disorder.
“I was in therapy from the age of eight to 18.
“It did help me be aware of my feelings when I pulled my hair, whether I was stressed or anxious, but it didn’t stop me doing it.”
Dorin described the sensation that trichotillomania sufferers experience when they pull out their hair.
“For hair pullers, the feeling of pulling out a hair doesn’t feel bad. It’s actually a good, tingling sensation,” she said.
“Imagine having an itch and you need to scratch it – that’s what it feels like.
“It’s a self-soothing behavior.”
Soon Dorin’s hair pulling was so extreme that she had to hide her bald spots with strategically placed headbands and ponytails.
“I was wearing headbands and a ponytail to cover up my bald spots,” she said.
“I had to wear a hat to cover them up completely.”
She felt intense shame around the compulsion and kept it a secret from friends, and even boyfriends.
She said: “I avoided talking about it with people and it held me back from doing a lot of things.
“Girls do each other’s hair when they are children and I didn’t want to do that.
“I didn’t want to go to summer camp.
“I closed myself off from a lot of experiences and friendships to avoid it coming up in any way.
“I was 16 when I first wore toppers and hair extensions and I’ve been wearing them, and wigs, ever since.
“I hid my hair loss from friends and boyfriends.
“I would pretend that my wig was my real hair and if I got a new one that was longer, I pretended that I had got hair extensions.
“My hairline is now gone.
“There’s a palm-shaped bald spot on the top of my head and a hand-sized one on my left side.”
In Feburary 2018 Dorin shaved her head in an attempt to gain control.
She said: “I had gotten to a point of acceptance.
“I had struggled with my hair loss for so long and it controlled so much of my life.
“I wanted to take back control.
“It was a therapeutic, letting go moment.
“It felt really powerful.”
She also switched careers to help other women battling hair loss tend to their locks.
She said: “The hair salon can be a really embarrassing place for people with hair loss.
“You don’t want to expose your bald spots to people who have no idea of what you’ve gone through.
“I didn’t go to the salon a lot as a kid.
“I only went once every couple of years because it made me anxious.
“I went to college and studied anthropology and art.
“I got a job at a museum but I felt like I had more to give the world.
“I realized I didn’t want to live my life ashamed of my hair pulling.
“This was the biggest thing that I was hiding from everyone like it was a terrible secret.
“I started telling friends and family and putting it on social media.
“I ended up going to cosmetology school with the intention of working with people who have trichotillomania.”
In November 2017 she started her first job working in a general hair salon, assisting a stylist with cutting and colouring.
A year later, she began working at Elan Hair Studio, a hair restoration salon in Houston, Texas, which specialises in helping men, women and children with thinning hair.
Dorin said: “99 per cent of our clients have hair loss of some kind.
“The clients I take on now have trichotillomania or alopecia and I have one client who is going through chemotherapy.
“For many people with hair loss, talking about their hair is very difficult.
“Often they don’t take care of their hair because they are ashamed.
“I clean, cut and dye wigs and toppers so that their hair can stay on trend if they want.
“To be able to give someone back confidence and say, ‘Hey, you can have hair again’, is unbelievably rewarding.”
Despite shaving her head, Dorin admitted she still pulls at any remaining tufts and accepts that she may always suffer from trichotillomania.
She said: “Some of my hair won’t come back at this point because I’ve been pulling for 20 years.
“It becomes automatic.
“I don’t realize I’m doing it until I’ve pulled out a couple of hairs.
“I spend a fair amount of time pulling out my hair but it doesn’t keep me from doing things in my day-to-day life.
“I accept the fact that trichotillomania may be with me forever, but it doesn’t have to define my life.
“There’s more to me than just my hair pulling.”
According to The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) trichotillomania is considered to be an obsessive-compulsive related disorder. It is estimated to affect less than one percent of the population.