Why These Women Can't Stop Pulling Out Their Own Hair

Rebecca Brown and Sophie Ehrmann have both documented their ongoing struggle with trichotillomania.
6:35 | 03/14/15

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Transcript for Why These Women Can't Stop Pulling Out Their Own Hair
Up to 11 million Americans, mostly women, are affected by our next strange affliction. But only one has had the courage to bare it all on camera and become an internet superstar doing it. Hello, everyone. Reporter: Welcome to the high-octane, technicolor world of Beckie O. Here we go. Hello. Reporter: Those quirky antics won her thousands of youtube fans, but what blasted Beckie O to fame was going public with the most private of secrets. This is something I can't talk about. I've tried everything and nothing seems to stop it. Reporter: She, like 10 million Americans, suffers from a compulsion to pull out her own hair. It's something I can't stop. That video exploded. It had hundreds of thousands of views. It just -- it really opened my eyes to how big the condition was. Reporter: You didn't know anybody else who pulled their hair? Nobody at all. I thought I was on my own. Reporter: For Rebecca, it's tough living in a culture obsessed by hair, surrounded by women crowned with long, shining locks. So she took her battle to the internet, vlogging about her struggle with a disorder called trichotillomania, literally the mania to pull out hair. She calls herself a trichster. Is it a relief or release to pull? Pulling makes me feel better. But then when you see the damage afterwards, then you think, "Oh no, okay, that's actually making me feel worse." Reporter: You would have a bald spot the size of -- Yeah. Reporter: -- Your fist? This is the most hair I've had in five years, and that terrifies me. Reporter: Why does it terrify you? Because I'm always worried I'm going to lose it. Reporter: As a child, she often played with her hair. But the vlogs of her teenage years reveal a habit spinning dangerously out of control. I just pull out my hair. I have hair surrounding the keyboard. I remember when I was 12 and I was with a counselor, and she said to me, "When you're stressed, where do you feel it in your body?" And I remember my answer. I remember holding my hands up and going, "In my fingers, it's -- it's here." Reporter: It's not here, it's here? It's here. I want to do things with my hands. Most weirdest thing about pulling is, it feels like my fingers are magnets, and they're attracted to certain parts of my head. Reporter: Nothing could keep her fingers from pulling out her hair. From tying her hair up in a turban to greasing her eyelashes and eyebrows with vaseline. Even the most extreme measures failed to help. I found just tying my hands to tables or chair legs or to my tummy, when I was at school, and it didn't stop me getting to the hair. You're just so desperate. Reporter: That desperation was often driven by the hurtful comments from her peers at school. If I'd had the hair, if I then people wouldn't have treated me so badly. Reporter: Worst of all was the criticism from friends, and even family, which she repeated in her vlogs. You'll never get a job looking like that. Looks like someone went too far with the tweezer. No one wants a bald girlfriend. Reporter: There were a lot of really -- Yeah, every single thing in that -- Reporter: -- Harsh comments. Trichsters receive such severe backlash. Reporter: Why is that, do you think? I think people don't appreciate that you literally cannot stop. It's not -- it's not even a choice. I can't leave it alone. Reporter: It had been a six-year rollercoaster of frustration documented in this astonishing video diary. On the third of February 2011, I decided to shave all my hair off. When I shaved my hair, I thought, "Right, that's it. The hair's gone. I'm not going to pull again. It's all good." But then I attacked my eyebrows. And they vanished within a week. Reporter: Rebecca, now a superstar in the trichster community, caught the attention of Jillian corsie, who was casting for a documentary on trichotillomania. What's the biggest misconception? That it's rare. That people who have trichotillomania are freaks. The people I've spoken to feel isolated or like outcasts, like they don't belong. Reporter: Jillian's documentary, called "Trichster," explored the destructive force of the disorder to both mind and body. Unlike most trichsters in the documentary, Sophie Ehrmann pulls not from her head, but from her body. The difference between me and a lot of people that just have rich, I'm digging under my skin. Reporter: Sophie is a photographer and documented her struggle with trichitillomania in a series of disturbing photos. To her, each tiny hair in her leg is a monstrous flaw. What is this? This is literally how close I look at my body. Those are -- like, hairs, that are literally, like, growing. It's gross. I don't like the hair on my body, so -- Reporter: Any of it. No, none of it. I'd rather just be like a baby. Reporter: So in this effort to get rid of these hairs, you think you see growing, you're essentially gauging at your own skin. And making it -- Worse. Reporter: So if you were to take your tights off for me today, where on your legs would you have scars? Like, everywhere. Reporter: She showed me the raw wounds that force her to hide in tights or jeans, even in the hottest days of summer. See how, like, there are all these dots? Reporter: Yeah. So those are the hairs. Reporter: There must be a lot of people who cannot understand why you're doing this to yourself. Join the crowd, like, I don't really know exactly what I'm doing to myself. I know that I'm doing it to relieve anxiety, but what made me choose to pull out my hair? I have no clue. Reporter: The cause of trichotillomania is still a mystery. And doctors are still baffled about why it's primarily women who suffer from it. Sophie and Rebecca both doubt whether they will ever be "Pull free." Do I want to stop? Absolutely. Can I? I don't know. Reporter: Do you think you'll ever stop doing this, pulling? No. Reporter: Really? I feel I will be pulling till the day I die. I've been doing it 20 years, I don't know, but it's part of me. Reporter: Rebecca may never have the long, blonde hair that she dreams of, but she's learned to love what she has and, for now, better controlling the urge to pull. There was a point where I remember for the first time in years, I felt the wind go through my hair, and it just pushed the fringe back, and I was like, "Oh, wow, happiness." We want to thank all of these brave people and families. And we wondered, if you have a improvement

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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