Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Candidate
Do You Bite Your Nails?
Do you or someone you know bite their nails? Nail biting is one of the most common habits that typically starts in childhood and continues through adulthood.1 Just like any other habit, nail biting can be quite difficult to stop.
However, it’s important to understand some of the consequences of nail biting.
The Negative Impact of Nail Biting
Besides the fact that it’s just not a pretty scene to be nibbling on your fingernails all the time, there are a number of outcomes related to hygiene and the integrity of your skin:1
- Sore skin: Repeatedly biting your nails can leave the skin around your nails sore and potentially broken. Constant healing and re-damaging of the skin can leave your fingertips looking flaky and abnormal.
- Abnormal nail growth: Biting your nails can damage the tissues that support nail growth and result in abnormal-looking nails, as opposed to the smooth, flat appearance of healthy nails.
- Infection: Your hands touch many things on a daily basis and are constantly in contact with bacteria and viruses. Biting your nails can leave you prone to infection as you pass harmful bacteria and viruses from your mouth to your fingers and vice versa.
Tips to Stop Nail Biting
The tricky thing with biting your nails is it’s something that happens so automatically. Anyone you ask would probably agree they’d much rather stop the habit, but how do you stop something that happens when you’re not thinking? The most effective ways are the most simple ones, here’s a few dermatologist recommended tips:1
- Keep your nails short: While long nails may look better for some, keeping your nails short simply leaves less to nibble on. This can reduce the temptation to bite, as well as serve as a reminder not to.
- Use bitter-tasting nail polish: Many stores or pharmacy’s sell over-the-counter nail polish containing an ingredient that’s safe, but tastes uniquely bitter. Applying it to your nails can be a strong reminder to avoid biting until you get over the habit.
- Get regular manicures: We all want our nails to look attractive. But looking good all comes down to healthy skin and cuticles. If you find that the first two steps didn’t help, try getting manicures at home or a salon every once in a while. This of course is a great way to keep your nails looking trimmed and clean, but also keeps you accountable when you have more to lose.
- Replace your habit with another one: Instead of biting your nails, find something else to do instead: twirling a pen, flicking a fidget spinner or playing with a stress ball. By keeping your hands busy, you may be able to keep them away from your mouth.
- Identify your triggers: People bite their nails for different reasons. Some bite their nails out of boredom, stress or anxiety while others do it when they notice hangnails or imperfections. Try figuring out what your trigger may be, and find out what works best to avoid it. Having this knowledge may help you stop biting your nails.
- Don’t go cold turkey: Some experts recommend that it may be a better approach to stop biting nails gradually. What does this mean? Try to stop biting one set of nails first (eg. your thumb nails), before stopping another set. You can do this step by step until you’ve finally hit your goal.
The Bottom Line
Whether it’s nail biting or something else, changing a lifelong habit can be very challenging. It may take multiple tries before you are successful. However, don’t let this discourage you. The most important thing is that you’ve recognized a problem you would like to fix and that you’re working towards being better. Remember, you don’t have to do this yourself, there’s nothing wrong with letting your close friends or family know to point out your nail biting if you tend to do it subconsciously. Some food for thought: nail biting isn’t always just a baseless habit: stress, anxiety and sometimes depression can be the root cause, and focusing on some of these things may help as well.
- American Academy of Dermatology: https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/nail-care/nail-biting