How To Stop Biting Nails In 9 Minutes

To help you stop biting your nails, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

Why Do I Bite My Nails and How Do I Stop?

About half of all kids and teens bite their nails. Many don’t grow out of it, either. If you’re an adult who bites your nails, you may have done it when you were younger and just never stopped.

It could be your parents’ fault: Scientists aren’t sure if nail biting is genetic, but kids whose parents bite their nails are more likely to bite their nails, too. Studies show this happens even if the parents stop doing it before their child is born.

Sometimes, nail biting can be a sign of emotional or mental stress. It tends to show up in people who are nervous, anxious or feeling down. It’s a way to cope with these feelings.

You may also find yourself doing it when you’re bored, hungry or feeling insecure. Most nail biting is automatic — you do it without thinking.

Reasons to Stop

Nail biting won’t typically cause permanent damage. But it definitely has its downsides:

  • It canmake your nails grow in weird. If you damage the tissue around your nails, they may stop growing the way they should. This gives you abnormal-looking nails.
  • It can spoil your smile. You can chip, crack, or break your teeth when you bite your nails. Over time, nail biting can even cause jaw problems.
  • It can make you sick. Hands are a hotbed for germs, and nails are their perfect hideout. When you’re putting your fingers in your mouth multiple times a day, it increases your chances of getting sick. Plus, the skin damage you can cause when you bite your nails creates an easy way for germs to get in.

Prevention

You may not see a change overnight, but with a little time and effort, you can bust your nail-biting habit.

  • Cut them short. If there’s not enough nail to grab with your teeth, it won’t feel as satisfying when you give biting a try.
  • Coat them with a bad taste. There are special nail polishes with a bitter flavor you can paint on your nails. The terrible taste will make you think twice before chewing.
  • Splurge on manicures. Spending money and time at a nail salon will give you both good-looking nails and a reason to keep them that way.
  • Wear gloves. It may sound silly, but if you can’t get to your nails, you can’t bite them. If gloves won’t work for your daily schedule, you can look for stickers made to cover nails — they can have the same effect.
  • Find your triggers. Notice how you feel or what you’re doing when you bite your nails. Once you know what kicks you into nail-biting drive, you can try to find other ways to cope.
  • Keep your hands or mouth busy. Find something to fiddle with — a stress ball, a worry stone, or even a pen to click. Chew gum so your mouth has a job. Give your nail-biting energy another place to go.
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If you’re having trouble with the cold-turkey approach, take it a little at a time. Set small goals for yourself. Try to stop biting the nails on your right hand for a week. Or start even smaller: Choose one nail not to bite, like your thumb. Once you’ve kept it up for a while, put another nail in the “no-biting” zone. Keep going until all your fingers are off-limits.

If you still struggle after trying multiple methods, talk to your doctor about whether therapy’s a good option to help you get to the bottom of the problem and take nail biting out of the picture.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Williams, T.I. Behavior Research and Therapy, May 2007.
KidsHealth.org: “Your Child’s Habits.”
Mayo Clinic: “Nail biting: Does it cause long-term damage?”
American Academy of Dermatology: “Nail Fungus & Nail Health.”
Fiser, J.E. and O’Donohue, W.T. Practitioner’s Guide to Evidence-Based Psychotherapy, Springer, 2006.
Ghanizadeh, A. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, June 2008.
Scher, R.K. and Daniel, C.R. Nails: Diagnosis, Therapy, Surgery, 3rd ed., Saunders Elsevier, 2005.
Tanaka, O.M. American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics, August 2008.

How to stop biting your nails

Nail biting typically begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood, and the side effects can be more than cosmetic. Repeated nail biting can make the skin around your nails feel sore, and it can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. To help you stop biting your nails, dermatologists recommend following these tips.

Nail biting typically begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood, and the side effects can be more than cosmetic. Repeated nail biting can make the skin around your nails feel sore, and it can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. Chronic nail biting can also leave you vulnerable to infection as you pass harmful bacteria and viruses from your mouth to your fingers and from your nails to your face and mouth.

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To help you stop biting your nails, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Keep your nails trimmed short. Having less nail provides less to bite and is less tempting.
  2. Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails. Available over-the-counter, this safe, but awful-tasting formula discourages many people from biting their nails.
  3. Get regular manicures. Spending money to keep your nails looking attractive may make you less likely to bite them. Alternatively, you can also cover your nails with tape or stickers or wear gloves to prevent biting.
  4. Replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit. When you feel like biting your nails, try playing with a stress ball or silly putty instead. This will help keep your hands busy and away from your mouth.
  5. Identify your triggers. These could be physical triggers, such as the presence of hangnails, or other triggers, such as boredom, stress, or anxiety. By figuring out what causes you to bite your nails, you can figure out how to avoid these situations and develop a plan to stop. Just knowing when you’re inclined to bite may help solve the problem.
  6. Try to gradually stop biting your nails. Some doctors recommend taking a gradual approach to break the habit. Try to stop biting one set of nails, such as your thumb nails, first. When that’s successful, eliminate your pinky nails, pointer nails, or even an entire hand. The goal is to get to the point where you no longer bite any of your nails.

For some people, nail biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological or emotional problem. If you’ve repeatedly tried to quit and the problem persists, consult a doctor. If you bite your nails and develop a skin or nail infection, consult a board-certified dermatologist.

Related AAD resources

  • Tips for healthy nails
  • Manicure and pedicure safety
  • Gel manicures
  • How to trim your nails
  • Nail changes a dermatologist should examine
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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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