Breaking a nail is one thing. Breaking a nail-biting habit is another, say member dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology. Nail biting typically begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood, and the side effects can be more than cosmetic, say dermatologists.
“Chronic nail biting can cause serious problems,” said board-certified dermatologist Margaret E. Parsons, MD, FAAD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, University of California, Davis. “In addition to making the skin around your nails feel sore, repeated nail biting can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. It 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.”
To help patients kick the habit, Dr. Parsons recommends the following tips:
- Keep your nails trimmed short: Having less nail provides less to bite and is less tempting.
- 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.
- 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.
- Replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit:When you feel like biting your nails, try playing with a stress ball instead. This will help keep your hands busy and away from your mouth.
- 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.
- 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,” said Dr. Parsons. “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.”
These tips are demonstrated in “Nail-Biting: Tips to Stop,” a video posted to the Academy website.