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How to Stop Biting Your Nails: 6 Proven Tips

There are many habits that a lot of us wish we didn’t have. Some of them are life choices, like drinking too much coffee or eating too much sugar. Others are unconscious and harder to break, like biting your nails. If you’ve ever wondered how to stop biting your nails, then you’re in luck. We explain the fingernail-biting habit and what you can do about it.

Before we get into why people bite their nails, let’s go over what nail biting is.

The scientific term for nail biting is onychophagia. It’s the most common stress-relieving habit humans develop. Others are:

  • Skin picking
  • Hair twisting
  • Teeth grinding
  • Thumb sucking
  • Nose picking

These types of habits develop in the early years of childhood, between the ages of four and six. Once children have reached adulthood, these habits can be very hard to break — by that point, the brain has learned to use that habit to relieve stress. 

Some of the more common habits, like nose picking, are considered impolite behaviors in public. Skin picking can cause scarring and spread infections. Onychophagia, or nail biting, isn’t as noticeable, but there are still reasons to quit the habit. Excessive nail biting can cause:

  • Tooth damage from hard fingernails
  • Infections around the nail area
  • Damage to the nail tissue 
  • Abnormal or stunted nail growth
  • Unpleasant changes to the appearance of the nail
  • Increase in sickness due to dirty fingers in your mouth

If you have a nail-biting habit and are wondering how to quit, then try some of the tips below. 

If you’re ready to kick your nail-biting habit, then read through these six tips and tricks. You can try one at a time or a couple at once. 

If you want to stop biting your nails, try a manicure. When you get your nails done, they feel great and look awesome. A manicure feels different on your fingers than your regular nails or a simple coat of polish. You may subconsciously avoid biting nails that are manicured. 

This tip is not for everyone. Some people really don’t like manicures, and getting several can actually weaken your nails over time. As a way to break a nail-biting habit, though, a manicure can help by covering your nails so you can’t get to them as easily. Try this tip along with a relaxation technique to help train yourself to use another stress-relieving action, like yoga stretches or walking, in place of nail-biting. 

If you tend to chew your nails more when they’ve begun to grow out, try to combat it by trimming your nails short. 

When they’re short, you can’t get to them as easily, and that can help break the habit. If you’ve successfully stopped biting your nails when they’re short, you can start to let them grow back out. If you go back to biting your nails, just trim them short again. Be patient with yourself. 

This is a great tip if you’re experiencing pain and soreness from onychophagia but can’t stand having a manicure. You can combine this tip with a nail biting polish to really help break the biting habit. 

A nail biting polish is a bitter-flavored polish intended to go on nails. It’s not toxic, but its bitter flavor is jarring and may discourage you from biting your nails. 

The best way to use nail biting polish is to apply it in the morning, wait for it to dry, and go about your day. You can bring the nail biting polish with you and reapply as needed throughout the day. 

Using a nail biting polish is a great way to subtly stop biting your nails. You can apply it on top of regular nail polish. 

Use a focus technique to pay attention to only one nail at first. A good place to start is your thumb. Just keep an eye out for your thumbnails, and don’t worry about biting the rest of your nails.

Once you’ve gone a couple of weeks without biting your thumbnails, then extend this practice to your index fingers. You can use this technique to work your way down your hands until you’ve stopped biting all of your nails. 

You don’t have to start with the thumbs; you can start wherever you want. You can even track your onychophagia in a journal to see how your progress is going. If you notice that you start biting your nails again, just start back at your thumbnail and try again. 

Some companies make what’s known as chewable jewelry. You can try wearing this type of jewelry to take the attention off your nails. If you notice you’re biting your nails, switch to the jewelry instead.

It can be as simple as a long chain necklace with a chewable object as a charm. You can chew the necklace charm rather than your nails. 

If the other tips don’t work for you and you’re considering chewable jewelry, start by talking to your doctor. Chewing on anything other than food can damage your teeth over time. If you’re struggling to quit your nail-biting habit, your doctor may have some other tips for you to try.

This final tip is the most important when trying to stop biting your nails. You can pair this tip with any of the other techniques.

Nail biting is often developed in early childhood as a stress reliever. It can be brought on by overwhelming thoughts, stress, pain, fear, or other causes. In response, the brain prompts you to bite your nails as an effort to relieve those stressors, and it works. 

By the time you’re an adult, your brain has learned that biting your nails helps relieve stress. Breaking the habit essentially removes a stress-relieving tactic from your mental toolkit. That can cause your brain to panic and make it very hard for you to quit. 

Try adding some new relaxation techniques to your life to give your brain more ways to relieve stress. Some ways to relieve stress include:

It might also be a good idea to visit a psychologist to find out why you bite your nails. Nail biting may be one of a cluster of symptoms that need to be evaluated and treated. 

New habits that act as stress relievers can be good substitutes for unhelpful habits like nail biting. Try to combine these techniques with a nail biting polish to make them more impactful.

The most important thing to remember when trying to find out how to stop biting your nails is to practice patience. 

You’re working on correcting an unconscious habit that’s been hard-wired into your brain since childhood. It’s not going to go away overnight. Your brain believes that nail biting is a useful way to relieve stress. 

You may need to replace the habit with a healthier one. Try to take up yoga or breathing exercises, or add a relaxation technique to your day to increase your stress-relieving activities and reduce the need for nail biting. 

Be patient and kind to yourself. Don’t admonish yourself every time you notice you’re biting your nails. Switch to a more productive relaxation technique instead. Take the time to treat your nails with care, and find new ways to reduce your stress. Your nails and your brain will thank you.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5141299/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3556753/

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/hand/nail_hygiene.html

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