Nail Biter? Here’s 9 Ways to Nix the Habit

·6-min read

Has a sneaky finger-chewing habit reared its head in the last 18 months? Well, firstly know that you're not alone as celebs including Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Phil Collins and even Kate Middleton have all been seen, or admitted to, biting their nails.

If high end company isn't really what you're after and you actually want to know how to stop biting your nails then keep scrolling.

While you may not think it’s the worst habit in the world, biting your nails can be a sign of anxiety, stress or boredom. Not only that but gnarled cuticles and nails chewed down to your fingertips are definitely unsightly. Not to mention that chewing too much can cause soreness, bleeding and even dental problems.

So, why do some of us chow down on our manis? And how can you actually stop biting your nails? WH called on Ekta Mansukhani, Senior Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist at themindworks.co.uk and Nuffield Health, to reveal all you need to know about quitting your nail-biting habit once and for all.

What causes you to bite your nails, in the first place?

Nail-biting is known in medical circles as 'onychophagia,' and the cause has been extensively studied.

'Many studies have concluded that nail-biting arises from anxiety or being in a nervous state. Situations that cause fear, boredom, or pain are also correlated with fingernail biting,' says Ekta.

'Fingernail biting may give children a sense of relief in response to these types of internal emotional turmoil.'

The general consensus is that there is no one particular cause for nail-biting. It’s something that tends to start in childhood, with some outgrowing the habit whilst others don’t.

'Many research authors believe that nail-biting is a learned habit rather than an emotional condition and many may learn it from their parents as we tend to mimic behaviours around us,' adds Ekta. Thanks mum and dad.

Is biting your nails a mental disorder?

Some experts group nail-biting into the same category as hair pulling (trichotillomania) which has been classified as an impulse control disorder, while others think it’s linked to OCD.

'Nail-biting hasn’t been classified in the DSM-V (the manual used to classify mental health disorders), which means it’s not a mental health condition,' notes Ekta.

Psychodermatolgst Dr Alia Ahmed explained in an interview that 'it’s not uncommon for these habits to run in the family. 'Several studies indicate that there is a genetic component to nail biting. One study has shown that 36.8 percent of nail biters had at least one family member with this habit while studies of twins have shown that identical twins are more likely to both be nail biters than non-identical twins. '

Is it bad to bite your nails?

This really depends on how far you take it. 'There have been several articles written by orthodontists that reference nail-biting as being bad for the alignment of your teeth,' says Ekta.

'Whilst severe fingernail biting may produce root resorption of the teeth and lead to further dental problems or health complications.'

So, if you want to avoid a trip to the dentist (who doesn't?) then kicking the habit is a good start. Keep reading for how to stop biting your nails and the best ways to tackle your nail-biting habit once and for all...

How to stop biting your nails: 9 ways to halt the habit

According to Ekta, habit reversal training can be useful to stop nail biting and consists of a few simple steps:

1. Try awareness training

'Think about the nail-biting, identify when it happens, at what point of the day, and what may trigger it. You might ask somebody to point out when you’re biting your nails to further increase awareness.

'This can then lead to the person being able to identify when they are going to bite their nails and whether there are any warning signs that take place before they bite their nails (such as sitting in a particular way or waiting for something),' says Ekta.

Then, develop a competent response: Once the trigger is identified, you can replace the nail-biting with another behaviour such as occupying your hands with something else like a stress ball.

Next, make a list of problems that nail-biting leads to, such as soreness or unsightly appearance.

'Finally, it’s important to practice the habit reversal in different contexts. For example, you may start off practicing it at home where it occurs the most but then practice it when you are out at work or on the train so that the skill generalises,' explains Ekta.

2. Give yourself a gel manicure

Not only is a gel or shellac manicure more hardwearing, but if you see your nails looking good you may be less likely to want to bite them into oblivion.

3. Keep your nails short

Biting short nails is less satisfying than nibbling at longer ones.

4. Coat your nails in terrible tasting polish

To deter you from biting.

5. Wear gloves as often as possible!

Which, we know, is easier in winter…

6. Keep your hands busy

Either with a stress ball, fidget spinner or even by doing a puzzle when watching the TV, if that’s one of the times when you tend to bite your nails.

7. Wrap your nails with plasters

At home only, of course. This will act as a block between you and your talons.

8. Keep a hairband on your wrist

The idea is that you swap one habit for another. So by placing a hairband on your wrist and pinging that every time you have an urge to bite your nails, you're hand are basically occupied with something else.

9. keep clippers or a file around at all times

A Reddit thread titled tips to stop nail biting is filled with comments from biters who advocate keeping clippers or a file to hand.

'The reason I bite my nails is because I hate the rough edges catching on to things, but that creates more rough edges. Vicious cycle. Now I just file them when I'm bored to make them nice and smooth.'

The best products to stop you from biting your nails

1. Nail HQ, Bite Guard

As well as leaving a bitter taste when biting nails, this topcoat is infused with biotin, caffeine, and vitamin E to help encourage strong nail growth.

2. Pretty Quik, Nail The Habit

In a rush? Simply dip and twist your nails into this pot when you feel the urge to bit your nails. The bitter taste will stop you in your tracks.

3. Margaret Dabbs, Crystal Nail File

If you like to keep your nails short so that you're not tempting to chow down on them then file away with a glass nail file. The design of it, as opposed to the typical emory board, will leave the ends of your nails sealed so the ends stay smooth and don't peel or split.

4. Try Nail Wraps

If your nails look fresh and colourful, you may be less inclined to chow on them. Try these wraps for size.

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