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Why People Bite Their Nails and How to Stop

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I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.

A little time each day spent manicuring can help people who bite their nails.

A little time each day spent manicuring can help people who bite their nails.

Do you bite your nails?

Causes for Nail-Biting

There are many different causes for onychophagia, or nail-biting. One is that it is a learned behavior, but it is more commonly done due to stress, boredom, excitement, or compulsion. Most of the time, those who bite their nails don't even realize that they are doing it. This is because nail-biting may occur alongside other body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRB), which include pulling hair or picking at skin.

Nail-biters come in all ages, although it is commonly stopped after around the age of 30. It is difficult to decide on just one cause for why people bite their nails. What most nail-biters don't realize is that what they're doing is really bad for them. This habit can cause infections in the mouth or around the nail bed, give you red or sore fingertips, and cause your cuticles to bleed. Furthermore, long-term nail-biting can affect how nails grow and cause them to become deformed.

There are plenty of ways to work to stop biting nails, some of which are listed below. If you or someone you know is a nail-biter, perhaps one of these suggestions can help you or them cut this nail-biting compulsion for good. Keep in mind, it really is a lot easier said than done. I've been a nail-biter for years on and off. Trying to stop requires patience but, in the end, it's worth it for your own health and well being.

Are you a recovering addict?

Facts About Nail-Biting

  1. More boys chew their nails than girls.
  2. Half of children between 10 and 18 years are nail-biters, usually during puberty.
  3. Although some adults around 18-22 years old do it, nail-biting usually stops after age 30.

Ways to Help Stop Nail-Biting

1. Start taking care of your nails

This can mean that you just keep them clean, trimmed, and filed, but it could also include getting a manicure. The more you focus on taking care of your nails, the less likely you are to start biting and destroying them again. As a nail-biter, this has been the most successful way for me to stop chewing my nails.

2. Try to destress yourself

If you're the kind of nail-biter who does it because of anxiety or stress, then try doing things to help manage that so that you can avoiding biting your nails. Some examples would be exercise or a warm non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drink. Simply getting enough sleep can also help.

3. Make 'em taste gross

This one hasn't been the most effective for me but it's pretty popular for most people so I'm sure it's quite effective. Using Thum or hot sauce are the most common remedies that I've heard of. The only downside is the stuff comes off quick when you wash your hands and whatnot all day, so you have to remember to reapply it. This is where it fails me because it's so much easier for me to just keep biting my nails.

4. Give yourself a negative reaction

I actually read somewhere where it was suggested to wear a rubber band around your wrist and so whenever you started chewing you could snap it. Eventually, you'll just subconsciously know that chewing nails leads to a negative reaction. Kind of similar to the suggestion above except it sounds a little crazier and, to me, seems less effective. Could work though, so if you think it will, give it a try.

5. Distract your hands

Get a new hobby like learning to play the piano or some other musical instrument. Play videogames, or knit. If you're a hubber, write more and chew less!

6. Get a tongue ring

Not a completely serious suggestion but at the same time, it's been proven by many a nail-biter who has gotten this piercing. Their ability to keep their mouth busy with their tongue ring has helped them kick the nail-biting habit for good. Another crazy suggestion but one that might just work.

7. Wear a reminder

Put a bandaid, sticker, or bracelet on so that you know not to chew your nails.

8. Stop biting, one nail at a time

If it seems like a daunting task to go cold turkey, try just protecting one nail at a time from your own urges to destroy them. They'll all eventually get long and beautiful and, before you know it, you'll have cut the habit.

9. Distract your mouth

Eat something like a carrot, chew gum, suck on ice, or do whatever else may come to mind to keep your mouth too busy to bite those nails.

10. Cover them up

If all else fails, fake nails or a pair of gloves can help to cover up those nails so you can't get to those suckers at all.

Taking the time to give yourself a manicure once in a while can actually help prevent nail biting.

Taking the time to give yourself a manicure once in a while can actually help prevent nail biting.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Lisa


Virgin on August 30, 2019:

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lmao if I put hot sauce on my fingernail I would bite them all day

Unknown on October 11, 2013:

I have been obsessively chewing my nails and the skin around them hours apon hours for less then a year ,my nails have already become deformed. This habit started around the time that a turned 13, before then I only chewed my lips an cheeks (obsessively). I have no idea why I can't stop or why I even chew my fingers, it has just become a terrible habit that I can't seem to break no matter how hard I try.

Abhi on May 20, 2013:

No, it does not seem stop even after 45. I have this accidental roommate who always keeps biting his nails and toothpicking. I feel ashamed to walk with him or sit beside him on buses, though I almost always avoid him.

vibesites from United States on March 20, 2013:

I'm glad I've outgrown biting nails when I reached my teens... I realized it was gross. Ugh. And I started to get hooked on nail polishes around that time too. Thanks for posting, I didn't know that nail biting has such a term :)

Rosa Lea Acerimo from Marikina City on March 19, 2013:

happy to see a hub like this. it really made me realize that my habit is not a good one. i often notice myself nail biting when thinking and listening to my teachers when I was still studying. I will try to practice some tips and hopefully win over this bad habit of mine

Rumana from Sharjah, UAE on March 19, 2013:

HI LisaKoski,

This is an interesting hub. I was also a nail biter during my childhood. My parents used to scold me for that, but I don't know why I could not leave that bad habit.

Now I can give you tips to any nail biter I see.

Voted up Useful and Shared!

Sunny on March 17, 2013:

Just so you know, I'm a boy and I'm 9. About 2 years ago I started biting my nails. It really bugs me and my parents. Because of this hub, I finally have have a strategy to stop biting my nails!

Lisa (author) from WA on March 16, 2013:

Based on my experience, the skin around your fingernails will be fine once you let it heal and allow your nails to grow. Good luck! It's hard to stop biting nails but you can do it. The trick that has worked best for me has been taking care of my nails and painting them every week so that they look too nice to destroy. While they were still embarrassingly short, I used clear nail polish until they were long enough to use color without feeling self conscious.

Jen on March 16, 2013:

I never realized how bad I was about biting my nails until my fiance' pointed it out to me. I never even notice when i'm doing it. But now that he pointed it out to me I catch myself doing it ALL day! No matter what i'm doing i'm biting nails. I never knew how bad I actually was about it. I am the same way , I get embarrassed to have to hand someone money at a store because I don't want them to see how bad my nails are. Today will be my first day not biting them. But i also bite the skin around my nail to were it hurts to press my fingers down on something. Will the skin around my finger nails ever grow back normally?

meloncauli from UK on January 31, 2013:

It's amazing how it feels to have beautiful nails, after they have been bitten for so long! Great for self-esteem, if only because it is a hard habit to break. Great hub!

Acylon on December 19, 2012:

I used the rubber band trick and that worked for me. When I noticed I was biting my nails I would snap that sucker hard! That ends the habit pretty darn quick!

Janis Goad on April 24, 2012:

I enjoyed your hub. I bit nails as a child, as a reaction to stress and anxiety from perceived judgement from my mother. I bit until I finished school and graduated from university. Once I was living alone and started doing yoga and finding my own centre and living there, much of my stress lifted.

DEEPA JOHN from Trivandrum, Kerala,India on April 19, 2012:

Great Information , I had this behaviour in the childhood, Now I have get rid of this ...

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on April 11, 2012:

Though I have seen nail biting people I did not know nail biting is called Onychophagia.

Thanks for sharing this informative hub.

Lisa (author) from WA on March 12, 2012:

Thanks for reading :)

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on March 12, 2012:

Ha, I didn't know it had a diagnosis. I bit my nails constantly for 35 years, and then just stopped. I still tend to bite them, but I am just not a "long nail" kind of gal. They just get in my way. Thanks for the information. Voted UP

Lisa (author) from WA on March 11, 2012:

I am the same way when I bite my nails. Gets to where I can barely touch anything because my fingertips hurt so bad. I work as a cashier so that helps make me very conscious and keep my habit in check most of the time so it's not so embarrassing to hand back change. I don't think most people realize just how much everyone looks at eachother's hands. Good point!

Kate Herrell from Denver, CO on March 11, 2012:

I bit my nails for years as a result of undiagnosed anxiety. Somehow, they didn't get as short as that photo above, but I would stay at it until they bled. I am very dilligent about painting my nails now and keeping them pretty, but every once in a while I buy fake nails to help. It is truly a compulsive thing and I couldn't control it for a lot of my life. It is also (weirdly) a hormonal thing for women sometimes. My advice? Consider that about 90% of your communication is done with your hands! That definitely keeps me in check! Nice work :)

Lisa (author) from WA on March 11, 2012:

suzettenaples: I had no idea nail biting had an official name until I researched for this hub. I've been biting my nails on and off for as long as I remember. Definitely getting manicures help but I've also found that if I get a good amount of sleep at night and avoid caffeine then I won't even think about chewing my nails.

Sarahhh666: Perhaps he was anxious about your date. Chewing nails is gross but most of the time the person doing it is completely unaware of it. When I would bite my nails, I was always pretty good about not doing it in public though. Hopefully the rest of your date went well.

Sarahhh666 from near Philly on March 11, 2012:

I had a date last night with this dude I never went out with before. We're riding in his car and he is driving with one hand and biting his nails on the other. Do you think he was bored or excited? Anyway, I thought it was disgusting. I thought about picking my nose in response. I doubt there is going to be a second date, but if there is, I'll give him some of your suggestions.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on March 11, 2012:

This is really interesting. I didn't know nail biting had an official name. I was a nail biter when I was young. By the time I got into high school I had stopped. The best way to stop was getting manicures. After paying for them, I wasn't about to bite them away!

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