Lynsey loves trying out beauty tips and products. She often makes her own products and enjoys sharing any useful information that she finds!
As a recently recovered nail biter (*update- over 4 years biting free!), I have discovered a number of coping mechanisms which have stopped me from giving in to the usual habit. If these techniques can help a lifetime biter like myself, then they are sure to help anyone. If, like me, you have tried various potions over the years only to be disappointed when you grew accustomed to the taste, you will find that trying a different approach may help...
If you like the taste....
Why Do We Bite?
There are a number of reasons why we bite nails but according to psychologists, it usually stems from early childhood, where we discover that things in our mouths are pleasurable (think of why we always had a dummy/pacifier to soothe us).
This primal desire is often discouraged by adults around us, who encourage us to get rid of our precious dummies, and some children move onto chewing fingers/ hands to replicate the sensation of the dummy. The adults then unwittingly create an oral fixation, by constantly depriving us of this, either by taking our dummies away prematurely, or by telling us that chewing fingers is "dirty" or "bad."
This particular explanation can be linked to around half the cases of nail biting- others being learned behaviour or nervous OCD type behaviour.
Personally, I know that I have an oral fixation- typically diagnosed by constantly chewing on pens/pencils/ fingers, smoking and/or overeating. If you do any of these, it's more than likely you have an oral fixation, and these tips should help you.
I would expect these tips will also help anyone who is a learned biter- that is someone who learned the habit from a sibling or another adult, and adopted the behaviour as their own.
Why We Shouldn't Bite
There are many reasons why we shouldn't bite nails.
Firstly, there is the hygiene aspect- do you know how much bacteria there is under the typical fingernail? Even hand washing regularly doesn't penetrate the deep recesses of under the nail tip, and this is a perfect breeding area for bacteria. If you travel via public transport, think of this- would you voluntarily lick the hand rails? No? That is equivalent of what you are doing when you bite your nails. Yum!
Secondly, there is maturity- I'm sure there have been plenty of situations where you have felt rather childish when your hand unwittingly went towards your mouth, and you were mid bite when someone asked you a question. It has happened to me all to often.
Thirdly, there is Vanity. It may not be high on many lists, but I know that I definitely like the look of my hands a lot more now that my nails aren't little rough, bitten stumps. I also love the fact I can now paint them various different colours without looking like a 10 year old.
Fourthly, there is the fact that you can damage your teeth- particularly if trying to bite with dentures or veneers.
The list really is endless, and I am sure that anyone reading this post has their very own reason for giving up nail biting.
So, how do we do it?
1- Set A Date
If you set a giving up date (not too far in the future) you are more likely to stick to your resolution. When I gave up nail biting, I decided that I would start on a Monday, as over the weekend I may have been bored, and more likely to bite, plus it allowed a fresh start to a new week.
2- Remember Why You Are Doing This
Whether you are growing your nails for a particular occasion, or you simply want to kick the habit you should always keep in mind your end goal- this will keep you focused and less likely to falter.
3- Keep Them Short
It may be tempting to grow super long nails at first, but bear in mind that they will be brittle from years of biting. Keep nails short to begin with (just over the nail tip) and use strengthening nail varnish to harden nails. Once hard, begin growth at a slow, steady rate- I personally hate the feeling of a nail bending and this tends to happen when the growth is rushed.
4- Paint Nails Regularly
I find that if I paint the nails with varnish or nail wraps, I am less likely to bite. This is because I can't see the build up of white nail, reducing the urge to bite it off.
5- Keep Your Hands Busy
Find something to do to keep your hands busy. If they are busy with a task, they are less likely to travel towards your mouth automatically.
6- Keep A Nail File Handy
If you develop a snag on your nail, you should never try to bite it away. It is unlikely that you will have a nice finish, and very likely that you will revert back to your old ways! A snag nail is no excuse to bite! Use a nail file to file away any imperfections.
7- Avoid Your Trigger
Personally, anxiety is generally my trigger for nail biting. You should try to identify your trigger so that you can then avoid it! Anxiety is slightly difficult to avoid completely, but if I am aware of the trigger, I am more likely to be conscious in stopping myself from nail biting.
8- Wear Gloves
If possible, wear gloves as this presents a barrier between your mouth and the nails. If you live in a cold country, this is easier to do, however if you are not, think about using gloves during food preparation or rubber gloves when cleaning. As well as being a barrier, the gloves also protect your nails from damage from everyday activities.
9- Don't Worry About Breakages
There's no need to worry about breaking a nail- it will happen! What you need to do is avoid using this as an excuse- you don't have to bite the rest of your nails down to the same level! Instead, use a file to even the top of the nail, and file the rest down slightly to meet the level. This doesn't particularly matter if you are keeping the nails short.
10- Treat Yourself
It may sound silly, but plan to reward yourself for good behaviour. If you stop biting for a week, buy yourself a nice nail varnish or nail art set. If you manage a month, book yourself in for a manicure. However you reward yourself, remember to acknowledge your success as this will also encourage continued success.
Good luck in your attempt to stop nail biting. Please comment with any suggestions or barriers you are facing, and I will try to use my experience to help!
© 2014 Lynsey Hart
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on February 12, 2018:
Hi Ellie, thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment! Im so pleased for you! How good do you feel about that!!!? It only gets better- as all the little rough bits grow out, the cuticles improve, and your nails harden you will love it! Oh- and- treat yourself to a manicure when you're ready too- feels amazing not getting extensions!
Ellie Followill on February 12, 2018:
Ive been biting my nails sense I was little and I've finally stopped. I used to do it when I got nervous so thank you so much.
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on June 06, 2015:
Hi Boerboellover, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences. 47 years of doing anything is going to take years to relearn the habit!
You are right that biting is a common habit that there doesn't seem to be much help for. I don't know whether perhaps it is seen as a less harmful habit, so things such as smoking are covered instead. However it is embarrassing having swollen/ bleeding nail beds and dermatitis, and not many people appreciate this, particularly when they point it out to you!!!!
Firstly, let me congratulate you on seeking help- that is a difficult step to take. I can also see that you had setbacks along the way which have trampled on your progress, but please don't allow that to dissuade you.
The tips that I provided on this hub were what worked for me. In all honesty, I was inspired to stop when my partner made a comment about how he thought nail biting was disgusting, and I really didn't want him thinking I was disgusting! That really gave me the willpower, which I'm afraid you will have to summon up. It was hard, and I still get the impulse to bite, which I usually satisfy by biting the varnish off instead. Peel off varnish, like Barry M Gelly is really good for this.
Have you tried getting acrylic/ gel nails put on? I'm not sure how good they would be for you, but they allow you to chew (and if you don't use too much force) they remain intact. However, they would present another picking tool which would likely be more lethal than natural nails, so maybe not the best idea, unless you asked for them short?
I know this also sounds silly, but even a dummy (pacifier) to keep your mouth busy and away from your hands could help. I get the idea from going back to the fact it is an oral fixation really, and as kids we satisfy that with a dummy, so it may help?
You're reaction to having nails and the fact that you have relapsed since having a traumatic relationship experience suggests to me that your biting is linked seriously with anxiety. (No rocket scientist required to figure that out, I know) But I think that even some self exploration of what it is that causes you to feel anxious and trying to resolve that would help.
You can find lots of things online about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy methods- this may be a (free) way forward for you?
As for the dating scene, try to go to activities at first which aren't face to face constantly. Try to avoid dinner/ drinks as the hands are used often. Roller discos/ dancing (clubs are kind of dark)/ walks in the park/ carnival/ museums/ firework diplays... you get the idea. Typically things where you are both walking beside each other or sitting beside each other, should provide ample discretion for your nails in the meantime.
I really hope you have found this useful I was even thinking of setting up an online support page for this, if you think that may help? I'm sure it's not just you out there. The more support, the better?
boerboellover on June 04, 2015:
Thanks for writing about a habit rarely covered. I think nail biting is more common than most people k n ow, yet unlike other habits there is little information on how to stop/control it.
I've been an excessive nail bitter for 47 years; possibly longer - that's what i remember.
I have tried EVERYTHING to stop. Nail polish, manicures, bad-tasting products on my nails, elastics on my wrists, gloves, band-aids, fake nails and probably several others i can't recall. I also tried hypnosis and when that failed, i saw a therapist on a weekly basis for TWO YEARS. I would bite my nails during the therapy sessions!!!
I did manage to stop biting for just over a year. I was in a serious relationship and thought my boyfriend was going to engage and i didn't want him to put a fkng on a finger with a bitten off nail and bloody cuticles. Unfortunately i caught him cheating on me before any engagement and when that happened i returned to nail b itijg with a vengeance and havennt stopped since (its been 10 years)........ i should mention that during the year i wasn't nail biting, i filled the void with other habbits. Since i had nails- i had a built in picking tool. I peeled off my toenails constantly. I picked every scab or imperfectjon on my body and i began to peel the skin from my cracked/callused heels so deep it led to an infection.... i just swapped one nervous behavior with another.
So here i am, biting for nearly half a century and unable to stop. Ive read EVERY article out there and while many have good suggestions none have resulted in me quitting on a permanent basis. Ive tried to quit literally hundreds of times, but the compulsion is so strong i just give in. No, i do not have good willpower; admittedly its quite low.
I live alone, and have been single for the past 10 years. I refuse to enter the dating scene until i stop nail biting. And my nails are the ONLY reason I refuse to date. The difficulty of hiding my hands from any date to avoid the embarrassment of having it "brought to my attention" is just too much. I hate the moment where someone new sees my nails for the first time and they act like they're looking at a murder scene!
Soooooo.... i don't know that you have any advice that might help. But im open to anything. My teeth are damaged from biting and i can't afford a dentist and my current insurance does not cover mental health (more therapy is not an option-no money).
It feels good to cyber-vent to someone whos been there. Hopefully you'll respond and perhaps it will be the motivation i need to quit for good. Im sooooooo tired of eating my fingers!!! Thanks for listening.
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on February 25, 2015:
It does definitely sound like you have an oral fixation, although I'm no expert, by any means. I think that when it has got to such an extreme stage you might be best seeing a specialist, if you haven't already. You have definitely tried lots of things, and I think that simple determination isn't working, especially when u are picking at nails in your sleep. That's definitely deep rooted! Plasters around your fingers may help... Or maybe spreading Vaseline on them before bed? This would moisturise and protect the nail bed, while also giving a slightly unpleasant taste, so any biting during night would maybe stop? It would also make your fingers slippy so you couldn't pick at them as easily? Let me know how you get on...
Lexc on February 25, 2015:
One part vanity
I'm a girl who has never been able to wear nail polish without fake nails or looking like a 3 year old who got into moms things
The bigest need to stop is it is so painful I not only pick and bite my nails but I peel my toe nails where some toes don't have any nail
They hurt to the touch and bleed so offten a few have needed me to take pus out of them myself
Iv tried to stop but now I have added habits biting lips and inside of mouth. My lips are so bad they bleed if I smile to big sometimes and my mouth had scares inside
I picked up light nicotine smoking but was pressured to stop
I suck on my husbands knuckles and arms when I can but still find myself picking
I get fake nails (the 50$ something ones)on so I can't reach my real nails but they pop off in a few days because I apparently rip them off in my sleep and once one is off they all MUST come off
There's a million reassons but I can't seem to stop. Not like I enjoy it .i can't even eat popcorn without them burning , I have to use a small chip bag to eat popcorn .
I couldn't say if I even had a passi or not but I do have OCD and oveously have found myself into oral fixation .
My next trail is tapeing my finger tips up so I can't get to them
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on October 03, 2014:
Good luck! You can do it! Just keep your goal in mind. I still find myself grinning like a child when I see my nails all perfectly painted :-) plus, I've finally got a chance to use my shoebox full of nail varnishes I've accumulated over the years! Let me know hoe you get on!
Amanda on October 03, 2014:
My mother shamed me into not sucking my thumb when I was little & I moved directly to nail biting. I also chew on pens and other stuff, but my nails are the big issue. I bite them so short that you can sometimes see the cuticle more than the nails & they bleed. I've tried stopping before, but never with a specific date or goal in mind. I decided yesterday afternoon that I want to be able to paint my real nails (not tips or acrylics) a pretty red color for Christmas, so that is my goal now. I want them at least long enough to look good with polish by Christmas. Of course, since I can't control the speed they grow, I will realistically set myself a secondary goal of having them nice by Valentine's day. Wish me luck please :-)
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on August 06, 2014:
Ouch!!! That sounds painful! Well I have not bitten my nails in over a year now. I never thought this was possible. Try out my tips, and let me know how you get on!
Greta on August 05, 2014:
I want to stop biting my nails b/c I have chipped a tooth while biting my nails... It is no fun!
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on June 08, 2014:
Thanks for your read and comment MsDora. Can I ask, why aren't you allowed to paint them? I don't think I ever could have quit without that!!! lol It does, however make it particularly frustrating when I break just one, and the rest look uneven :/
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 07, 2014:
Hi Sparkely, I used to be one of those nail biters way up to early adulthood. I can't say for sure when and why I quit, but reading through your article makes me think I might have stopped sooner if I were allowed to paint my nails. You gave good suggestions here. Thank you.
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on April 16, 2014:
Thanks Sally! It's only after I've given up that I realise how childish I looked!
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on April 16, 2014:
There are some great tips here for nail - as a longtime nail biter as a child I am relieved to say that I eventually grew out of it.
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on March 16, 2014:
Good luck! You will get to a stage where the nail is so thick it can't be bitten easily. Let me know how you get on!
Nell Rose from England on March 15, 2014:
Hi, yes I am a nail biter too! in fact its so subconscious with me I don't know I am doing it! drives me insane! lol! so great tips and ideas from you that I will be trying, thanks! going for the nail varnish....going for the....nail varnish! haha!
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on March 13, 2014:
Awesome! Good luck, and I look forward to your updates! :-)
ise on March 13, 2014:
Thanks you for your advise, i will try them all. I will also keep ya update of how this goes..
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on March 13, 2014:
Thanks for stopping by. Have you tried using the tips in the hub? Number 7 applies to you, but you should try them all together.
ise on March 12, 2014:
I do this a lot , i hate bitting my nails is like i need to stop but it happens when im nervous or stressbi always remember i did wrong after i look at my poor hands.., any tips ??
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on March 10, 2014:
Good luck! If I can do it, anyone can! I have been a habitual biter since before I can remember... Now think I'm 8 months without a nibble!! Lol
Lisa Palmer from Attapulgus GA on March 10, 2014:
great tips, I am guilty of nail biting especially when I'm nervous. I'll have to give your recommendations a try.
Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on March 09, 2014:
I agree kerlund! Hopefully this hub will inspire you to try again? Good luck, and keep me posted on your success!
kerlund74 from Sweden on March 09, 2014:
Interesting hub. I think this is a common problem. I stopped once but are now on my starting to bite again. Like many other things we like to change it is important to set goals and so on. Great suggestions!