How To Quit Your Nail Biting Habit, According To The Experts

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Quitting nail biting can be as difficult as quitting smoking. According to the NIH, the habit (“onychophagia”) is a chronic condition that is repetitive and compulsive in nature.

“Stress, anxiety, emotional regulation, and habitual behavior can all trigger the urge to bite your nails,” Suite Eleven founder Ari Smith tells ESSENCE. Although the causes point to internal factors, breaking the habit may only require a few tips, tricks and tools in your beauty bag.

Below, two experts explain the harmful impact of nail biting and how to stop.

Why do people bite their nails?

Although some studies show nail biting is a result of boredom or working out difficult problems, others claim the habit helps reduce tension. “Nail biting is one of those unconscious habits usually caused by nerves, stress or anxiety for a lot of people,” esthetician and Black Skin Directory founder Dija Ayodele.

“For the vast majority of people, it tends to be a childhood habit they eventually grow out of.” While about 45% of 10 year olds develop the habit, “there is always a cohort who continue well into adulthood,” Ayodele notes. “Sometimes nail biting can also start in adulthood as well.”

What damage does nail biting cause to the nails?

“Nail biting can cause various forms of harm to the nails and surrounding areas such as nail deformation, cuticle damage, and infections,” Smith says. “Biting can introduce bacteria and fungi from the mouth to the nail bed and the skin around the nails, leading to infections such as paronychia.”

According to Ayodele, the habit can also affect how the nail grows out, weakening the tissue in the surrounding skin (think: hangnail biting). “The skin around the nails is very important because it protects the nail bed and nail matrix– the command center or brain of your nails.”

How do you build stronger nails? 

According to CND™ SHELLAC™, the key to healthy nails is regular manicures. “Investing in weekly manicure regular treatments is a good start,” Ayodele says. If that is not possible, she suggests investing in an at home manicure kit, strengthening polish or cuticle oil.

As for internal steps, nail supplements and eating vitamin-rich eggs, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and fish can help. “Building stronger nails requires consistent care and attention to both internal and external factors,” Smith says. “With time and effort, your nails can become more resilient and less tempting to bite.”

Identify your triggers:

Noticing the triggers causing you to bite or pick your nails is the first step. “Be aware of your triggers and have replacement behavior that will keep your hands busy and fingers out of your mouth,” Ayodele says, including filing, journaling, or a stress ball. Take a mental note of your environment, mental and emotional state when the urge arises, that way you can try to implement healthier coping mechanisms.

Keep your nails groomed and trimmed:

As a nail biter, wearing nail extensions helps curb the habit for weeks at a time. “Keep your nails groomed, short and invest in regular manicures,” Ayodele suggests. When your nails are covered with nail enhancements or a russian manicure clipped your hangnails, it is virtually impossible to bite. “I’ve found a pretty gel manicure is a good deterrent because your nails are well protected underneath the gel and they look so pretty you won’t want to bite them.”

Try bitter nail polish

Bitter nail polish like Onyx Professional Deterrent Polish or Mavala Nail Polish Treatment can also help by putting a nasty taste in your mouth when biting. Otherwise, keeping your nails filed, short and strong can make the habit less convenient. “Regular nail care, including proper grooming, moisturizing, and avoiding harmful habits (like biting or using nails as tools), is essential for maintaining nail health and overall well-being,” says Smith.

Moisturize your hands

“Moisturize your hands and cuticles regularly as rough, dry skin is more tempting to pick at,” Smith says. Similar to deterrent polish, the taste of hand lotion isn’t any better. Ayodele’s favorites are Koba Skincare Touch Me Hand Cream and Vaseline Radiant X Hand Butter to help protect your skin. While hardened skin can be difficult to resist, “paying attention to moisturizing them keeps the skin hydrated and soft.”

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