I’ve been a lifelong nail biter. Yes it’s horrible, but it’s a habit that is really hard to break. But I seem to have cracked my nail biting habit (only one little finger nail to go which keeps breaking). I wanted to share my tips on stopping nail biting. Because it’s not always as easy as those with lovely nails think.
I started biting my nails at around age 3. I used to suck 2 fingers as a toddler, then presumably when I stopped doing that I just moved to nibbling on my finger nails. Grim, yes I know. But lots of people do it. In fact, 20-30% of people do it, with 45% of teenagers.
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Why do people bite their nails?
The obvious one that everyone assumes is anxiety or stress. But it’s more likely to be down to boredom, with hunger, concentration, that it feels rewarding/tastes good, or just bad habits being strong reasons too.
More boys than girls bite their nails after the age of 10 (presumably because girls are more likely to be bothered about having nice nails. There can also be family links, for example if one twin is a nail biter, the other is likely to be.
Bizarrely research suggests that nail biters are more likely to be perfectionists.
There’s no significant link to lower self esteem, but there is indication that nail biters may be of higher intelligence. With perfectionism, and intelligence comes maybe more pressure and internal feeling of working well and fast, and nail biting can help concentration or reduce some of that pressure.
Find out more about nail biting research.
Why I’ve bitten my nails
I don’t think I’m an anxious person at all, but I do fit the perfectionist profile. I don’t feel lots of stress, but there is that underlying feeling that I want to do my best, prove what I can do, I know I can rely on myself to get things done. And as some people in articles say, ‘biting neatens off scruffy nails’, although missing the point that they then look even worse.
When I tried to keep track of the times I was biting them, it was largely down to boredom. Driving the car on long commutes wasn’t helpful. Winter was better because I’d wear gloves, but they were still removed when I wanted a chomp. In meetings, or doing work, it was a distraction, or even a bit like multi-tasking. I just needed something to do with my hands while I was doing something else.
Ultimately, it comes down to it being a very difficult habit to break. If one nail gets bitten, then you may as well do the rest the same. I used to be the same with chocolate (as are the whole of my family – no point having one square, just get everything eaten and out of the way. Not like the OH who’s a one square or piece only type of person. Although I am more like this now due to my diet, so hopefully that’s a long term thing now).
Trying to stop nail biting
Like with most habits you want to break, there needs to be a good reason. Whether it’s smoking, dieting, alcohol or nail biting, if there’s no willpower and strong enough reason to stop, you don’t.
Over the years I’ve tried everything.
Every year I’d have a new year’s resolution ‘stop biting my nails’, and every year I’d fail. And probably never even start
Nail biting polish that my mum used to paint on. Yes it tastes foul, but I just got used to it.
I stopped when the OH mentioned getting engaged – getting an engagement ring was a good incentive.
Having a baby – because nail biting isn’t hygienic, and I didn’t fancy biting my nails when I was changing nappies and cleaning up after a baby all the time.
But a few months after having grown them, they’d get bitten off again.
How I stopped biting my nails
Covid. I’ve not had it, but I can probably attribute a lot to Covid.
More washing of hands. Sanitiser. And being told not to touch your face.Obviously, the less my hands are near my face, the less biting. (I’m a rule follower and it’s worked out well for my nails).
Then, I look down and my nails have grown. Luckily, despite all the years of biting, some of mine grow really fast (it turns out research suggests this is the case too, for many nail biters).
Once my nails had started to grow to look non bitten, I started painting on nail strengthener. I’d already started taking biotin to help stop my hair breaking and reduce hair loss, so that probably helped my nails grow and strengthen too.
Now I have nice nails that are pretty strong. I have a glass nail file* to shorten them or shape them when they get a bit long. And keep painting on the strengthener (I use Rimmel Strong Nails), with a bit of coloured polish when I fancy it.
I just have my right little nail to grow. I did keep chewing that one, but have tried to stop. It’s harder when you recognise you need to stop, than when the rest I just seemed to stop with no issues. So that could take a bit of time.
Tips to stop biting nails
Use a bitter tasting polish like Stop n Grow* or Marvala*.
Look after your nails. Use polish, nail strengthener* etc, because the nicer they look the nicer you’ll want to keep them.
Set rewards. My best friend grew hers in stages, then she still had one or two to nibble on while the others grew. Reward yourself for going weeks without biting, or each time one grows, or for at the end when they’re nice.
Wear gloves at times you know you’re bad at biting them.
Work out your nail biting triggers, and set things to avoid being in those situations. So have activities that keep your hands busy.
Look at pictures of horrible nails – it is pretty rank, but sometimes looking at others can shock you into stopping (probably more successful with looking at real life smokers lungs like a former housemate of mine did to stop smoking – he worked in medical research).
List the pros and cons – hopefully there would be more cons.
Remind yourself of the bacterial damage you can do when nail biting – healthwise, dental care wise.
Keep them an easy length. I find mine are a little awkward now to use my phone camera in one hand, so I need to trim a couple of them down a bit. It does adjust to having longer nails, so keep them shorter while they’re growing and strengthening.
Think about getting tips put on at a nail salon, letting yours grow underneath. I’ve never found they leave my nails in a good state on the couple of times I’ve had them put on, so I prefer not too, but a good nail salon would be able to advise and help.
If you were a nail biter, how have you given up?
I need to share this with my husband and daughter!! Thanks for posting this.
I used to bite my nails terribly. I have always been an anxious person but I always put it down to boredom too. I only stopped biting my nails when I became pregnant with my eldest. I had really bad morning sickness and even thinking about putting anything near my mouth used to make me gag. I haven’t bitten my nails since but I hate the feeling of having long nails so do keep them cut short. x
It’s funny how there’s usually something that puts us off chewing them. In the past I’ve stopped but then started again. I’m determined to stop for good this time.