Fingernail Biting
February 6, 2005 12:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop myself from biting my fingernails? I'm in my twenties now and this habit is really injurious to my self-esteem (and probably my health, too). Every so often I'll remove so much that my fingers are sore for a few days and once or twice I've drawn blood. I can stop for up to about a week, but inevitably I succumb in a moment of distracted agitation, and the habit returns. (Answers amounting to "stop being nervous!" are not especially welcome.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I got over it by chipping one of my front, lower teeth after 29 years of doing it. A dentist did a root canal on it and filled it, but it will have to be capped someday.

As someone that always bit his nails it was tough to think that I'd only get to clip them once a week or so, using clippers instead of teeth. I thought this would be a huge burden but it really isn't and I quickly got used to it. I would never again think to do it, especially with my weakened, filled tooth. I still get to clip them fairly short, but I don't have pain from too much biting anymore. And they look respectable.

Another friend got over it by simply going to a nail salon and getting a manicure (and yeah, he's male). Get them to paint clear polish onto the nails and they will taste so bad you will learn to go to the clippers instead.
posted by mathowie at 12:42 PM on February 6, 2005

Keep your nails cut may or may not help. Also, keep something in your pocket to fiddle with when you're nervous such as a silver dollar.
posted by sled at 12:45 PM on February 6, 2005

You can buy bitter nail polish at the drugstore without shelling out for a manicure. I find that when I get into the habit from time to time and just cutting my nails so there's nothing to bite. Whether or not that works for you will depend on how determined you are to find something to bite, of course.
posted by duck at 12:52 PM on February 6, 2005

Keep nail grooming tools with you. When you get the urge, at least use the right tool for the job. The problem with biting your nails is that your teeth aren't particularly well-suited for the task at hand and often take off more than intended. By the "right tools", I mean nail clippers, but perhaps more importantly, an emory board to smooth down loose edges (that's my downfall- a little piece of nail or skin sticking up).
posted by Doohickie at 12:53 PM on February 6, 2005

quit biting the nails on one hand, bite freely the other hand's nails.
by the time they've grown back, the other hand will look so much worse that you'll probably stop.
posted by matteo at 1:10 PM on February 6, 2005

I had a nail-biting problem, and I solved it by doing what mathowie suggests: I clip them every night, and keep plenty of things around to fiddle with when I'm lost in thought, nervous, etc. I still catch myself biting them on occasion, but I always catch myself before I've gone too far.
posted by Eamon at 1:21 PM on February 6, 2005

As an ex-extreme nail biter I can chip in my experience. I had a real problem as a child with biting my nails - I just could not stop. Eventually my parents, at the end of their tether, offered me £5 for each nail I stopped biting. £50 was a phenomenal amount of money when I was 13 and I stopped. I have never, ever gone back to biting them, I just snapped out of it and used some extreme willpower to earn that money.

I'm sure you aren't 13, but perhaps you could try rewarding yourself the same way, or set some restrictions and then treat yourself if you stop biting. IMO these chemical nail polishes and similar treatments are quick fix, you will have to use old fashioned will power if you want to make a change.
posted by fire&wings at 1:26 PM on February 6, 2005

You can learn to like the nasty chemical taste. (I am a former (@8yo) thumb sucker that had to have braces because of the habit)

I stopped biting my nails with two things: willpower and a Leatherman Micra. I stopped biting for as long as I could and cut them very nicely. That stopped me like a manicure, though I'm not sure if the same would work for you. I then carried the Mica around with me everywhere and tried to keep my nails in tip top shape with it, instead of biting them.

The Micra is the only tool I've found with a decent emory board (very important!) and that could be called "manly" if the need arises. You also get a bonus that the Micra is so much fun to fold/unfold that you can do that instead of biting your nails. I stopped biting, but I still have to fiddle with something almost constantly.
posted by easyasy3k at 1:59 PM on February 6, 2005

Only thing that had me stop biting my nails was (a) the realization that putting my fingers in my mouth was a sure-fire way to get sick; (b) keeping them clipped. If I found myself gnawing, I'd go clip them.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:05 PM on February 6, 2005

I had a similar problem until I started carrying a standard nail clipper with file in my backpack.

Now when I get the urge to pick or bite a ragged nail edge, I just pull out the nail clippers. Since they don't leave a ragged edge, there's nothing to bite at the next time around.
posted by event at 2:23 PM on February 6, 2005

I've just stopped biting my cuticles after about 12 years. Unlike quitting smoking, cuticles/nails are attached, so you never have to scrounge up change to buy a pack of cuticles/nails, or bum one from someone else.

What made me stop was the realization that my fidget-mechanism made me look much more nervous/insecure than I really felt. Unconsciously I cut down on cuticle-biting when I was talking one-on-one with someone. Then, after I spent a week with a friend I hadn't seen in years, I unintentionally stopped, and by the time I noticed, the swelling was going away and skin was starting to grow back. Now, after 40 days (yes, I'm keeping exact count!), my cuticles look almost normal again.

Ways to stop: wear chapstick compulsively, wear nailpolish &/or gloves, be sure your nail-biting's not a symptom of hunger-fidgets & snack more, realize how insecure nail-biting makes you look to others..
posted by soviet sleepover at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm a nail-biter. I was able to stop myself from biting for a few weeks through sheer willpower, but oddly enough I found that once my nails had grown normally, I didn't like it. It was harder to type, and the nails kept getting caught on things. So I went back to biting them.
posted by robbie01 at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

I managed to stop years ago. I'm not sure that my replacement nervous habits are an improvement, but here's what did and didn't work for me:

Didn't work: the capsaicin-based cream or liquid you put on your nails as a deterrent. It actually just teaches you how often you (terrifyingly and disgustingly) put your hands near your eyes.

Worked: I can't seem to find a link, but there exists a type of emery board that is coated in wax. After rubbing the board (using pressure) across the top of your nail tips, the wax that's left behind makes your teeth slide right off-- they can't get a good grip. And the subsequent small teeth-on-teeth collision reminds you that you didn't want to be doing it in the first place. Check your local beauty-supply shop-- that's where I purchased mine.

I also recommend nail polish for the pro-polish comments made by other people here.

Don't get too mad at yourself when you slip-- and you will, because you are at the point where you do it without noticing. It's pointless to berate yourself-- and detrimental to your future success. Just roll with it. Enjoy the good nail days ahead-- there will be whole days that your fingers don't hurt!

Good luck!
posted by mireille at 3:05 PM on February 6, 2005

If you drink jello, the gelatin will make your nails grow very fast. So if you're biting them because they're always damaged and split, and you start cutting them, using nail polish, and growing them as fast as possible, then they'll grow out and not have the tempting rough edges.

And as mentioned above, it's a good idea to keep a nail file or clippers around. I keep mine in the car.
posted by arabelladragon at 3:09 PM on February 6, 2005

Hi, I'm Dave, and I bit my nails for nearly 30 years.

(Hi, Dave!)

But within two months after beginning to take Paxil (for related anxiety issues, etc), I just quit cold-turkey. The most outwardly-visible sign of my "return" to normalcy. Granted, I doubt that you should take Paxil JUST to quit biting your nails, but if there are any underlying issues that may contribute to your chewing habit, they may - MAY - be made better via meds.

And no, I am not a doctor.
posted by davidmsc at 3:53 PM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Wellbutrin was the drug that helped me quit biting after 30 years of the habit. I started taking it for quitting smoking and a side benefit was quitting the nail-biting. The thing I still hate is when I get stuff (like dirt, since I'm a gardener) under my nails and they look dirty. I have bought a number of nail-cleaning tools, and nice nail brushes. I also really like the nail buffers that polish the nails naturally without gunky acrylic. Having them shiny makes 'em look very professional.
posted by acridrabbit at 4:35 PM on February 6, 2005

I agree with robbie01- long nails just feel weird. I used to bite my nails, in attempt to keep them from feeling weird. Now, I keep them clipped very, very short (no white- my nails are deep in my fingers, and they could get really long before they would pass my fingertips, but it just feels too weird).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:46 PM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

My husband wears gloves to keep from unconciously biting his nails when he drives.
posted by tizzie at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2005

I bit my nails forever, and none of the normal solutions worked. That bitter tasting stuff especially, because you have to remember to put it on, and even when it's on, it was useless to me since I didn't taste my nails when biting them.

The way that finally worked for me was to stop biting incrementally, in little steps. I said one finger, my index finger, was off-limits, and just didn't bite that one finger. That didn't require any real behavior change, and it had an actual positive result that I could see. Then I added another finger, and another, and suddenly I was not really ever biting my nails anymore. I never thought it would happen, but here I am.

The biggest problem I have now is remembering to cut my nails, because I never had to before.
posted by smackfu at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sheesh, of all the things I've gotten under control (smoking, drinking (well, sort of), eating, general sucking) you guys come along and make me feel all shitty about my finger biting.

Damn my infernal, neurotic, fidgety, orally fixated self! Damn me all to hell!
posted by glenwood at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

The only time I bite my nails anymore is if one gets long enough to catch on something and it ends up being distracting during the day. A regular regiment of clipping and a fidget toy are enough for me.

Of course, the fidget toy I selected was a Van Hoy SnapLock, so a few of my coworkers are now somewhat frightened of me. I consider that a fringe benefit, though.
posted by Danelope at 9:09 PM on February 6, 2005

Nervous? This always puzzles me. I bite my nails when I am relaxed. When I'm nervous, I smoke. My fingers probably do look lousy, but that's more the side edges than the neatly-biten ends.

Saying the teeth aren't good for this flies in the face of reality: Who did you ever know that was born with nail clippers, or grew a manicure set as they got older?

OTHERWISE: If you want to stop, I can't recommend strongly enough you buy a powered manicure device. Its quick and does the job well without a lot of hassle. Sure, its not portable, but who has time to mess with a file? And if you like your nails real short, as I do, you can just grind them down quickly without risk of clipping too close.

I only learned about the powered device because my partner got one for Christmas, to grind callouses off his feet, which were so bad, they wore holes in the sheets!
posted by Goofyy at 9:29 PM on February 6, 2005

Unfortunately, I just started again briefly, but I bit my nails like you do. Bloody mess!

My actual urge to bite my nails faded -- without hardly any work from me! -- when I quit coffee and started yoga. Weird! It also evaporated while I was briefly on Effexor, which leads me to believe that anything that interrupts anxiety cycles can help you, whether it's self-care or medication or what-have-ye. Interrupt the anxiety and the nail-biting, with a bit of thought and deep breathing, may follow.

Oooh, fidget toy! Great idea, I'm gonna get one.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:40 PM on February 6, 2005

I bit my nails for eight years, and I managed to get myself to stop in two weeks when I really put myself to it.
Every time I cought myself with a finger in or near my mouth (I didn't just bite the nails, I often bit the flesh around them, too), I stopped, looked right at my finger and said "Hey, stop biting your fingernails."

I know it sounds kind of weird, but it worked for me. I didn't have to use any special polish or anything.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:51 PM on February 6, 2005

I stopped biting my nails a few months ago and it was not easy. For me, it helped to tell my friends what I was trying to do because they would stop me from biting. I also carried gum & a nail file with me at all times.
posted by whatideserve at 11:31 PM on February 6, 2005

Since asking a similar question a few months ago, I have not bitten my nails once. Heavy chewing-gum abuse has been my preferred solution, and so far, it's worked like a charm. And my breath is minty-fresh too!
posted by misteraitch at 12:46 AM on February 7, 2005

Remember that nail-biting is a habit that you started. To eliminate it, you have to effectively create a new habit. Believe it or not, creating new habits is hard. The habit itself has to have some kind of personal hook that drives you to keep doing it. Ask yourself, what's your hook and what do you get from it? Can you eliminate the appeal of that hook or replace it with a different one?

In my case, the hook is comfort while nervous thing. I transitioned from heavy nail-biting to light nail biting by setting a bargain with myself (and if you think this is silly, remember that you set a bargain for yourself to allow yourself to bite all your nails): I can bite only two nails on each hand: my pinky and my thumb. All others are off-limits. As I stuck with this bargain, my desire to bite even that set has diminished. Haven't bled in years.
posted by plinth at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2005

I quit biting my nails wayyy back in high school. I used a combo of trimming them really short (I still do this) and then painting them with a clear polish. Once in a while I revert when I get a hangnail or something like that. When I realize what I'm doing I clip off the offending bit of matter.
posted by deborah at 11:05 AM on February 7, 2005

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