I need pretty hands.
February 24, 2012 8:55 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop messing with my cuticles and nails? I don't want sad-looking hands forever!

I was a child nail-biter and now I'm an adult cuticle-picker. It's a disgusting habit but I can't seem to stop. My thumbs are the worst: no cuticles to speak of, horizontal ridges, lumpy and painful looking (my mom does the same thing and her thumbs look terrible, too).

I know it's linked to my anxiety (which I'm addressing in therapy), but I would like to either find a replacement behavior or stop completely. I do it when I'm anxious, when I'm bored, whenever. It's so satisfying to find the rough spots and mess with them... but so gross! And my cuticles almost always hurt afterward. Also, I'm a teacher who works with goobery little children, so putting my hands in my mouth is pretty nasty.

I've tried wearing bandaids, using lots of cuticle cream, wearing polish, using NailTek. For about a week I tried rolling a little ball of fuzz (ha) between my fingers, which was slightly satisfying. It's just such an ingrained habit that I do it without thinking. Mindfulness would certainly help; I'm working on that, too.

I really want pretty hands. Help me, please!
posted by sucre to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Carry lotion with you everywhere. Use it whenever the urge strikes you, and lay it on with a trowel before you go to sleep so your hands have time to heal from the damage you've done over the day. Bandaids or even gloves may help if you need to heal up some serious damage. I recommend the fabric bandaids as they're easier to keep on (though they look filthy faster). Trim them to fit your fingers if necessary.

Once your cuticles have healed to the point you don't have exposed wounds, consider getting a manicure professionally, or learn how to do it yourself. The polish isn't as important as making sure your cuticles are trimmed neatly so there's less there to mangle.

Consistency's the most important thing here -- keep at it, and your cuticles will improve. The habit probably won't ever disappear completely (at least, I've never managed it), but as long as I keep lotion on hand and my nails and cuticles trimmed, it's never as bad as it used to be even when I'm stressed.
posted by asperity at 9:09 PM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: Besides cuticle cream, have you tried other ways to deep moisturize, such as lotion/creme/ointment or vaseline plus moisturizing gloves overnight? Could help with cuticle roughness and flakiness and therefore lessen those triggers.
posted by NikitaNikita at 9:09 PM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: I stopped biting and picking at my nails after 25 years by turning the care of my nails and cuticles INTO the new obsession. Whenever I wanted to bite, I'd moisturize or file or do a manicure. If I wanted to pick at my cuticles, I'd push them back using a cuticle stick or trim them carefully using scissors, never teeth or fingers. I always, always wore at least clear nail polish. My hands are rather strange--I've got slightly clubby fingertips, so my nails grow oddly. As a result, I keep them trimmed quite short--just past the tips of my finger pads. Doing this while learning not to bite is very helpful. Super long nails get snagged in things, especially if you aren't used to them, and snags, cracks, and tears encourage biting and picking. It could be bullshit, but I also take biotin. And I avoid doing dishes or cleaning without gloves.
posted by xyzzy at 9:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This was the hardest thing for me to quit. I finally managed to stop by wearing a rubber band on my wrist. When I caught myself doing it, I got a snap. I also invited my wife to give me a snap when she saw me doing it, too.

It worked pretty well for me. I tired of those snaps pretty quickly.
posted by cdmwebs at 9:24 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: if a rubber band doesn't work, get some hair elastics with the little metal ferrule. They pack a little more of a punch! Always having a nail file nearby has really helped me keep the nails decent.
posted by rhizome at 9:36 PM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: I also pick at the sides of my nails, specially when I'm nervous or when I'm watching a very dramatic/stressful movie or so. To avoid it, I have to consciously keep my hands and nails pretty moisturized so there are no rough spots to pick when the anxiousness comes.

Also, a GREAT nailcare tip my mom taught me and I've done for years: buy a big flat toothbrush and keep it in your shower. Near the end of your shower or after washing your hair (so nails and cuticles are softened) brush the top of your nails so as to push the cuticles back. Also softly brush the insides of your nails to remove any dirt or gunk that might be in there. This should be done daily and apart from having super clean nails and insides, after two or three weeks you wont have much cuticles to deal with or to pick at, just clean, healthy looking edges.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:41 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have the same issue. I now carry a little nail trimmer everywhere I go, on my keychain, so that when I see one of those tempting little bits of cuticle just begging to be torn or chewed off (and oh how they beg!), then I cut it off with the nail clipper instead.

This is good because doing it with the nail clipper gives some satisfaction in and of itself, and doesn't leave the thing there taunting me. And, of course, it results in a much cleaner cuticle than tearing the thing off.
posted by zachawry at 10:14 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have this habit myself, and I haven't beaten it yet. What helps me most is keeping my nails polished, so I'm motivated to keep them looking nice, and keeping my cuticles neat so there is less to pick at. I use a cuticle remover to soften my cuticles, then I trim them with cuticle trimmers.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:29 PM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: Previous thread on this topic includes advice about treating the underlying anxiety/OCD and links to online resources for skin pickers.

are you me? because I've tried most of the same techniques with no positive results :-(
posted by ellenaim at 11:07 PM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: Caveat about the cuticle trimmer things: I, too, have a horrendous and ingrained finger-biting habit. I bought one of those little cuticle trimmers with the idea that I'd just clip the rough bits before I could pick at them. Well, it turns out that it's really easy to get kind of obsessive with the trimmers, and before I knew it, my cuticles were all ragged and cut to hell. This, of course, led to more picking and biting.

So yeah, I haven't found anything that works. My fingers look really awful.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 12:09 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would just like to point out that, for most people, this unpleasant habit we all share is not necessary the product of anxiety or OCD. Sometimes biting your fingers is just biting your fingers. :)
posted by zachawry at 12:44 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Weekly professional manicures have been the only thing that's helped me with this. If I go much more than a week, I start picking at my cuticles again.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:23 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: I'm trying to stop biting my nails this week (it's never taken before) and keeping them polished in a cute way (to me) - alternating colors on each nail. Also if you're going to use Band-aids... speaking for myself, I'm much likely to leave a cute Band-aid (like Hello Kitty) on for a longer time than a regular one, just because it's cute.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:03 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: I have struggled with this issue, too. One thing that really helps me is keeping my nails super short so they can't really pick at anything. I also use cuticle nippers pretty regularly, though that can get a little twisted into obsessive nipping as others have mentioned.

Even with really short nails, my hands look a million times better than the bleeding, bits-of-cuticle-hanging-off mess they used to be.
posted by pupstocks at 5:37 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Try lotion instead of cuticle cream. For some reason I pick at mine even more after putting on cuticle cream but if I use lotion on my hands it smooths everything out much better.

I am also obsessive with the cuticle trimmers and have found myself cutting off rough skin until my thumb was raw. I mostly do this when I am anxious. I hate it when the skin isn't completely smooth so I just keep trimming off little bits.
posted by fromageball at 6:07 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Like gingerbeer, the only thing that's worked for me is professional manicures. It helps more when I have the same person who is free to lecture me (i let her know this is ok) when my nails look bad.
Also, when i was planning my wedding, i knew my nails would be in pictures. I wanted them to look good.

-ms. Vegetable
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:30 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Nail picker here. Was just talking about this with girlfriends at dinner the other night. One of them has a hack that I'm going to try. Acrylic nails. You physically can't pick. The ends are just smooth and thick enough to make any attempt futile. She is doing the shellac manicures now and says even that makes picking difficult.
posted by Wolfie at 7:03 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Another option is a cuticle oil pen; they're small enough to carry with you everywhere. When you get the urge to pick, brush some oil on and spend some time rubbing it in.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:21 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: I've finally gotten my biting/picking under control by learning to do my own manicures (which has progressed into a very fun hobby of nail art) and using this cuticle oil from Sally Beauty twice or thrice a day, and also this lotion from Sally's minimum of twice daily, but usually just get it out whenever my hands feel very dry or I get a slight hangnail/rough spot that looks like something I want to pick at or bite.

I had no idea this was such a prominent thing...my mother and I both chronically do this to our fingers and neither of us have anxiety or anything...we just thought we were weird. Glad to know it's not just us!
posted by PeppahCat at 7:41 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Also forgot to add to Wolfie and anyone else who hasn't tried it: shellac manicures made me ease up on the habit as well...two reasons. One was that they kept my nails smoother. The main one, though, was that as long as you don't get a lift in the polish while it's setting, it stays on perfectly without chipping for a good couple weeks. I found if I wanted to pick at my cuticles, I decided against it if I was wearing day 2 of a 14 day mani. ;)
posted by PeppahCat at 7:44 AM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Professional manicures are the only thing that has ever worked long-term for me. I'm better than I used to be now that I practice a lot of nail self-care (home manicures and applying Lush products regularly) but the only thing that stops it is leaving it to a pro and not touching my hands myself.
posted by immlass at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My cuticle-picking isn't as bad as yours but man I get so frustrated when I have a jagged cuticle, I can't help but want to bite it! I keep cuticle nippers (those things that look like mini pliers/wire cutters) at home and in my desk at work so that I can just cut the offending piece off.
posted by radioamy at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: To help combat this problem at home, I have taken up crocheting. It keeps my hands busy, plus I have scarves, hats and other things to give to people.

It is nice to know that I am not the only person with this chronic problem. Has anybody ever tried hypnosis?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Might be worth trying to channel the fidgeting to a piece of jewelry - google "worry ring" or "spinner ring."
posted by yarrow at 3:33 PM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: Wolfie has it. I did this for 25 years, thumbs the worst, and finally stopped when I got acrylics. No amount of creams, files, gloves, trimmers did the trick, but acrylics did. The added material on your nails means that the tips of your nails are too blunt to get any leverage on your skin--plus, the drill they use is quite effective at sanding down any rough spots on your cuticles.

The other really nice thing for you is that acrylics last forever--if you're working with kids, a regular manicure might not last you that long, but you can usually go about two and a half weeks between fills. At the nail place I go to fills are only $5 more than regular manicures, so it's not that much more of an expense if you were already considering regular manicures.

Memail me if you want more details.
posted by stellaluna at 6:20 PM on February 25, 2012

Response by poster: I'm sad to hear that so many of us have the same bad habit, but happy to know that I'm not alone! These suggestions are awesome. Today I picked up some cute kids' bandaids, Sally Hansen strengthening polish, a pretty shimmery polish, little cuticle scissors, and a new nail file. I love all the ideas, though, and I'll be pursuing them.

I forgot to mention that I have had periods of my adult life where my nails actually look pretty nice. Once I have them looking good, it's fairly easy to keep them that way, but the tough part is getting there. I have lots of stress in my life at this moment (I'm a first year preschool special ed. teacher, for example!), so I notice that I'm picking more often than usual.

Anyway, thank you all for the great suggestions, and for those of you with the same habit, good luck to you!
posted by sucre at 7:41 PM on February 25, 2012

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