Tips for the newly fingernailed?
August 28, 2013 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I have been biting my fingernails for 30 years. I’ve stopped for short periods of time (a week or two) over the last 10 years but its never stuck. I’m 30 days into not biting them right now, and I’m thinking this could be the “last” time I quit. I have a few questions about the end of nail-biting and about general fingernail-related things that I guess I never figured out when I was an adolescent and didn’t have any.

On stopping biting:
1. I am thinking about my fingernails hundreds of times per day. This is not an exaggeration. It drives me crazy. Sometimes I am literally sad that I will never get to bite one off again. I would like this feeling to go away, and I assume it will eventually. Right? Any thoughts?

2. I have a trip coming up where I’ll be bored and alone a lot and nervous other times. I’d like some ideas on avoiding relapse. I’m thinking of getting an actual manicure before I go and trying to keep it nice, and also bringing along something to fidget with.

3. I feel like my nails are super dirty all the time. Like, with a constant little line of dirt under them that I want to pick out. Are everyone else’s nails like this too and I’ve just never noticed? Have my expectations been unrealistically raised by looking at too many pictures of hand models? Or am I a filthy person who is doing something wrong? I gather from this thread that it might have something to do with the nail not being well attached to the nail bed, but I’m not sure how abnormal I am in that regard.

4. One thing that’s been helping me not bite is painting my nails. It distracts me for a few minutes when the urge is really strong and helps me adjust my self-image to that a of a person with normal fingernails. The problem is, I suck at it. My non-dominant hand usually turns out roughly ok, but my dominant hand looks like it was painted by a drunk 6-year-old. Will this get better with practice, or is there some key I’m missing? Are there general nail-painting tips that will help me do a better job in general? Please help, I’m tempted to buy an issue of Seventeen to teach me how to do my nails properly.

5. How can I choose nail polish colors that will look good on my hands and look sufficiently adult? For instance, last week I thought I was buying a nice deep purple that I thought would be sort of cool but subtle, and it turned out looking black in artificial light and grape soda colored in the sun. I think I pick well about 25% of the time. How can I increase that? I have seen this question, but I’d like some general ideas on how to pick colors that look good rather than specific color suggestions.

6. Are there drugstore nail polish brands that are less crappy than other drugstore brands?

posted by juliapangolin to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I get my nails done at a local little salon that charges $12 for a normal manicure. It is worth it to me each week to have them look nice and it gives me a reason to take care of them. Also, it is a better use of my time and money than the time I try to spend doing them myself and having them look like, yes, a drunk 6 year old went at it. I highly recommend seeking "professional help." They'll also care for your cuticles and everything, so overall it'll make your nails and fingers look a little healthier and there'll be less stuff (hangnails etc) to bite or pick at. I don't go to a fancy spa to get this done -- I actually usually end up disappointed with my manicures from high-end spas. Just find your local cheap place and give it a shot.

I also recommend you give Shellac or similar gel polishes a shot at a salon. It's very long-lasting and doesn't chip. It's a little more expensive, but lasts twice as long, so I find it's net neutral.

Regarding brands on regular polish, I'm a big fan of Essie and can usually find those colors at drugstores.
posted by olinerd at 12:29 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you commit to a professional manicure at least once a month? The time and dollar investment will help you value your new great habit. And, it's something to look forward to!

One tip about polishing your own nails is to polish your dominant hand first. Your impulse will probably be the opposite, but who knows why, it helps! (Also this tip applies to hair-drying -- if you are right-handed, start with the brush in your left hand and then switch hands when you switch sides, sorry to derail but that was like WOW for me).

Nail polish: Essie is sold in most drugstores, and most salons use it too.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:34 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

General advice: get shellac manicures done at a good spa. Don't do the OPI gelcolor/axxium or gelish or any of the knockoffs. Get the real-deal CND brand shellac and make sure the nail tech uses the CND shellac base coat and top coat as well.

I recently started doing this after having the world's shittiest nails and am SO glad. I have stopped constantly biting and filing them. The shellac creates a harder, more durable layer over your nails than regular polish, which makes them more resistant to breakage and also to being bitten. It also looks super nice for two weeks which has helped me actually care about how I'm treating my nails.

If you don't want to deal with that expense and would rather DIY, I recommend Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure line. It's an all-in-one base coat, color, and top coat and you can get it in the drugstore in a lot of fun and pretty colors. The brush is wide which I think helps with making it apply easier.

FWIW I am terrible at applying polish, especially when using my non-dominant hand to paint my dominant hand. The key for me is constantly cleaning up the edges with a q-tip dipped in polish remover and/or a metal cuticle stick (wiping the polish off every time). I can make my nails look pretty decent if I do enough cleanup, but it takes about twice as long as a salon manicure.

As for picking colors, I feel like nail polish is one of those things where you can get away with a lot more color variety than you could with, for example, your hair and clothes. My general rule of thumb is that I avoid anything yellow and really pale pink because those look awful against my (alabaster) skin. I honestly feel like every woman can pull off a nice fuchsia color. Back to the Fuchsia from the aforementioned Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure line is one of my favorites.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:34 PM on August 28, 2013

3. How do you wash your hair? Shampooing is the best way I've found to get dirt out from under my nails (+ I keep them shorter than my fingertips). Nail brushes can also help.

4. Just slap a bunch of polish on and clean up with nail polish remover on a q-tip later. It will also get a bit better with time. A top coat also helps even things out.

6. I like Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, but I'm not particularly well-versed.
posted by momus_window at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2013

3. Totally normal. Painting helps because then you can't see it :)
4. You will get better at it. A q-tip dipped in remover will help get it off your hands. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but do multiple light coats rather than trying to do one heavy coat. It helps get a really even color and because you don't have a lot of polish on the brush it doesn't end up all over your finger as well.
5. I think dark colors almost always read older to me. I like the lighter and brighter colors.
6. Oddly enough Gap/OldNavy nailpolish has been really good to me recently. Lasts really well.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, this is my solution, but it depends what aesthetic outcome you are looking for. I found that the only way to not bite/fuss with my nails was to literally cut them down to the quick. If they start to have much length at all they seem dirty/annoying to me and seem to trigger the desire to bite them. I basically cut them down 2x a week to the quick, buff, and often paint them a pale nude color. (The idea of eating nail polish chemicals is kind of a deterrent too.) I tend to reserve the flashy colors for my toes as there is less upkeep there. I think my nails look nice and classy, but it's certainly not the most stylish look. I'd like to tell you that urge goes away, but I haven't found that it does. However, it certainly lessens over time, but I still am prone to the urge when I am bored/stressed. I also have found that the nail biting has transformed into other anxious behaviors such as hair playing, adjusting my glasses, twirling my rings, running my fingers over imperfections in my chair/hem etc. So I suppose the idea is to change the habit into a more socially appropriate one?
posted by amileighs at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Yes, the nagging nail thoughts can go away, with practice and picking up another hobby. I quit biting my nails about 2 years ago, but I still pick at them sometimes, fuss with them, and sometimes still am forced to bite them if it breaks and I'm not near a nail clipper.

2) For your trip, keep your hands busy. Have plenty of handheld games, read a real book that you have to hold with two hands, take up knitting or crochet, eat healthy snacks, or wear gloves. If you keep your hands busy, you won't pick at your nails. I used to bite my nails when I was bored. You can snack on something healthy when you are bored too, or chew gum, since biting your nails is part of an oral fixation.

3) Use a nail brush once a day. Nails get dirty. Hand models are unrealistic. You can potentially keep them a bit shorter to keep from dirt getting really under the nail. If you use a nail brush and some soap once a day you should be totally fine. Most people don't EVER use a nail brush so you will be much cleaner in that sense.

4) Yes, everyone sucks at painting their nails for a LONG time. I can't find the link, but I saw a video by someone who ran a nail polish blog. You make a little drip of nail polish and then push that toward your cuticle, then pull to the tip of your nail. She also keeps an angled makeup brush and dips that in acetone, then cleans up the edges of her nails.

5) For color, do some research on your skin color and complimentary colors and that should help with picking colors. Personally I only do clear about 95% of the time on my fingernails, because I pick it off too often.

6) I love Sally Hansen. It should be available at just about any store. I use the strengthening clear polish on my nails.

7) Breathe!! It will work out. Just see what works best for you. It may take some trial and error. You have only quit for 30 days. I have stopped for 2 years and still struggle sometimes so it will be okay! Most people won't notice your nails.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2013

5. How can I choose nail polish colors that will look good on my hands and look sufficiently adult?

Unless you work in a field where you have to present a super professional image (lawyer, something where you have to wear a suit every day and wear (shudder) pantyhose), this really means just about anything. We are in a golden era of nail polish, my friend. Colors are in. Glitters are in. Nail art is in.

Just do a google image search for "nail polish" and look at what results it gives you. Gone are the days of our mothers and grandmothers, when the only acceptable colors were clear or muted nudes, and girls were cautioned against using red polish because it would make them look whorish. You can wear bright purple polish now and still look like a grown up. THESE ARE OUR TIMES.

I pick my nails a lot, and just about the only thing that stops me is having them nicely painted, so I sympathize. Get yourself some awesome polishes and have at it.

You'll eventually get better at painting them (I have certainly improved from my "palsied t-rex" days), but manicures can be had pretty cheaply. They run ten bucks a pop in my local strip mall place.
posted by phunniemee at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have any advice for the biting aspect of your question, but I'll chime in on color and cleanliness.

I suck at painting my nails too, so I pretty much always use a clear or a really neutral color, like a shimmery pale pink or peach. Sometimes a pearlescent beige-ish. Sounds a little boring but it makes my nails look nice and it's very forgiving when it comes to imperfect painting.

Also, yes, get a professional manicure occasionally, it's really fun and pampering IMO.

For cleanliness, keep a nail brush and a metal file and use them to clean under your nails when you wash your hands. I keep my nails pretty short and this also helps I think.

Good luck, I hope your nail biting thoughts gradually diminish in frequency and eventually go away!
posted by JenMarie at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2013

First, CONGRATULATIONS!! I am so proud of you!! That is a huge deal. Of course you are thinking of your nails hundreds of times a day. It will get better. If I am going to be in a movie, on a road trip, anywhere my subconscious mind could pick, I bring some prayer beads to run through my fingers. Satisfying heft and you can worry them. There's also these tea tree toothpicks if you were more of a biter than a picker. You can also find these orange cuticle sticks--one side is curved to clean out underneath your nail (that line you're talking about), and the other is to push back your cuticles. Use caution with these though, because if you're already focused on your nails you can do some damage to your cuticles (e.g., creates hangnails that you then want to bite off). I personally would only get those if I could honestly promise myself I would only use it to clean the underside and leave the cuticles alone.

The one thing that really helped me was getting twice-monthly $12 manicures at a Vietnamese nail salon. They last a long time, and for some reason it really helps me to be accountable to my nail tech. She knows me and there's this look she gives me if I've been biting my cuticles that is just withering. So I try harder not to do it. Plus it just kinda feels like a well-spent self-care reward for breaking that habit of self-harm, ya know?

If that's out of your budget, I like OPI colors but also find Sally Hansen Diamond Shine to last really well, plus it's cheaper than OPI. For technique, here's a pretty good video. The main points are to make sure your elbows are stable, and paint three strokes on your nail--a wide one down the middle, then narrower strokes down each side, curving to accommodate the cuticle. Practice! It will become so much easier. For your non-dominant hand try different angles of holding your hand--I actually find it easier when painting my right hand to have my right palm facing me, with nails curled towards me, so I can paint downwards and straight instead of out/flat at a 45 degree angle (not sure if that makes sense?). You can practice with paler polishes which are more forgiving of mistakes.

As for colors, your first step is to figure out whether you're a warm or a cool. I'm a warm, so oranges, fall colors, rich reds, and corals look good on me. Beiges, blues, and cool purples don't. This is another one where practice will help you--it's okay to buy some of the cheapie $1 polishes to figure out what colors you like and will look good on you. If you can find last month's issue of Glamour, they had a nice chart of summer nail colors for specific skin tones. It's on the web here.

Good for you. Seriously. Congratulations. Do your best, and don't worry if you slip up and bite a nail! It doesn't mean you have to bite all of them off! Just put a band-aid on it and keep rolling with your bad self.
posted by stellaluna at 12:53 PM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been a nail biter since I had teeth and still am at 36 years. I've had a few stretches without biting my nails ranging from a few weeks to my longest being about 9 months (achieved a few months ago).

1) It lessens a bit as you continue to have nails, but never went away for me. Even during my long recent stretch, where I wasn't feeling un urge to bite/pick, I was still super aware of my finger nails. I find that keeping them trimmed fairly short helps a bit. If they're too short though, then I just want to bite/pick at them to finish the job of taking them down to the quick. Perfect length seems to be just where the nail is long enough that some of it doesn't touch skin. It takes about a month of growth without biting for mine to get that long.

2) My best trick is to always have a nail file/pick (this will help re: feeling dirt). When I want to bite my nails, I file them. Since you'll be going on a trip, get a lot; one for your pockets, one for your purse, one for the car, one for the hotel, and a few extras. If they're misplaced for a second, you might bite. When I quit, I have one on my bed table, one at my desk at work, one at my desk at home, and one always in my pocket.

3) at least with me, the place where the nail bed becomes finger tips are really sensitive (one would think that having been exposed to air, and getting dug at by rough edges of growing nails would have made them less sensitive), so I can often feel the dirt, which raises the urge to bite. Again, get the nail file, and make the edges as smooth as possible, and dig anything under the nail out. That's the cleansing ritual.

Once I got past 6 months with my most recent stretch, I really thought that this was finally going to be it. And then one tense day at work, without realizing it they were all gone and my finger tips hurt. I wish you better luck.
posted by nobeagle at 12:56 PM on August 28, 2013

I bit my nails for 20 years. I have to keep them painted in order not to bite them. You'll get better at it with practice. You'll also learn tricks to keep it from smudging and the proper amount of time to let coats dry before attempting to do something else.

I enjoy sitting down and watching an episode of something or other and doing my nails. It's become a relaxing ritual.

Revlon's nail polish used to be crap (would never ever dry) but I think they must have reformulated it because now it's pretty good. OPI has great colors too.
posted by duvatney at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2013

I learned to stop fussing with my nails by replacing the urge with something constructive - I made sure that everywhere I spend time there is a nail file that I can easily grab and file the nail instead of biting it. It relieves the need to fix the perceived problem, and gives your hands something to do.

the best things to get for this are cuticle stones- they do a really nice job of smoothing out rough edges, and you can also use them to smooth the skin around the nail.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:59 PM on August 28, 2013

CONGRATS! I am nine weeks into non-biting, and they got too long (well, long for me) so I had to trim them down. I think I just need to get used to them being longer than my usual angry-mangled length. My plan is to get used to them at this longer-short length for a while before I get them to the fingertip.

I'm still really focused on my nails. I swear I can feel them growing. But it is better than it was a few weeks ago.

I have nail files everywhere because if there is even a tiny snag or a a line of dirt, I'm like a cat with tape on its paw. I also bought a nail brush to take care of cleanliness.

Sunday nights, I polish them (base coat, color, top coat) and Friday nights I take the polish off. I think this ritual is key, because I didn't polish this week and I bit one yesterday. Boo hiss!

The part I like the most is not having sore, bleeding fingertips. Good luck to you!
posted by kimberussell at 1:07 PM on August 28, 2013

I too use nail polish as a way of stoping biting and this is my suggestion:

Yes to a professional manicure every so often-- it helps even things out.

Type of nail polish: I like Essie, but I find OPI much more sheer and easy to layer. As an added bonus, of/when I screw up, it's much more forgiving to get off the cuticles. I own probably four bottles of variants on pale pink and they're great. I also have some Zoya because my cool polish-loving friends love it; Pixiedust is a line of textured polishes from them that are pigmented and kind of fun to fidget with. Godiva is a soft gold sparkle color, for example. But unless I'm using Pixiedust, I always, always use a top coat. And I touch up said top coat as needed when my nails look grody.

Put emry boards in every purse and desk. Buy a little manicure kit with clippers/ cuticle board. Mend snags and hangnails because down that path lies "evening things out" with teeth and that is a dark path.

Good luck!
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:11 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

On #1, yes, compulsions of all kinds will fade over time, provided you do not feed them and continue to resist. You will still be tempted, perhaps forever, but the urges become less--well, urgent--and also less frequent. They are easier to resist the more you resist: it's self-fulfilling. Just wait it out. But in the beginning this is really difficult to do, so it's good to have your eyes on the prize. That's where your expensive, exquisite manicure comes in.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:12 PM on August 28, 2013

Don't buff your nails, it wears them down and makes them weak.

Pick colors out of magazines. Sally Hansen brand is amazing quality for the price. Always use a clear top coat.

Use a white grease pencil under your nails to keep them clean. Bonus: it looks like a French manicure.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:13 PM on August 28, 2013

Get at least one glass nail file. I have a leighton denny one and it's fantastic, it'll give you something to do when your nails are bugging you and (for me anyway) has reduced breakage compared to using nail clippers or cheap files. I file away any little snags and chips once or twice a week, keeps my nails my preferred length too.

Good luck!
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:17 PM on August 28, 2013

1. I used to be a hard-core nail biter, until I decided through sheer force of will that I wanted nice nails for my junior prom in high school. So, I managed to grow them out enough that they almost reached the tips of my fingers. That was an accomplishment. I promptly destroyed them the week after prom.

13 (oh goodness) years later I still occasionally bite my nails when I am stressed, or bored, or thinking, etc. But I've gotten past the must-bite phase, and I think you will too.

2. Keep a nail file and lotion with you at all times, if you can. Once I got into the habit of lotioning first thing in the morning, and then right after I get to work, and then after I wash my hands, my cuticles shaped up immensely, which was a HUGE factor in not biting my nails. I'd sit and fidget with a torn cuticle, and then I'd just bite it off, and then poof! my nail is gone. If you break an edge or a corner of your nail, file the rough bits so it doesn't catch on things, which is also a reason I bite mine.

3. I am constantly pulling bits of things from underneath my fingernails, no matter how long or short they are. I run the thumbnail of one hand underneath the edges of the nails on my other hand at least once or twice a day if I see any gross under there. It happens, it's not just you.

4. Everyone sucks at paining when they first start. The key is practice! I've gotten into polish hard-core the last six months or so, and there are blogs and Instagrams and all sorts of places where you can pick up tips and tricks to make doing your nails nicer and easier. I am a huge fan of using an angled eyeliner brush (dedicated only to nails!) dipped in nail polish remover to clean up the skin around my nails and my cuticles, because q-tips just don't do it for me. Also, try painting your dominant hand with your non dominant hand first - sometimes it helps.

6. I am a HUGE fan of the SinfulColors and SinfulShine lines from Walgreens. They are really, really fabulous drugstore polishes, they're $2-3 each, and come in some really, really great colors.
posted by alynnk at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2013

Painting my dominant hand got much easier when I realized that at the salon, they use their fingernails or an orange stick or something like that to immediately clean up anything that slops over when painting mine.

Also, don't try to get the color all the way to the edges of the nail. If you leave a bit of a channel there, it helps. (I usually end up slopping it onto the edge of teh nail, then using an orange stick to pick up the extra color.)

Search on YouTube for manicure tutorial videos--I watched a bunch, and it helped me get better to watch others do it.

I still can't do my own nails as nicely as a salon can (well, duh), and ended up getting gels. It keeps my nails from breaking as much as they used to, and I go in every three weeks or so and get them re-done.
posted by telophase at 2:32 PM on August 28, 2013

My manicures changed instantly and dramatically for the better when I discovered that I don't have to paint all the way down to the cuticle. If you're getting nail polish all over the sides and bottom, try stopping a little short and leaving a wee bit of nail unpainted. Additionally, if you let your nails grow out just a teeny bit instead of cutting them down all the way to the quick, it's easier to paint the ends without getting polish on your fingertips. It feels a little odd at first, but I got used to the length with time.

I also strongly recommend a quick-drying topcoat; I use Seche Vite on everything. It doesn't instantly dry your polish, but it speeds things up quite a bit. It'll also make your manicure look nice and glossy.

Most of the rest is practice.

As for drugstore brand recommendations: I've been happy with all the Wet 'n' Wild polish lines, as well as Sinful Colors. I like Essie and Zoya quite a bit; however, if two brands offer the same color, I will always buy the cheaper one. And quality can range within a brand (pale yellow polishes, for example, are notorious for being streaky and hard to apply). I almost always Google the specific color I'm considering so I can read reviews and see pictures of the polish on other people's nails.

Bright nail polish is everywhere right now, so feel free to wear whatever color you want. If you want to experiment with color while staying conservative, I'd recommend sticking with creme finishes for the time being, i.e. nothing that looks sparkly, shimmery, or metallic. (I love sparkly polish, but it might feel over-the-top at first.) You might also want to look for colors with a muted/dusty feel. For example, here are two very similar Zoya colors side by side; the left one is "quieter" without being boring.

If you want a nail-related fidget, get a travel-sized tin of cuticle balm or thick lotion, and gently massage the balm into your cuticles whenever the urge strikes, about 10-20 seconds per finger. You will have awesome cuticles after a week, which in turn makes your manicures look better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2013

Lots of good advice here, so I want to second the suggestions for keeping a file and nippers on hand. I'm a former nail-biter who quit on a bet, and picking at ragged cuticles and nails brings up all those old urges to bite.

As for sloppy nail polish jobs, I've found that slopping over is okay, because once it all dries, you can get it off your skin and cuticles after a shower without too much fuss. Once it's all dry, the water and soap help loosen the polish on the non-nail parts of your fingers easily. I use a quick drying topcoat, too.
posted by feste at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2013

i was also a 30 year nail biter who had never really stopped before. then i got a nail polish obsession and i couldn't do nice nails on my scraggly ends. i just up and stopped one day. it was HARD! i thought about them all the time! i sucked on candy, i bit the fleshy part of my thumb, i picked up more puzzle games. after a while of growing my nails out i learned that when they're just longer than my fingertips, tapping them on things is a nice stress reliever in much the same way that biting them was.

the other thing i did was buy a fuckton of nail polish and any time i go the urge to bite because of stress or boredom or dirty fingernails, i'd paint them (and keep them trimmed and filed - rough edges are not for teeth!). this means that i repaint them sometimes 2 or 3 times a week, but, that also means that i'm constantly being reminded why i stopped biting them. also, i didn't think it was possible after a lifetime of biting, by my nails are so strong now! it's incredible. you're going to be so happy with not biting.
posted by nadawi at 2:50 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a fellow nail-biter who is finding some success with painting my nails, I tend to buy a billion 99-cent Wet 'n Wild shades and play with them obsessively. Instead of biting, painting (and cleaning up my messy painting job, and then removing polish when it starts to chip) has become my new obsessive habit.

I'm in a professional job and already look young for my age, so I try to stay relatively conservative with polish colors. Outside of the reds/pinks/purples, I've been wearing a lot of "interesting neutrals" lately, which I think look good on everyone. Try colors like slate gray, white, various shades of brown, etc.
posted by JannaK at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2013

Suggestion for getting better at painting with your non-dominant hand: practice on your toenails. It's usually less obvious especially because toenails tend to be a bit wonky-shaped anyway. And if it's really bad you can either take it off again or wear socks.

Grot under your fingernails is, as others have said, completely normal. It really squicks me which is part of why I tend to keep mine incredibly short (2mm is really long for me!) Nthing carrying nail clippers with a file with you in a purse/bag is really useful, because they allow you to clean your nails, cut/file if breakages happen, and trim the little cuticle bits which, if picked at, leave horrible nasty wounds around your fingers. I don't bite my nails but I still struggle with that one.

posted by Athanassiel at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2013

As another semi-reformed nail-biter, I've had the best luck with OPI nail polish. One base coat, two color coats, one top coat. I avoid doing dishes that evening. And anything that got off the nail onto the skin rubs off easily in the shower the next morning.
posted by kbuxton at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2013

Nail polish colours will look more like the bottle colour if you use a white polish as base coat. Just get the white polish that's used for french manicures, and paint the whole nail with it.

If it's still coming out lighter than you expect, try doing two thin coats of colour rather than one.
posted by girlgenius at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2013

I am thinking about my fingernails hundreds of times per day. This is not an exaggeration. It drives me crazy. Sometimes I am literally sad that I will never get to bite one off again. I would like this feeling to go away, and I assume it will eventually. Right? Any thoughts?

Longtime fingernail biter here. Yes, you are going to think about your nails a hundred times a day. My personal experience is that, no, the urge to bite your fingernails will never go away. I don’t mean that negatively. It’s just something you need to know and bear in mind so you don’t fall into the trap of “giving in”.

I can’t find the link, but something I read years ago perfectly described my biting urge. It was something like: at the moment of giving in, there is a kind of euphoria, an intense feeling that everything is right and good in the world.

This is, of course, patently untrue. But the satisfaction of peeling off a bit of nail growth will not go away, this I know from decades of trying and failing to stop.

If I have any advice, it’s this: Do not—DO NOT—allow your fingers anywhere near your mouth.

Good wishes to you!
posted by Puppetperson at 5:36 PM on August 28, 2013

This post has a diagram to help you with the 3 stroke painting process. Leaving a small gap between the nail and your skin really does make a difference. I've been experimenting with nail art and find Pinterest to be the best source of colors and designs. That's how I discovered Piggy Polish, which I am wearing right now!
posted by Biblio at 5:44 PM on August 28, 2013

You're not the only one dealing with this :)

1. I still miss biting my nails too, but only when they're bare. I need a fidget replacement sometimes. But overall it's gotten so much better!

2. I've never had a painted nails manicure, but it sounds like it would be a nice treat and reward for yourself.

3. Yeah, this happens to me too. I have a tendency to scratch at my scalp and I think stuff gets stuck under there. I've been trying to curb that habit and have noticed an improvement- maybe you do something similar?

4. Let Them Have Polish! is one of my favorite nail blogs and she just did a great video on how to paint your nails. I think the most important thing I've learned over the past couple of months is not to flood my cuticles. It makes clean up so much easier! I've also started painting my dominant hand first. I go slower when I do the hard hand first, and I'm less likely to bump the polish on that hand later for some reason.

5. Man, I read a lot of nail art blogs to find colors and indie nail polish makers. I especially love the ones that do a lot of swatches and reviews. If you find a blogger with a skin tone similar to you and that takes pictures in shade and sun, that can be very helpful in picking colors that will be right for you. The PolishAholic does a really great job at this.

6. I think the quality of nail polish can vary greatly within brands. For example, I like a lot of Essie's colors but sometimes a particular color will be really thick or streaky. I've started googling the name of the polish and "review" to find opinions. It has saved me from buying some polishes that were pretty but universally panned for their application. There is nothing more frustrating when you are learning to paint your nails than dealing with a recalcitrant polish!

Other things that I have found that have helped were a glass nail file (got mine at Sephora), OPI Nail Envy base coat (fast drying, sensitive and peeling version), and Seche Vite topcoat. I have really fallen in love with indie polishes (you can check out bunches on etsy or Llarowe), but my other favorite brand is OPI because the brush is great. And reading blogs keeps it interesting: TheNailasaurus and Little Nails are other favorites of mine :)
posted by Mouse Army at 5:46 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar place. I can get OCD about my nails so sometimes when I don't have time for a manicure, I'll just slap on some glitter nail polish. You don't have to apply it perfectly, it's not as noticeable when it chips, etc. But if you have time and money for regular manicures, I recommend.

Also, it's okay if you "relapse." I try to tell myself that it's really not a big deal if I bite off one nail, just as long as one doesn't become all ten and two of my husband's.
posted by kat518 at 6:10 PM on August 28, 2013

I'm not much of a polish person but I hate having dirt or crud under my finger nails. I found out after trying to plant something in the garden and getting mud under my nails that the sink sprayer worked really well to get rid of it. You can hold your nails under the shower head on high and it works too but it's easier if it's a handheld kind.
Using any kind of cuticle stick or nail file to get rid of stuff just made the underside of my nail really sore. Spraying a jet of water on the underside of the nail works so much better.
posted by stray thoughts at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2013

I'm a reformed nail biter and still struggle with my cuticles, so I've been working on this a lot lately.

I visit All Lacquered Up for my nail polish gazing and updates, especially because she loves the "out there" colors (her favorites are greens, purples, and blues); I've also found that numerous brands and nail bloggers are on Pinterest (Zoya is one of my favorites; they pin deals a lot).

Sally Hansen is great; Sinful (which is like $2 at Walgreens) is also really good. I've been impressed with Revlon lately. Rescue Beauty Lounge is excellent but pricy. Head2Toe Beauty has some of the best prices for China Glaze, which is another great brand.

Nail painting -- especially on the dominant hand -- gets better with time and practice. I tend to paint when I'm watching TV and let the coats dry between commercial breaks. I also ask Siri to set timers on my iPhone for me (because hey, my nails are wet!). Don't paint too soon before bed, or you'll get sheet texture marks in your nails (even if you think they're totally dry).

I've been keeping cuticle butters and nail files at every desk and in each purse -- I just bought a 3-pack of cute little files at Bath & Body Works for maybe $2.50.

I also have tiny hammered rings if I'm feeling like I need to fidget with my fingers; something like these with tiny ridges so I can run my thumb along the texture. I wear them on my index fingers so they're knuckle rings, which is super-in right now.
posted by littlemisslaika at 6:50 PM on August 28, 2013

1. I am thinking about my fingernails hundreds of times per day. This is not an exaggeration. It drives me crazy. Sometimes I am literally sad that I will never get to bite one off again. I would like this feeling to go away, and I assume it will eventually. Right? Any thoughts?

I was a teenaged nail biter, and into my twenties. Stopping, for me, was mainly a result of realizing how awful my fingers looked and being embarrassed about them.

I know what you mean about the nagging thoughts. Yes, they go away. I promise. However there is some residual biting, for me ... For example, if one nail is annoyingly long, I'll be tempted to trim it by biting it. But that's quite different from what I used to do which was bite them all down to the quick.

But the thoughts really are gone -- I promise they go away -- and I'm super glad I stopped.
posted by Unified Theory at 7:27 PM on August 28, 2013

Get some gloves to wear when you are alone and think you'll bite your nails. This is the absolute best deterrent, because you will not be able to bite them without consciously doing so.
posted by markblasco at 10:10 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to bite my nails. I never think about it now. Those thoughts should go away.

I keep my nails very short, because I know one of the things that used to tempt me was when they got snagged on something, or cracked or torn, and then I'd bite them to neaten them up. That doesn't happen if you cut them short regularly (several times a week).

As for nail polish, I have embraced the drunk six-year-old look. Once I finish painting and they are dry, I scrape the polish off the skin around the nails with a nail file. It peels off the skin pretty easily at that point. It's easier than wiping it off while still wet (which seems to smear it around).
posted by lollusc at 10:18 PM on August 28, 2013

A tip I read that has helped improve the look of my paintjobs is to not use too much pressure. Its a bit hard to describe but imagine not letting the brush touch your nail, rather you want the brush to float on a layer of polish. Start with a blob at the base of the nail and float the polish up to the tip.

When you load up the brush from the bottle, wipe the front of the brush in the neck leaving a blob on the back, use the brush blob side down, the blob starts your swipe. If you've loaded too much polish then you can adjust things on the next swipe, either aim to remove some polish if there's too much or continue to float it around the nail if it seems like the right amount.

Many polishes look terrible after a first coat, all streaky and its tempting to try and even things out on the first run, trick is to wait and see how it looks after a second coat. A good top coat will smooth things out too, put a big old blob on there, more than you might think and float it on lightly, it'll smooth things right out.

Many tutorials suggest using as few brush strokes as possible but that's really only doable when you get good at it, to start with, if the consistency of the polish is good enough it'll behave if you move it around a bit more, take a good few swipes at it. If the consistency is poor it'll be hard to get it to behave.

Some polishes just seem to not work very well, it can be a brand that works in other colours but for whatever reason that one bottle is odd - the colour is a tricky one to formulate (I'm yet to meet a yellow polish that behaves well) or its a duff batch. Dump it and take heart that it wasn't you.
posted by Ness at 1:26 AM on August 29, 2013

It's been five months since I stopped biting and I barely ever think about biting them now. I'd say I haven't thought about biting for at least a month, maybe a bit longer. So depending on your personality and how obsessive of a nibbler you were, ymmv.

Invest in a good quality pair of clippers with a metal file that has a hook on the end of it. The hooky bit is great for cleaning out under, and using a nail brush when you wash your hands does a good job too. In the absence of these things, a folded up shred of paper does the trick nicely.

Congrats! Stopping is the hardest part. It gets easier from here.
posted by Lizard at 7:15 PM on August 29, 2013

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