The quest for happy, healthy, hard-working hands
November 28, 2005 11:21 AM   Subscribe

PromoteSafeVolunteeringFilter. I would like to start volunteering regularly at an AIDS hospice. My nails and cuticles are an ugly, bloody mess from a pretty bad nail-and-cuticle biting habit. It hasn't bothered me until now; but even with the double-layer of gloves I wear while doing the cleaning, the nuns who run the place have pointed out this is not a good situation for the patients or myself. How do I make my hands healthy and keep them that way in as short a time as possible?

Details: I don't bite or pick out of anxiety. It's more boredom and a desire to see those extra bits of skin sticking out removed, whatever the cost. I've half-heartedly tried nail polish in the past but the bitterness doesn't deter me, and I've bought and lost more nail clippers than I can remember. Anyway, it seems like the ripped-up skin appears whether or not I'm biting it.

Even when all the bloody bits do close up I don't know how to take care of my hands. How does one file one's nails, exactly? When a little bit of skin starts coming off the side of your finger, what do you do with it? What the heck are those cuticle-pushing thingies and what are they there for?

I am poor and the cost of a manicure or expensive beauty products (>$10) are out of the question until I can comfortably afford food, heating, and rent.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
You may just need a whole hell of a lot of moisturizer. Little bits of skin don't start coming off the side of my fingers unless my skin drying out.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:28 AM on November 28, 2005

Try something like this to clip the little bits of skin instead of using your teeth.

Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong nailbiter. Never broken the habit either.
posted by chiababe at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2005

Your nailbiting habit can be broken with ease - believe me. I posted about it on my blog here, following the advice of Ken Norton here.

In short though, ping a rubber band against your wrist every time you go to bite your nails, or even when you just think about it. Within two weeks your fingers will look totally different.
posted by Glum at 11:36 AM on November 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

A plain jane manicure in my neighborhood is about 8 bucks - maybe going in once - getting everything cleaned up to start would be a good idea. I'm a picker myself - and the thing that gets my fingers in better shape are band aids. A little neosporin (moisturizes and helps heal) and a bunch of band aids - you might look a little silly but you can't pick what you can't see. Take them off at night and just moisturize the crap out of your hands with any ole cheapo drug store hand lotion. Good luck - I know the struggle. As you get more resources - I've found regular manicures - nothing fancy - to help a lot with this. Those women are masters of cleaning up all the little bits without making it worse (like I do).
posted by Wolfie at 11:41 AM on November 28, 2005

I've found I get those little bits of skin sticking out more when it's cold out and I haven't been wearing gloves. Wearing gloves when it's coldish outisde (anything below about 5 degrees Celcius) has helped me prevent the annoying bits.
posted by raedyn at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2005

Bad taste did nothing to stop me, rubber bands did nothing, public shame did nothing. What did help (temporarily) was wearing gloves 100% of the time. Nice leather gloves don't look too ridiculous to be wearing everywhere,especially this time of year, and the truth is the best explanation if anyone asks (people will appreciate you fixing the problem). Wear them for a few days until the worst of the gaping wounds have healed. By then the jagged edges may be fixing themselves. Lots of lotion will help too. When you take the gloves off, get a professional manicure ($13 around here) -- properly done it will help the cuticles to grow properly. If you catch yourself gnawing at one finger or cuticle bit, either put the gloves back on or put bandaids over the finger. Within a week and a half you should have less-tempting stumps. They still might not be hand model ready, but they won't be festering sores. And you will be better able to control the hand-to-mouth habit.
posted by dness2 at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2005

Third spending the $$ to get a professional manicure -- and talk to the person who does it while they're doing it ... ask them to tell you each step of what they're doing and why.
posted by anastasiav at 11:59 AM on November 28, 2005

I went to a dermatologist once and asked about a similar problem (I'm not overzealous in the biting, but I too get hangnails that are mightily tempting) and the doctor suggested that I might have a need for a Vitamin B supplement. Not a terribly cheap solution, but the grocery store may have a bottle for under $10.

*Since I don't think self medicating is ever a good idea* you should probably get your hands looked at by a pro. Most health insurance would cover it.
posted by bilabial at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: I, too, bite the nails and the cuticles. I have had some very limited success with the following:

1) Salt scrubs, like this one. It's not totally cheap, but you use a small amount if you are just doing your hands, so it's not so bad. This pulls off a lot of the dead skin around my nails, and leaves my hands soft. I follow the sea salt scrub with cuticle oil. This is an example of the product, but you can find something similar at your local CVS/Walgreens/Drugstore of choice.

2) I also really like Burt's Bees Hand Repair Kit. I have one I use and one kit I keep for when the first one runs out. Read the directions, wear the gloves overnight . . . I promise it helps.

Also you may want to get an antibacterial cream/ointment with a topical painkiller (Neosporin® + Pain Relief or whatever is generic in your area). You can do the bandaids during the day thing and the gloves with the ointment at night if you've really made a mess of your hands. On the bandaids front, I prefer cloth bandaids in a variety of sizes, because they don't get slick and they're just more flexible. As a life-long paw-gnawer, I can tell you that making this stop is an exercise of the will that I've never been able to pull off -- I've just mitigated it for long stretches. Stressful situations tend to reignite the gnawing, and then I do it whenever I'm stressed, bored, or distracted. Or thinking. Or whatever. So it's a real chore, and if you're like most of us, you will backslide from time to time. Good luck!
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:13 PM on November 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I third (fourth?) the reccommendation for getting a nice manicure at least once ($10 bucks, around here), asking about the procedure, and buying yourself the nail polish used and a small manicure set that you can carry around with you. Whenever you get bored, take care of your fingernails instead of biting them - the manicure will help you get started as well as show you what should be done on a regular basis. This advice goes for men too.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: I have the same habit and overcame it for the same reason. When my partner entered end-stage AIDS and his caregiving became more demanding, my nasty little habit suddenly seemed more than a minor embarrassment. The ugly little cuts and picked spots not only present a heightened risk for the caregiver, but offer one more unwelcome opportunity for transmitting bloodborne yickies to the vulnerable patient, or so his doctor said.

I heartily recommend the Burt's Bees products, and especially Lemon Cuticle Creme, which is packaged in a small tin, easy to keep in a pocket. Any time I found myself picking at my hands, I scooped out a tiny dollop of lemon creme and massaged it into my cuticles. This served two purposes: it softened and moisturized my hands, lessening the temptation to pick, and also replaced the destructive habit with a constructive one.

I also bought a fine surfaced synthetic nail and cuticle board (like this, but superfine) and used that on my nails and cuticles to keep everything smooth. Soon, I had completely stopped nail-picking, and with minimum maintenance (the occasional rub with moisturizer, once in a while a swipe with an emery board) I managed to keep the habit at bay for eight years, only starting again this fall when my father entered hospice care. Irony --- gotta love it.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to hospice workers and volunteers. Thank you.
posted by Elsa at 2:26 PM on November 28, 2005

I second the Burt's Bees hand repair kit. I got one a few days ago, and am already noticing a difference, especially when I lotion up and wear the cotton gloves at night.
posted by kalimac at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2005

You can often get cheaper manicures at beauty schools and such, for what it's worth. Check the yellow pages and call to see what kinds of deals are offered in your area. The advice about moisturizers and gloves is good. And nail files are cheap. Just sand down the sharp edges until they're no longer sharp. I never push my cuticles back with an orange stick; my fingernails work well enough at gently pushing them back (after I've put lotion or oil on them.)
posted by digitalis at 4:48 PM on November 28, 2005

Bag Balm was originally developed for cow's udders (weird, I know) but is a great moisturizer. All you need is a little tin and you can get it at the drugstore. Before you go to bed, slather some on your hands and then put on cotton gloves (you can also get those in the drugstore).
posted by radioamy at 11:59 AM on November 29, 2005

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