A Compulsion that's Hard to Handle
April 24, 2008 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep from picking at the skin around my fingernails?

I've been doing it since I was a kid with, presumably, no real ill effects other than gnarly hands. That said, now, under doctor's orders I'm to avoid possible infections for the foreseeable future. Even minor ones. And I'm sure this is a way to get em.

So how do I stop? I do it subconsciously. I'll make an effort and then, without noticing, I'll look down and I'm doing it. If any of you have had this issue I'd appreciate any insight.
posted by rileyray3000 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Previously, just today.
posted by jozxyqk at 10:31 AM on April 24, 2008

Rubber gloves.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:41 AM on April 24, 2008

If you find yourself doing it a lot while watching television - get some Silly Putty to play with.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:02 AM on April 24, 2008

I used to do this a lot, and cured it with a combination of keeping my nails trimmed very very short (to make it harder to pick at the cuticles) and keeping a pair of nail trimmers at my desk (so that when I notice one of those tempting loose bits of skin I can snip it off cleanly right away, instead of peeling it off and taking a whole lot of live skin with it.)
posted by ook at 11:49 AM on April 24, 2008

This isn't really a cure, but a few years ago I had a girlfriend who really hated my nail biting and skin picking habit. She would notice me doing it, tell me to stop, and I would. Eventually the habit just disappeared.

We eventually broke up (unrelated to finger issues), and after a few months I found myself doing it again, which continues to this day. Just my experience, make of it what you will...

Also, for me I find that the picking is related to anxiety, even just like a tense scene on TV. Actual real-world tense situations make me pick and bite like crazy.
posted by allen8219 at 12:57 PM on April 24, 2008

I also cutilate my muticles. I'm trying a heavy duty moisturization regimen to aid in unpickability. Using a cuticle oil pen from Sephora, and nighttime sleep gloves over vaselined hands. I figure if I can get the callousy, tough skin that results from having been picked to subside into normal, soft cuticle skin, I won't pick it... but I've been working on this project for a few months now. I definitely second getting a proper nail trimming kit, though I've been known to abuse them, or anything sharp, to scrape off dead skin layers from my fingertips.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:13 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a spinner ring for a while, until it got stepped on. I played with it all the damn time (which let to it getting stepped on. Took it off to spin it round and round, dropped it, and when I found it again, it was broken). Anyhow, maybe that will give your hands something else to do subconsciously and cut down on the skin picking. For times when it's not socially acceptable to constantly play with silly putty (which I think is a good idea). Though, when you think of it, there aren't that many times when it's just not okay to play with silly putty. People may think you're weird, but whatever.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:42 PM on April 24, 2008

and if you pick with your teeth, spray bug repellent or something similarly nasty on your fingertips.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:44 PM on April 24, 2008

Pay for a manicure (even if you're a guy). Your hands will feel good & they trim away all the loose bits & biting/picking will mean you've wasted your money, so you'll resist. Also, pick up a hand-habit like coin manipulation --- that'll keep your hands busy and also make you a hit at parties =)
posted by headnsouth at 3:00 PM on April 24, 2008

I stopped all at once and effortlessly, but I don't recommend the method:
I broke my wrist, and the nibbling impulse disappeared.
posted by hexatron at 4:28 PM on April 24, 2008

I used to be absolutely terrible about picking my fingers. Then for a while I managed to stop. Recently I have gotten bad about it again. I think what has changed to let me slip recently is higher stress, dryer skin, and less exercise.

So I would recommend moisturizer and reducing anxiety, both externally (as in avoiding situations which are worrying to you) and internally (as in preventing an unnecessarily anxious response to situations thru exercise, healthy diet, sunlight etc)
posted by mdn at 6:08 PM on April 24, 2008

Regular manicures work for me. If I go too long without a manicure, I start picking at my cuticles again. The manicures keep everything short and smooth so there's not much there to pick at. I also have a puzzle ring I play with when I need to keep my hands occupied.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:16 PM on April 24, 2008

Looking at some of the links above I get the impression some have it worse than I do.

I found that my minor problem could be somewhat solved by careful use of regular nail clippers to just trim off the dry skin so it was relatively flush and not an invitation to pick at. I kept those clippers with me in my nerd gadget bag (along with my iPod, GPS, etc.)

Also, in the Winter I keep two pump bottles of Cetaphil handy (one on my desk at work and one at home).
posted by forthright at 8:24 PM on April 24, 2008

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