Updated 20 September 2013

How to stop biting your nails

Do you bite your nails? Here's how to stop.


I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I bite my nails. I’ve chewed my fingernails for as long as I can remember. And even though I don’t bite them down to painful nubs like I occasionally did as a kid, I am particularly nibbly when I’m stressed or super-busy at work.

I’d really love to give up this habit once and for all, so I tried some popular habit-breaking methods. Here’s what I found.

Bad Habit Breaker No. 1: Good, old-fashioned willpower
I don’t know how many times I’ve sworn up and down that I was quitting nail-biting for good. But the problem is that I don’t always know when I’m doing it. Vowing not to do it anymore seems like it could work. But honestly, I only tend to catch myself once I’ve already started and damage has been done.

Bad Habit Breaker No. 2: Buddy up
The experts will tell you that in order to achieve any tough task you should have someone else there to hold you accountable. And what better person than a loved one who’s also trying to break a bad habit? That way, you can use the buddy system to motivate and keep each other on track.

So I thought: Lucky me! My significant other has also been biting his nails since he was a kid. So we could remind each other to stop nibbling and together conquer our shared habit! Well, he agreed. But the first time I pointed out to him that he was biting, he just kept on chewing (and shot me an annoyed look). I think he just didn’t want it as badly as I did.

Bad Habit Breaker No. 3: Negative reinforcement
I once read in a teen magazine that it works to put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against yourself every time you realize you’re nail-biting. Sorry, but I cringed just thinking about that one. The rubber band never even made it around my wrist. Teenagers are way more hardcore than I am, I guess.

Bad Habit Breaker No. 4: No-bite products
Several nail care companies make special no-bite products that you paint over and under your nails. The stuff tastes bitter, so you get a nasty reminder every time you go to bite. I tried one of these products, and yep, it was pretty gross and deterred me from biting. But I was kind of nervous about wearing it around my dog (would he get a lick of it and hate me?), and it was easy to forget to put it on every morning. I needed something less high-maintenance.

Bad Habit Breaker No. 5: Get a mani
Sure, I’ve had plenty of manicures in my day, and I have always noticed that when my nails look neat – and my hangnails have been smoothed away – I’m way less likely to bite. So I’ve been getting manis more regularly lately, and so far it’s worked!

I’ve found that the best kind of polish to use is one with a particularly bright or bold hue. (Who wants to risk getting navy polish chips between her teeth?) Luckily, dramatic polish colours are in style now, so this is easy to pull off. The key for me has been to maintain a perfect-looking mani (that I don’t want to mess up!) by getting the polish professionally changed or by fixing it myself as soon as it starts to chip. Of course, I’m wondering how this will work long-term, or when I don’t have time to do my nails. Will I fall off the nail-biting wagon?

Bad Habit Breaker No. 6: Hypnosis
OK, I haven’t tried self-hypnosis yet, but some people swear by it. They say you can actually learn methods to hypnotise yourself out of your bad habits! (Check out this site. They help with nail-biting!) This may sound a little weird, but if the manis don’t work out, I’m not opposed to trying it. 

(Elena Donovan Mauer for Completely You, March 2012)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.