Biting your nails can occur for many reasons and has long-term effects. Learning how to stop biting your nails can help you break the habit and avoid the detrimental impacts.

Chronic nail biting is classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder or body-focused repetitive behavior, and it’s called onychophagia.

Adults who bite their nails typically start during childhood and begin the behavior to cope and feel calm. As a child, you’re more likely to bite your nails if your parents do, although experts aren’t sure if it’s genetic.

Biting your nails can indicate a psychological or emotional issue that needs to be addressed. It could show nervousness, anxiety, or mental turmoil as it’s a way to cope. Other times, you might do it when you’re insecure, bored, or hungry.

Typically, nail biting occurs without thinking about it, which is why it can be hard to stop. Here are some tips for how to stop biting your nails.

It’s sometimes hard to stop a habit immediately, so consider a gradual approach instead. Try to stop biting one set of nails, like your pinky nails. Then, once you no longer bite those, add another set until you’ve stopped entirely.

Another option is to stop biting your nails on one hand. Once you’ve achieved that for a while, you can start breaking your habit on your other hand, too.

Spending money to have attractive nails can make you not want to bite them. It’s more likely that you’ll want them to continue looking and feeling good after a manicure. When you can, try to get manicures often as you work toward breaking the habit.

It can be helpful to be mindful of triggers that may lead to nail biting. Some people bite their nails when they’re bored, stressed, or anxious, while others do it when they notice a hangnail.

Once you determine what triggers your nail biting habit, try to brainstorm methods for avoiding those situations in the future.

If you’re tempted to put your fingers in your mouth, practicing mindfulness can help you make conscious decisions and consider healthy coping techniques.

You won’t have much to bite when you don’t have long nails. It can make it less tempting to put your fingers in your mouth. You’ll also have fewer hangnails and ragged edges, which can make you want to bite them.

Anytime you get the urge to bite your nail, find something else to do with your hands instead. Consider keeping a stress ball handy for moments like this to keep your hands away from your mouth.

You can buy clear nail polish that tastes bitter to help break a nail-biting habit. Consider purchasing no-bite nail polish since it’s specifically created for this purpose. You can find this type of nail polish at your local drug or grocery store for over-the-counter purchase.

Some people find that wearing gloves stops them from biting their nails since they physically can’t. It can help you break the habit but isn’t always feasible. If you can’t wear gloves, putting stickers or tape on your fingernails can have a similar effect.

Can nail biting affect your health?

One of the long-term effects of nail biting is tissue damage that impacts how your nails grow. If this happens, it can cause your nails to look different than usual. Nail biting can also cause soreness in the surrounding skin.

Long-term nail biting also makes it easier for harmful viruses and bacteria to enter your body and make you sick.

Touching your face and mouth with your hands increases your risk of illness, and if you have skin damage around your nails, bacteria and viruses can enter that way, too.

Nail biting can also cause dental problems because it can chip or misalign your teeth. Jaw pain or soft tissue injuries in your mouth are also concerns of frequent, long-term nail biting.

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If you’ve tried to stop biting your nails and it didn’t work out, consider visiting a board certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can help with ingrown nails, abnormalities, and other issues resulting from nail biting.

Consider scheduling an appointment with them if your nails or surrounding skin develop an infection.

You may also consider speaking with a psychologist who can help with treating psychiatric disorders that contribute to your urge to bite your nails. In addition, a psychologist can help you increase trigger awareness and find new ways to release negative emotions.