Nail Biting: Causes, Consequences, Cure-How to Stop Biting Your Nails

Nail biting (onychophagia) is a nervous habit I know all too well. I’ve been biting my nails since I was a child, and as much as I’d like to say that I’ve learned to stop biting my nails now that I’m an adult, I’m embarrassed to admit that my wish to quit biting my nails is still a problem for me.

I’ve been researching the causes and consequences of nail biting, as well as searching for a cure for nail biting. Everything I’ve read so far says that nail biting occurs in times of stress, anxiety, excitement, boredom or inactivity and can be a learned behavior from family members. If you bite your nails too, and you’re habit is anything like mine, you also bite your nails without realizing you’re doing it.

It seems that no matter what it is that I’m doing, such as reading, watching television, talking on the phone, researching and writing articles for my websites, I bite my nails without thinking about it or realizing I’m doing it, and then I notice my fingernails are nearly bitten down to the quick.

Nail Biting Cure

My parents tried everything they could think to try and get me to stop biting my nails, including painting fingernail polish on my nails, which I’d just bite off anyway. Soap, shampoo, jalapeno sauces, iodine, spankings and grounding me didn’t work either. In my opinion, the quickest way to turn your child into an extreme nail biter is to start smacking or spanking them for biting their nails, which only makes a bad habit worse. Just don’t do it.

I’ve tried to stop biting my nails on my own many times over the years, even managing to grow my natural nails for several months and enjoy caring for my nails myself by filing and painting them so they look nice all the time. Until, suddenly and without warning, I’ll be reading or watching t.v. and I’ll catch myself chewing on my fingernails, but it’s too late. They’re gone, and I have to start all over again.

According to the statistics and studies done on nail biting, 28-33% of children ages 7-10 years old, 44% of adolescents, 19-29% of young adults and 5% of older adults (like me) are nail biters. One study showed 45-60% of children between the ages of 8 to 11 have a habit of biting their nails, which tends to peak between the ages of 10 and 18.

Opinions on what causes nail biting vary widely, with some believing it is due to high levels of stress and anxiety, while others say the habit appears during quiet, solitary, inactive moments such as when relaxing watching television. My experience tells me it’s the latter of the two.

How To Stop Biting Your Nails

Fingernail biting is a habit that is not easy to quit or control. I’ve read statistics and research on how to stop nail biting, including the findings that say nail biting doesn’t have any long lasting negative effects, but chewing nails occasionally or regularly means you and I have ugly, unsightly fingernails and that’s just not okay with me.

I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money paying for manicures and fake nails over the years, but I just want to quit biting my nails once and for all. I’ve researched “nail biting”, “nail biting cure” and “nail biting treatment”, because this adult nail biting habit of mine has got to stop. If you’re ready to stop nail biting like I am, I’ve recently found a couple of options that just might be the perfect solution for you too.

I’ve read some stories from other nail biters who’ve said nail biting hypnosis helped them stop biting their nails, but I’m not ready to go that route quite yet. That’s not to say that hypnosis treatments for nail biting doesn’t work, because maybe it does, but I’m more inclined to try MAVALA Stop For Nail Biting or the control it nail biting cream to help me stop chewing on my nails.

Some have suggested trying the “rubber band” method, where you wear a rubber band around your wrist, and every time you start biting your nails you’re supposed to snap the rubber band hard enough on yourself to make you stop. Sorry, but that just sounds silly to me. The other thing I’ve done in my efforts to quit biting my nails is that I’ve ordered the book, Stop Your Nailbiting!: Permanently by Gilbreth Brown, and it should be arriving any day now.

Do you bite your nails or did you used to bite your nails but have since quit? Does one or more of your children bite their fingernails and you’re trying to get them to stop? If you used to be a nail biter, what helped you to stop?

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57 Responses to “Nail Biting: Causes, Consequences, Cure-How to Stop Biting Your Nails”

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  1. Tammy says:

    Lin, Elizabeth, Nicky, Jessi, Sam and new posters…I have replied to your posts. Go find them…if you want. Still struggling, but still trying. T- #13

  2. Tammy says:

    Has anybody out there heard of or tried “Habit Reversal Therapy?” I was reading on another site and it was suggested that HRT is a viable option for nailbiters and skin pickers. Looking for some feedback on HRT…. T- #13

  3. Heather says:

    I am a 37 year old, married mother of 4 with no childhood traumas. I have been biting my nails since I can remember. Mother says I started when I became friends with a child down the street that bit. Nevertheless, I have endlessly tried to stop. The only two times that I have stopped for a while and not even tried was once when I was pregnant (??why I don’t know) and the other was when I was initially on Fluoxetine (generic of Prosac) for post partum depression. I can see the OCD link someone mentioned but after being on the meds for about 8-10 months the biting came back. Has ANYONE found any truth to this iron deficiency thing?? If it’s going to be as simple as me taking an iron pill I think I’m going to jump for joy!!!

    • Elizabeth says:

      In your case, I would think it may be more hormonal. It could be iron if you were taking a prenatal with high iron. I would check out your hormones. (Do not get on synthetic hormones) find a naturalopathic or holistic dr that will do blood work on your hormones.

  4. Becky says:

    I have been a fingernail biter and eater since early childhood and it has been a source of embarrassment for most of my life. There are so many tricks that I have tried and other people are always so ready with the answers….especially those who do not bite their nails…lol. The one and only thing I have had long term success with is diatomaceous earth. I have a niece who also tried taking it with no success. She admitted that she was not consistent with taking it, though.

    A friend suggested I try it for joint aches and after about 3 months, I realized that my fingernails were growing and I had stopped even thinking about chewing them! The fact that my mind was not even thinking about chewing my nails was more impressive to me that actually growing my nails. I can not ever remember a time that I didn’t have that mental desire to gnaw and gnaw and gnaw. That leads me to wonder if the problem may very well be a deficiency for some folks.

  5. Barbara says:

    My son bites his nails. He started only a few months ago but it’s already an entrenched habit – and he’s only 10. There’s a supplement that is supposed to help sufferers of trichotillomania (hair chewing) and nail biting, bi-polar and OCD, among other things – N-acetylcysteine or N-acetyl-L-cysteine (abbreviated NAC).

    I haven’t tried it on my boy yet as I’m not very comfortable with the idea of giving a 10 year old strange supplements, but I will get a tablet I can cut up, and try it. In the mean time, google it (NAC and nail biting). It looks hopeful. Good luck everyone.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks so much for the comments on Diatamaceous earth and NAC. I will start on the NAC next week. It looks like people are starting to see results with the NAC. I will start taking 1200 mg a day. I am a rep for an organic supplement company, so I will be taking theres. Looking forward to it!

  7. Jerie says:

    Hi everybody,

    I just wanted to post to say thank you all for sharing your stories. When I tell people in my life that I am a “nail biter”, most people think I just mean that I “bite my nails occasionally” (which everybody does from time to time) and that I just need to “try harder to stop”. Glad there are others who understand!

    Here is my story:

    I can’t remember when I started biting my nails, but I am 22 now and it’s as bad as ever. I bite them so far they bleed and ache, and I have to put tightly wrapped band-aids on them sometimes to lessen the pain. This is pretty bad for my hygiene, as I wash my hands less often and shower less often so that I don’t loosen the hold of the band-aids with the water. I also become worse at household chores and other tasks, as picking things up and/or touching things is painful. I probably go through a box of bandaids every 2 – 4 weeks.

    Like you all, it’s lead to a lot of embarrassment and shame as well. I try to hide my hands as much as possible, and when people ask me why I have band-aids on my fingers I get very ashamed and lie about it. I have tried many things to stop, including clear nail-polish, snapping an elastic around my wrist when I go to bite my nails, and sheer will-power, but nothing has worked yet.

    Sometimes I am able to grow them out slightly (just so there’s a bit of white at the top of my nail) but as soon as I unconsciously bite one nail, I lose all my willpower. I think “well, I’ve screwed it up, so I might as well bite them all and start over”. Even when I’m not biting my nails for that brief period, I bite the skin around my nails as a ‘replacement’ habit.

    I’ve tried to understand why I bite my nails, but I haven’t been able to figure it out. I had a very good upbringing and I have a loving, supportive family. I bite my nails in many circumstances (such as when bored, stressed, etc.) but the most common is when I am studying. Studying creates the perfect opportunity for nail-biting: my hands are free, I am usually a bit stressed, and my brain is so occupied with studying I don’t realize what my hands are doing.

    I bite both consciously and unconsciously – sometimes I am totally unaware that it is happening, and other times I am aware of it but I feel unable to stop myself. My brain is screaming “no!” but I keep biting. The worse is when there’s a little “nick” in the nail, or one side of the nail that’s shorter than the other… I can’t seem to stop myself, and my brain just wants to “even it out” or “get rid of that part sticking out” by biting.

    The only possible “cause” I can think of is that I do have a lot of stress in my life (32 hours of work a week in a stressful environment, plus a university student in 4th year). I’m a perfectionist and I’m notoriously hard on myself, both at work and school and in my personal relationships. But this is a part of my personality and I don’t think I can change that… but I do want (need) to stop biting my nails.

    Sigh.

  8. Lin says:

    Hey everybody,

    I’ve been doing a TON of research over the last few months about nutrition and how REAL nutrition is lacking in our diets and how the lack of necessary vitamins and minerals etc affects the body from the Inside Out.

    Think about it for a few minutes. Everything we consume and everything we put on our skin has an effect on our health. Everything. Our skin is like a sponge, absorbing everything and anything that touches our skin. Everything we put into our mouths, everything that goes into our stomachs, affects our health for the good or for the bad.

    The appearance of our fingernails, the health of our nails, eyes, skin etc is a manifestation (the result) of what we’re putting INTO our bodies and ONTO our skin.

    Our bodies are lacking the important vital nutrients needed for excellent health, which is then observed visibly by various habits we develop to counteract those nutrient deficiencies, such as nail biting, chewing ice, eating dirt (for the iron and minerals), skin breakouts (acne), etc etc.

    The articles I’ve been posting on this site over the last couple/few months ALL have a connection to the health of our fingernails, or the lack thereof, as well as our overall health.

    I no longer bite my nails, and my nails are growing good and strong. I no longer feel any desire to bite or chew on my nails, or the skin around the nails etc. I no longer have to worry that one day I’ll be reading or writing new articles etc and suddenly realize I’ve bitten off my nails once again.

    I would encourage all of you to subscribe (free) to the site via email (the link at the top of the site), so you can receive and consider the articles as it pertains to health related topics, including the health of your fingernails.

    Just as a person’s eyes and skin is a manifestation of their overall health, your eyes and skin and fingernails etc are a “window into your body’s health”, I promise/guarantee you that once you give careful consideration to how everything single thing that you put into your mouth to eat, drink, etc and the products you put on your skin (from head to toe) affects your body and your health and your fingernails in ways you would otherwise not have even considered before.

    Spend some time reading the health related articles on this site over the last couple/few months. Watch the “food documentaries” I’ve written about on this site. Ask yourself: How many chemicals am I consuming in my food and drinks every day, how are those chemicals affecting my body and health from the inside out? What chemicals do you put on your body, on your skin, on your hair, on your face, and what are those chemicals doing to your body and health from the inside out and…from the outside in?

    Read the health articles, watch the food documentaries, read the articles about fluoride and mercury fillings. Think outside the box and “connect the dots” as to how all of these different things we eat, drink and consume, things absorbed into our skin and bodies etc all…………have an affect on our health from the outside in and the inside out, and how our fingernails and eyes etc are proof positive that we’re all suffering from nutrient deficiencies and don’t even know it.

  9. Almost 40 says:

    I found this website doing a search because I started taking vitamin C & D about 3 or 4 months ago every night and about a month after I started both of those, I stopped biting my nails and I didn’t even realize it until after I started to see the white on my nails for the first time in about 30 yrs! I too would by my nails when I was idle, ie watching tv or driving with one hand and when I ran out of nail I would bite the skin around the nail. I didn’t have any more trauma growing up then any other normal person and the only way I could stop was to get my nails done but if I wasn’t in there like clockwork I would start picking at those too. I was a nightmare for my nail lady :). I just also would like to point out that all this happened at a time when I lost my job, my car and my house, at a time in the past that surely would have called for some extra nail biting. So with no setbacks yet, except when a seriously jagged nail sent me over the edge and I had to smooth it out with my teeth, and a couple broken finger nails (yes long enough to break while moving) I now carry a nail file with me everywhere and have two in strategic places at home for quick retrieval. I am without health care right now so I haven’t set up an appt with my doctor but I have had regular physicals but not as detailed to check my vitamin D levels, etc. just basic lab work. But I will continue on with my web search but I thought it was worth sharing when I started reading all these stories just like myself. Best of luck to everyone.

  10. Janaye says:

    I’m 16 and I have a huge habit of biting my nails and the skin around them. I used to bite my nails so much that they would bleed, but I’m not that bad anymore. My nails are so short and mostly the skin around them hurt. I really hate this habit. When I was little I bit my toe nails more than my finger nails, but as I grew up and got fatter, I couldn’t reach my toes anymore. I wish that was the case for my fingers. Anyway, recently I’ve tried to start biting my one hand and after about a week I couldn’t stand looking at one hand that looked really good and the other hand looking really disgusting so I just bit all the fingers that had grown back. I don’t know why I bite, I sometimes think it’s from stress or because I’m nervous about something. I know that when I’m watching a movie I tend to bite because even though I know what’s going to happen next, I just have to start biting. My parents used to spank me and hit my hands and ground me, but nothing worked. They mostly just gave up trying, and they tease me and yell at me when I can’t do something because I have no nails. Like when I have an itch, I have to leave it because I can’t scratch it. I really need tips. I want to try lemon juice, but I love it too much. Alcohol I don’t want to try because isn’t it poisonous? I lose time from biting. Like, when I’m studying or writing I can’t see my paper when I’m biting. So, I end up waiting until I’m done biting. PLEASE HELP ME. I’M DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS.