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How to stop biting your nails: 10 top tips

25 Aug 2021 • 3 min read

Dreaming of pretty fingers but can’t stop biting your nails? Like any bad habit, nail-biting can be tough to kick. So, let us help you with our 10 top tips on how to stop biting nails!

Why is biting nails bad for us?

In the long term it’s unlikely that nail biting will cause any long-term damage.

Your nails are formed just beneath where the circular cuticles begin, known as the ‘nail bed’ so as long as that stays intact, it’s unlikely that you’ll cause too many issues.

However, there is still risk when it comes to biting your nails. These include:

  • You may increase the risk of infection by damaging the skin around the nail
  • There is an increased risk of catching colds and other infections as you spread germs from your fingers to your mouth
  • You can harm your teeth

What causes you to bite your nails?

There’s no clear reason as to why you might bite your nails. However, there are a few ideas behind why you might bite your nails – which include:

  • Inheriting habits from parents - It is thought that kids whose parents bite their nails are more likely to follow suit - even if the parent stops the behaviour before the child is born.
  • Anxiety - Nail biting may be a sign of anxiety or stress. The repetitive behaviour seems to help some people cope with challenging emotions.
  • Boredom - It may simply be that your need to keep your hands busy. Habits such as nail biting or hair twirling can be common when you’re bored or hungry too.

For many, nail biting just happens automatically rather than it being a conscious thing.

Although in some cases it may be related to ADHD, separation anxiety or other areas concerning mental health.1

Why can't I stop biting my nails?

As above, many people just bit their nails as an automatic reaction.

However, sometimes nail biting may be a sign of emotional or mental stress. Nail biting can be common in people who hare nervous, anxious or feeling down.

It may be used as a way to cope with these feelings – amongst many other things.

How to stop biting nails – 10 top tips

  1. Discover what triggers your nail biting

There are many reasons why people bite their nails, but people aren’t always conscious about why they do it.

One of the most important steps in overcoming this habit is to identify what triggers you to bite your nails.

Is it when you’re feeling anxious? When you’re bored? Or maybe you start nibbling when you want to forget a certain feeling e.g. anger?

A good way to do this is to keep a journal – a notes app on your phone is ok too! Just try to jot down when you bite your nails and how you’re feeling / what you’re doing.

This will help you to identify any patterns so that you can try and change your reaction to any nail-biting triggers, e.g. filing your nails into a nice shape when you’re worried instead of biting them all off.

  1. Think of all those germs…

You put what in where!?

When you think about it, nail biting is pretty unhygienic.

It’s highly unlikely that you will wash your hands every time before you start nibbling your nails, meaning you’re transferring germs from everything you’ve touched into your mouth.

This can expose you to illnesses.

So next time you’re tempted to bite your nails, take a second to think about all those potential germs lurking on your fingers and maybe just go and wash your hands instead!

  1. Ask your friends and family to help

You may not notice you’re biting your nails as often as you are, and once you do the damage is often already done.

One thing you can do is ask the people around you to remind you not to bite your nails – you choose how cruel or kind you want them to be.

This not only gives you accountability and a better visibility of your nail-biting habit, but it also gives you the support to help you stop.

  1. Take your teeth into consideration

You may have your dental hygiene routine down but biting your nails could be setting your mouth health back, bigtime.

Biting your nails can cause problems down the line like cracked and chipped teeth. Use this as motivation to stop biting your nails – unless you really do want to go and sit in that dentist chair….

  1. Get your nails done

When you spend your hard-earned money on a fresh manicure or paint your nails with a nice new nail varnish, you are less likely to bit them.

Why? It’s money down the drain isn’t it.

Not only that, but you took time out of your day to go get them done, so that’s a double-whammy of waste if you go and ruin it by biting your nails.

Go on, treat yourself and see if it can help you kick nail-biting to the curb!

  1. Make your nails taste bad

If something tastes bad, you’re not going to want to put it in your mouth, right? Try applying this to your fingernails.

Not only can it help you associate the habit with something negative, it can also put a stop to absent-minded nail biting – because sometimes you won’t even realise you’re biting your nails until it’s too late.

There are many nasty-tasting formulas on the market already that you can paint onto your nails, but here’s some natural ways to help make those nails un-bitable:

Bring out the vinegar

This bitter-tasting ingredient is probably ready and waiting in your kitchen cupboard to help put an end to your nail-biting woes!

Whether it’s malt, apple cider or wine vinegar, dilute a few drops into water and dip your fingernails into it (maybe not if you have broken skin).

Let it dry naturally on your nails and serve as a pongy reminder to stop biting your nails.

Garlic breath for your nails

It’s no fun getting close to somebody who has just eaten what seems like a bulb’s worth of garlic in one sitting.

Apply the same garlic overload to your nails and you may just steer clear of them too!

All you need to do is chop up some garlic (a few cloves will do) and add it to some olive oil, leaving it to infuse for at least a day.

Once it’s nice and pungent, apply the mixture to your fingernails and let it dry. The olive oil will nourish them and the bad garlic smell will remind you not to bite your nails.

Nip nail biting in the bud with neem oil

Neem oil is made by pressing the seeds and fruit of the neem plant.

It is naturally extremely bitter and serves as a great reminder to stop biting your nails. Simply apply some to your nails and let it dry.

Try a bit of bitter gourd

Bitter gourd is a vegetable commonly used in Asian cuisine hailed for its naturally bitter taste.

Also known as bitter squash or bitter melon, this vegetable is very potent when used on its own.

Its bitter taste is sure to put you off biting your nails, leaving a gag-worthy taste in your mouth if you choose to get nibbling.

You can either crush bitter gourd, apply the juices on your nails and leave to dry, or find a pre-prepared bitter gourd nail-biting treatment in the shops.

Give aloe vera a go

Although aloe vera gel isn’t the most offensive smelling thing on the planet, it still doesn’t taste too good.

Try dipping your fingertips into some aloe gel and leaving it to try and see if it puts you off biting your nails.

There is no guarantee that any of these natural nail-biting treatment ideas will work for you, but hopefully you feel inspired to try some of these at home.

If they work then you have yourself a low-cost way to keep your nail biting at bay – winning!

  1. Reward every little victory

Whether you’ve managed to get through a whole day without biting your nails or made it through your first month of no-nail biting make sure you celebrate!

Plan some rewards for these milestones, like treating yourself to a nice manicure or a buying yourself a nice piece of clothing you’ve had your eye on for a while.

This positive reinforcement should help you kick the habit for good.

And remember if you find yourself biting your nails, don’t be too hard on yourself, simply acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and start again – you’ve got this!

  1. Trim them short

If you keep your nails short by trimming or filing them, then you’re less likely to bite them.

Sounds pretty obvious, but by having less nail there is less to bite and by default, less tempting.

  1. Keep yourself occupied

When you feel like biting your nails, try keeping your hands busy. Play with a stress ball or something that will keep your mind off it.

  1. Try stopping gradually

It may be worth considering a gradual approach to break your habit. Try by first stopping to bite one set of nails, such as your thumbnails.

Then when you’ve been successful begin to eliminate other nails, with the eventual goal of stopping all together.

How to stop nail biting in children

Nail biting in children is a tale as old as time, but it doesn’t mean you should just accept it.

Nibbling on those nails can be damaging to health and wellbeing, as well as point to underlying problems.

Decided it’s time to nip it in the bud? Here’s some tips on how to stop nail biting in children.

Why do children bite their nails?

First things first, it’s useful to know why our children end up nibbling on their nails.

Like thumb-sucking, hair twisting and nose picking, nail biting is a common habit for children.

These behaviours are known as ‘nervous habits’ – although, confusingly, that doesn’t actually mean your child is nervous.

Most children bite their nails when they are feeling bored or curious, to pass the time, to relieve stress or simply as a force of habit.

So, nail biting can be caused by a multitude of issues, and the most important thing is encouraging them to stop without it turning into an unhelpful nag-fest.

Here’s our top tips on how to stop nail biting in children:

  1. Give those nails a daily trim

Dirt, bacteria and all sorts of other nasties love long nails.

These particles love to hide under the nails in wait for your child to get nibbling and pass them into the mouth.

So the best thing to do is trim your child’s nails every day, so if they do bite them the damage is minimal.

  1. Create a new, healthier habit

Like every habit, nail biting is a tough one to quit, so replacing it with a healthy one can be a good tactic!

Try introducing regular snacks of crunchy carrot, cucumber and apple sticks (keep it healthy) as they can replicate the ‘crunch’ they get when biting their nails.

A small stress ball or some silly putty can work in the same way, giving your child something else to focus on when they’re feeling fidgety or worried.

  1. Find a ‘secret’ signal to stop them biting

Nail biting can often be subconscious, so coming up with a way to make your child aware of their biting can be useful.

Try lightly tapping your child’s arm or leg when they are biting their nails without telling anybody else.

Keep it friendly and avoid scolding them, this is only to make them more aware of their biting.

  1. Reward each little victory

Who doesn’t love a good sticker chart? They can be a fun and useful way to reward your child for not biting their nails.

Choose a time marker, e.g. day, half a day and give your child a sticker if they manage not to bite their nails during this time.

Once they have earned a specific number of stickers, give them an award like a trip to the cinema or a toy they’ve had their eye on for a while.

  1. Book them in for a manicure

This won’t work for all children, but some little ones would jump at the chance to get a ‘grown-up’ manicure.

Whether you book them into a child-friendly salon or go DIY at home, see if your child would be up for a manicure and use it as a reward. It’s a great opportunity to bond, too!

  1. Try an anti-nail-biting treatment

We’re sure you’ve heard of those gross-tasting nail varnishes that help people to stop biting their nails.

They work by ‘punishing’ the nail biter when they get nibbling with a horrible taste – not only stopping the biter in their tracks but also forming a negative association with the act over time.

It’s normal to be hesitant about using this with children, though, as it’s not them choosing to do it themselves.

Perhaps you’d prefer a more natural take on anti-nail biting treatments?

Take a look at our DIY nail-biting treatments and try some out with your kids.

Please be careful though, and avoid if your child has broken skin as the ingredients could aggravate it. Also, avoid the spicy ingredients as kids could touch their eyes and hurt themselves.

  1. Most importantly, be positive

Making a big deal out of your child’s nail biting, shouting at them or punishing them might cause your child to bite their nails even more.

Skip the ‘it’s gross’ lecture - shaming them won’t make it better. Instead, try and get your child on board using rewards, an encouraging attitude, etc. and be patient.

It’s hard enough for adults to kick a habit, so a child may find it even harder.

Just keep at it and find a way that suits you and your child in helping them give up nail biting once and for all!

When to seek medical advice

For some people, nail biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological or emotional problem.

If you have tried to stop biting your nails and the problem persists, or if you begin to develop skin or nail infections, you may want to consult a doctor.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 25 August 2021



Author: Bhupesh PanchalSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

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