Breaking the Habit: How to Stop Nail Biting According to Science

August 21, 2023 | 


Joanna Newman



Nail biting, or onychophagia, is a common habit that people of all ages engage in. Despite being a seemingly harmless habit, it can have significant consequences for both health and appearance. This article delves into scientifically proven strategies to help you stop biting your nails.

1. Identify Your Triggers

Understanding the Root Cause

Researchers have found that nail biting is often triggered by stress, anxiety, or boredom. Solution: Keep a journal and note the times you tend to bite your nails. Identifying these triggers is the first step towards tackling this habit.

2. Engage in Competing Behaviors

Science-Backed Strategy

Studies suggest that engaging in behavior incompatible with nail-biting, such as playing with a stress ball or clay, can be effective. Solution: Whenever you feel the urge to bite your nails, engage in this competing behavior instead.

3. Apply a Bitter Nail Polish

A Tried-and-True Tactic

One of the most studied methods for stopping nail biting is the application of bitter-tasting nail polish. Solution: Apply a specialized, bitter-tasting nail polish designed to deter you from putting your nails in your mouth.

4. Habit Reversal Training (HRT)

A Psychological Approach

Habit Reversal Training is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that has been shown in studies to be effective in treating nail biting. Solution: Consult with a psychologist or psychiatrist who can guide you through HRT, which involves awareness training, developing a competing response, and building motivation.

5. Use of Acrylic Nails or Bandages

Creating a Physical Barrier

By applying acrylic nails or bandages, you create a physical barrier that makes nail-biting difficult. Solution: Consider visiting a nail salon for a professional acrylic nail application or wrap your nails with bandages until the habit is broken.

6. Positive Reinforcement

Reward Your Progress

Research has shown positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for breaking habits. Solution: Set up a reward system for yourself, such as treating yourself to something special after a certain period of not biting your nails.

7. Seek Professional Help

When to Consult an Expert

For some, nail-biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological condition, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Solution: If nail biting is significantly impacting your life, it may be time to consult with a healthcare professional, who might prescribe medications or additional behavioral therapies.

Conclusion: Taking Control of Your Habit

Nail biting is a common habit, but it is one that can be broken. With a foundation of scientific research and a commitment to change, it is possible to stop nail biting and improve both the health and appearance of your nails. Remember, breaking a habit takes time and patience, so be kind to yourself as you work towards your goal. Consult with healthcare professionals as needed, and use these scientifically-backed strategies as tools in your journey toward breaking the habit.