Nail Biters Anonymous

nail-biter.jpgOften people inspire me to write an article, their beauty trials and mine complete the works in progress. My friend Helen had a birthday recently. I would like to dedicate this story to her.

Helen and I have a running joke: Don’t ask us how we are feeling, just look at our hands. They are physical evidence of our current mental state. Long nails, things must be going good…short nails, not so much.

I have been a life-long nail biter. I’ve got it bad. Once I left an appointment with my manicurist mid-way through the procedure; the manicure was hurting my overly-bitten stubs and the pain and throbbing was too intense. The hot water, the pushing and prodding, the stinging of chemicals in raw cuticles…Despite my pain tolerance, I couldn’t take it.

For periods of time I have been able to kick the habit, only to return to my nibbling ways when I get stressed out.

Other than reducing stress–and that’s another article entirely–there are a few ways to stop biting your nails for a beautiful set of ten. Plus, I’ve included some information on keeping nails strong by taking oral supplements.

Manicure Matters
First, the best suggestion that Helen and I can give the nail biter is to really try to get manicures as regularly as possible when you are growing your nails out. Keep that polish on them, once a week if you can, while they grow out at this critical time.

Go to a good manicurist and tell her to cut the cuticles as little as possible. The cuticle protects the nail bed, so you don’t want to overly trim them. Just get all those rough edges that make picking and chewing a temptation.

A lot of people think artificial nails will help the nails grow faster or protect them while they are growing out. There is no quick fix; in fact, just the opposite…artificial nails will destroy your natural nail, leaving it weak and prone to tearing, with the texture of a soft contact lens. Artificial nails of all kinds basically turn natural nails to mush, and although it’s tempting to get a perfect set of nails in one spa visit (after all, immediate gratification is so gratifying), in the long run you are delaying the healthy long natural nails that you crave.

If you’re going to spend money, opt instead for a paraffin dip as a luxurious treatment that really helps moisturizers and active ingredients penetrate through its moist heat. Paraffin dips seem costly, but your cuticles will respond beautifully to the warm wax and your hands will be baby soft. Try it once and you may get hooked, or save it as a special treat. Paraffin on the feet is also amazing the next time you schedule a pedi…callouses seem to melt away.

Selecting the Perfect Nail Color
In selecting your nail color, remember that the best polish color for bitten nails is a good fleshy color that is slightly obscure until they get longer. You want to lengthen your fingers with a nude that does not draw attention to them. Sparkly, dark or bright colors do not look good on bitten nails. With all the beautiful colors, it can be tempting, but resist that urge until your nails are longer and healthy.

A great way to find the perfect nude for you is to take your foundation (yes, your base, your powder, whatever you use on your face) to the beauty supply or department store. Scan the nail colors until you find one that matches your foundation. The colors in the bottles can be deceiving unless you have something to compare them to. Like a paint chip, the one you will choose is based on your foundation color and will provide the perfect nude for your skin tone. Make sure it is not a pearly or sheer polish. A creamy opaque nude works best and will wear better. The last thing you want is short unkempt nails and chipped polish.

At-Home Tools
emery-boards.jpgBuy some simple grocery store emery boards and keep them everywhere–in the car, in your purse, around the house. You must invest in a fancy cuticle nipper, they really make a difference in precision and they get rid of the rough crunchy or tender edges. I recommend Tweezerman or Mehaz from the beauty supply store. Both are well engineered. Buy two.


Remember to cut conservatively. Getting accustomed to cutting your own cuticles can be challenging at first. The nippers are very very sharp. Never, ever cut live skin. You should never bleed so cut with care.

Healthy Habits
Try to remember to push your cuticles back while you’re in the shower. Just use your fingers to gently ease the cuticle back. The hot steam will make the process easier and will help the cuticle to not overly adhere to the nail bed. The cuticles might be a little sticky at first but the process becomes effortless with time. Resist the urge to use a “tool,” of any kind, to push the cuticles back. It’s a good way to get cracks and tears. Your own fingers are the gentlest, best tool, despite what the beauty supply store suggests.

Keep your hands out of your mouth and take care of the rough edges with emery boards and cuticle nippers. Be diligent about not picking or chewing hangnails. Do not pull on the edges, use the cuticle nippers to trim rough or ragged edges, and get in the habit of doing this. Hangnails are so maddening and if you do not have the proper tools, you will end up chewing on them, which can be at the very least painful and ugly, and at the very worst, downright dangerous. Infection can easily set in and leave you with a swollen, sore, tender inflamed area. I have also heard horror stories about infection gone out of control, which can be quite serious. It is possible to lose a nail altogether, so keep a pair of cuticle nippers in your purse and another pair handy when you are in the house. Preparation and prevention are the key.


A good balm rubbed into the cuticles at night will help the healing process and ensure that the cuticles remain pliable, which is the name of the game. Liz Earle’s Superbalm with naturally active ingredients is a great choice. Infused with Vitamin E, Rosehip and Neroli oils, it smells fab, and although fancy creams are not a necessity, having a luxury product like Liz Earle may make you more compliant, and more likely, to actually use it. Besides, you deserve it.

Oral Supplements for Great Nails (and Hair!)
biotin.jpgThe oral supplements biotin (1,000 mcg) and gelatin make your nails and hair grow faster and stronger. I have witnessed miraculous results from the combination, on myself, friends and family. Some people who have claimed they would never be able to grow their natural nails have been proven wrong after incorporating the two supplements. You can get biotin at the health food store, but gelatin can be harder to find. Philip Kingsley sells it. Consult with a Philip Kingsley trichologist for your dose. Vegans and vegetarians take note: gelatin is bovine collagen–that is, it’s derived from cows–and although it is very healthy for connective tissue and hard keratin (ie–hair and nails), if it is against your principles, you may want to reconsider. Biotin, on the other hand, is simply a water-soluble B vitamin that’s found naturally in some foods and has been proven to prevent certain types of hair loss, besides making hair and nails grow significantly faster.

Growing your natural nails out is not an easy feat. It takes discipline, an investment of time and money, and a change in your attitude, coping mechanisms, and distress tolerance. If you ever get all that figured out, let me know.

One Comment

  • tsgoyna tanzman

    You offer some great “outer game” strategies for taking care of your nails, but it’s the “inner game” strategies that stop nail biting for good. Nail biting is a pattern unique to each person with a specific set of steps that are encoded in your brain. As a Master Practitioner of Neurolinguistic Programming, I know how to help people scramble those patterns so they are unrepeatable, much like scratching a record so it can’t play the same way again. You created the pattern and you can create a different more empowering behavior ( with the help of a practitioner) It always pains me to see people suffer for prolonged periods of time when there is a solution! Please check out my website and sign up for a “Let’s Get Growing” free consultation. I’d love to support you in restoring confidence, well being and of course beautiful nails.

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