Nail & Skin Disorders

Why Nail Biters Bite

An estimated one in every four people bite their nails.  While most often dismissed as a bad habit, the reasons for nail nibbling could run deeper than sheer routine. Understanding the reasons why your clients bite can be beneficial to all nail techs in helping clients break their nasty habit.

For long-time nail biters, D’Asta claims that hypnotism often works to help eliminate the behavior. However, it is important to realize that the reason behind the biting is usually anxiety, and if you eliminate one form of coping (nail biting), the client will still have to cope with the anxiety somehow. It’s usually a good idea to try to find the source of the anxiety, which might be addressed in psychotherapy or – in cases of extreme, clinical anxiety – with appropriate anti-anxiety medications.

But just as the professionals don’t all agree on the reason for nail biting, they also don’t all agree on cures and treatments. One thing that is universally agreed upon by specialists in the treatment of nail biting is that punishment should NOT be used as a method. Shaming or belittling a nail biter is always counter-productive. That usually reinforces the habit, making the biter even more anxious about it. Psychologists have demonstrated that punishment is not nearly as effective as reward when it comes to training.

People who bite their nails often do it unconsciously, so the only cure is to know exactly when and under what situations they are most likely to start chewing. In other words, the biter must be very aware of where her hands are at all times. When she does feel the longing to bite, have her clench her first gently or use one of the other coping mechanisms until the urge passes.

Parents who want to stop their children from nail biting should not resort to scolding or punishment. Doing so will only cause more tension that may result in more fervent biting. What they can do is to tell their children when they are biting their nails, and with as positive a manner as possible, encourage them to be aware of their hands. With some creativity, parents can also change or remove the situations that lead to nail biting, or find a way distract their children from biting.

Next month we’ll discuss practical real life solutions and salon-tested proven techniques to use with nail biter clients, such as a nail biter full-set and maintenance, and other tools and tricks for keeping these clients on track.

How You Can Help Your Nail Biters

Talking about nail biting is essential to dealing with nail biting clients who may fall into the category of self-inflicted violence (those who totally mutilate the nails as opposed to a nibble here and there). After all, they are in your chair because they want to quit the nail biting habit. Only through open discussions about nail biting will you be able to help the client. By addressing the issues of biting you are removing the secrecy that surrounds the action. You are reducing the shame attached to it. You are encouraging connection between you and your nail-biting clients.

Although it may be difficult for you, it is really important that you keep your negative reactions to yourself. Because judgments and negative responses contrast with support, you will need to put these feelings aside for the time being. You can only be supportive when you act in positive ways. Don’t scold clients for biting their nails. Instead provide help, such as repairing the damage they have done with nail enhancements.

In order to quit, a nail biter really must want to quit and be willing to do the work and maintenance required. Some clients may never be able to make that commitment or keep it up forever. For your client who is frantic about her nail-chewing child who refuses to quit, remember to tell her this: devoted nail biters can achieve top grades, have satisfying friendships, and happily continue their habit into adulthood with no serious consequence other than cosmetic appearance.

Confessions of a Nail Biter

I don’t remember when I started biting my nails. I have always done it. It’s not something I’m proud of but rather something I share with you how to show that it is not a sign of a ‘weak’ person or someone who doesn’t want to try to be a better person. Most people who know me personally or professionally consider me an over achiever certainly not a slacker or someone slovenly and prone to bad habits.

In fact, it was my own nail biting that led me to a career in nails. You just might be surprised to find out how many of your fellow nail techs secretly safeguard this embarrassing fact of their own history. A fascination with attaining beautiful nails usually starts with those of us not naturally blessed with them and the ???? of beautiful nails is certainly increased in those who bite their own nails.

While I don’t remember when exactly I started biting my nails. I do remember when I first tried to stop. Shortly out of college and into my first corporate job in my early twenties. I was recruited to do the initial interviewing process for new-hire prospects. One of the candidates  interviewed was a male who had expertly manicured hands – a fact in noticed as he handed me his resume. My own nails were ragged and bitten. It was then and there that I resolved to change the appearance of my hands. That was the first of many resolutions but I had no idea how to stop my nail biting.

The next moment that I remember is being presented with a candid photo taken of a group of us on a lazy Sunday afternoon there I am with fingers in mouth, chewing away ravenously. It was a disgusting site that forced me to face the public side of what I had thought was my private secret (after all, up till now I had usually been successful in hiding my paws from public view). Thus began my foray into the world of nail enhancements.

Nail enhancements were my answer and salvation from nail biting blues and embarrassment. Of course, I soon exchanged nail picking for nail biting I can’t tell you how often I sat waiting for my appointment as the salon, gnawing on my nails right in front of my tech I honestly thought I was ‘helping’ by removing (biting off) the lifted acrylic; of course we know that only produced more lifting and worsened the problem. But how was a mere client at the time to know this? My techs NEVER told me to stop biting or picking at my nails, even though they saw me do it right in front of them.

Eventually, my obsession with nails turned into a profession. I vowed to educate my nail biting clients on how they could overcome their bad habits (through regular fill appointments and following my nail biter regimen – seems simple doesn’t it?). For many years I was able to overcome my habit. Once my own nails were grown out under the enhancement (gels in my case) through regular maintenance, I was able to overcome the biting urge.

However, when I get “too busy” and skip a fill appointment and let my nails get ragged, it is a lost cause. The has been my renewed plight for the last six years since the birth of my third child, I just can’t get the time together on a regular basis to maintain my nails. I have other priorities and a full book of clients. Nails are for pleasure, not torture. If you don’t have the resources (time and/or money) to enjoy them, then don’t do it. Nails are supposed to be a source of joy and happiness, not agony and stress!

I am not a perfect person. I acknowledge and accept that. We all have our faults. This is part of what makes me uniquely “me”. Some may argue that my “problem” makes me unsuitable as a professional nail technician or educator. I must strongly disagree! My record and accomplishments state otherwise. Besides, I can apply a new set to myself in under 20 minutes. Anytime I want to instantly hide my “bad habit” I can. I am confident that my true friends and professional partners accept me for mY nails or not. --Barb Wetzel. Barb Wetzel is webmaster of


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