Use the information you gather from your consultation with nail biters not only to decide what you should do in the salon to help them break the habit, but also to educate them on the things they should be doing at home to guarantee their success.
We’ve all been there at some point. We meet a lovely new client, sit down at our table with her to have a consultation, and suppress an inner groan when we see the ragged nails and shortened nail beds of a habitual biter. Yes, it’s true, badly bitten nails can be difficult to work with, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a happy ending for both you and your client. With a proper consultation and good plan of attack, you can help them kick the habit for good.
Begin by asking the following questions:
1. What do you bite?
This question may seem like it has an obvious answer, but many biters don’t limit their gnawing to their nails. Look for signs of biting on the skin surrounding their nails, and ask if they also bite at hangnails and dry or callused skin. If they do, thicker-than-normal enhancements may be in order for a time, so they can’t reach delicate skin with their teeth. Additionally, take-home products such as cuticle oils and nourishing lotions should be recommended so the skin can heal and be less of a temptation in the future.
2. What triggers you to bite?
Of course stress and anxiety are causes for nail biting, but for the habitual biter, there are usually other triggers as well. Uneven or broken nails are typically a temptation too strong to resist, and many people who have the habit will start chewing off the annoying bits without even realizing they’re doing it. For these unconscious biters, it’s extremely important to keep the nails in good order between salon visits. Send them home with several emery boards or buffers to keep scattered around the house and in their purses, and then encourage them to use those tools as soon as they notice a rough spot on their nails. If you’re hesitant to encourage at-home filing, just remember that your client will almost always do less damage with a file than she will with her teeth!
3. What prevention methods have you tried in the past?
Most of the nail biters you’ll find sitting at your table will have tried to stop at least once in their lives. Ask them about what they’ve tried, and if it worked for a time or didn’t work at all. By learning from the past, you can help them succeed. For example, some biters will stop for a time if they’re wearing polish, but when it starts chipping after a few days they’re picking and chewing again. For these “light” biters a gel-polish manicure, maintained regularly, may be all the help they need. Other, more persistent, biters will stop when enhancements are applied to the nails. Finally, there are the “hardcore” biters, who will gnaw right through acrylic enhancements. For those clients, enhancements will end up causing even more damage to the natural nail as they are persistently chipped away from the nail plate. Determined biters need to have a real desire to quit the habit, follow a strict nail care regimen at home, and commit to regular visits to you, their understanding manicurist.
4. What are your goals?
Every nail biter who stops at your salon will have different reasons for being there. They may be looking to quit the habit for good, or they may just want their hands to look nice for an upcoming special event. How you approach their care may change depending on what their goals are. Short-term goals can be achieved with a month or two of gentle care. Skin will heal and nails will grow with the smallest of efforts to care for them. The most difficult cases are the ones who want to become ex-nail biters. It’s a long-term investment, in most cases starting with thick enhancements to prevent biting, and as they learn the new habit of keeping their fingers out of their mouths, slowly thinning the acrylic down until they graduate to a gel-polish, and eventually to natural nails. Are they willing to commit? There will be setbacks, without a doubt. They can’t leave their hands at home so they’re not tempted to snack on them throughout the day, and at times they may chew a nail down without realizing they’ve done it until it’s too late. They will be devastated when it happens, that all of their hard work has been undone in a few minutes. It’s your job to let them know it will be OK, and encourage them to keep trying.
5. What is your beauty regimen?
Most nail techs would like their clients to use take-home products on a regular basis because, to be perfectly honest, it makes their job so much easier. For the nail biting client these products are doubly important to help heal skin and prevent nail breakages, which are a gateway to uncontrollable biting. Yet, while you can send them home with free samples or convince them to spend a week’s paycheck on lotions, butters, and oils, those products won’t do one tiny bit of good if they never leave the jar. Ask your clients about their beauty regimen and help them work these new products into their daily lives. If they don’t have a beauty regime, ask about their daily schedule and help them find a way to remember to care for their nails. Recommend they put a bottle of cuticle oil on their nightstand so they can apply it before bed. Perhaps a bottle of lotion next to the bathroom sink will help them to remember to apply it in the morning after they brush their teeth. A jar of body butter could be put by the kitchen to be used after they wash the dishes, placed in the cup holder of their car for when they’re sitting in traffic, or set on an end table for when they’re watching TV. Tell them why the products are important, and how they will help with their success.
Use the information you gather from your consultation to formulate a plan of attack. Then remind yourself, while you’re working hard to sculpt enhancements on those ragged nails, that while biters can be difficult to work with, they can also be very rewarding. In a few months, when they proudly display the nails they don’t have to hide anymore, you’ll see the pride and gratitude in their eyes and know it has all been worth it.
Anne Schlegel was an unrepentant nail biter for over 25 years when, with the help of regular nail services, she learned to stop treating her fingers like a food group. The experience inspired her to enter the nail industry, where she enjoys helping others beat the biting habit.