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Something to Talk About: Habit Tic

by NLS Staff | August 26, 2016
Photo courtesy of Dr. Dana Stern

Photo courtesy of Dr. Dana Stern

Habit tic is a benign condition characterized by ridges on the nail plate that develop from picking, rubbing, or stroking the nail bed, matrix, or posterior nail fold. Most often, the thumbnail is affected, but it could occur on any or all nails. The good news is the condition can be concealed thanks to a nail tech’s artistry. It’s important to understand that though the condition is self-inflicted, the client often is not aware of the nervous habit, so approach the topic gently. That conversation may go something like this:

You: I see your thumbnail has ridges on it that aren’t present on your other nails. I can’t diagnose the condition, but the nail appears healthy other than those ridges. Has it been like this long? Does it hurt you at all?

Client: It doesn’t hurt at all. I’ve had it forever. I think it’s hereditary.

You: I’m hoping it isn’t, and it’s something we can correct. This might sound odd, but this washboard ridging on our nails is often the result of our unconscious behavior. I recommend you ask your friends if they’ve noticed you have a harmless habit of absent-mindedly stroking or picking at your nails during the day. It’s called a “habit tic,” and many times people have no idea they are doing it.

Client: That’s crazy. I’m telling you it’s been there forever. But I am going to ask my friends. What if I’m doing it without realizing it?

You: You wouldn’t be alone. It’s relatively common in both men and women. That picking around the nails and cuticles affects the matrix and stimulates an increase in the nails’ blood supply. It can cause nails to grow abnormally and at an increased rate. It doesn’t seem to be causing a problem beyond the lines in your nail, but it can develop into other things, including sensitivity around the cuticles. It’s actually a very difficult habit to break, but I recommend we try. Let’s apply a short enhancement to this nail. Gel-polish likely wouldn’t be the best option because determined people can still pick at the polish. Here’s the good news: Not only will your nails look beautiful when you leave today, but the new nails will grow in healthy without ridges while you’re breaking the habit.

Client: This is so interesting. You know, my dad’s thumb looks like this, too, which is one reason I thought it was hereditary. Plus his cuticles are ragged. Would you be able to put a clear coating over his nails so he could break that habit?

You: Absolutely. However, if he is picking his cuticles, a coating on his nails may not help him. Often the cuticle will develop lesions from excessive picking. In that case, your father may benefit from calling a dermatologist, who could determine if a cortisone shot or topical cream would be beneficial.

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