A Real Nail-Biter

By Vicky Uhland

Sigmund Freud considered nail biting a sign of oral fixation. But aside from messing up your psyche, is gnawing your nails really that bad for you? Yes, says Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University. “Not only can you transmit viruses between your mouth and hands, but if you break the skin, it’s more prone to infection.”

According to a University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee study, about 14 percent of students surveyed had a body-focused repetitive behavior like nail biting. And cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you identify nail-biting triggers and come up with alternative solutions, helped biters stop. Begin by observing what you do before you bite a nail: Do you run your finger across your thumbnail to see if it’s ragged or cup your hands to look at your nails? Then when the biting urge strikes, grab something—your knee, a coffee cup, a stress ball—for a couple minutes to keep hands occupied until the feeling passes.