How to Stop Biting Your Nails and Picking at Your Skin6 min read

Excoriation dis­order (also referred to as chronic skin-picking or der­matil­lo­mania) is a mental ill­ness related to obsessive-compulsive dis­order. It is char­ac­ter­ized by repeated picking at one’s own skin which results in skin lesions and causes sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion in one’s life.

|-from Mental Health America|


I have bitten my nails for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when it started, but it has always been there.

I would pick at the skin around my nails until it would bleed, as severely as pos­sible, wounding it so badly it looked as if it had been cut with a knife. I even picked down to my knuckles on some fin­gers.

In the morn­ings, the agony that would go down to my bones after I wet my hands was enough to ruin my day. I couldn’t move them for a few min­uets from pain.

I know how this feels, and I gen­uinely want help anyone out there to get over it. It’s not easy; as you read above, this is a gen­uine dis­order, so people who come up with genius idea of ‚” Just don’t do it!!” may as well say, “Just stop breathing.” 

Image from Maritsa Patrinos/ Buzzfeed

I can’t “Just not do it.”  I don’t think of dis­turbing your sight and making you uncom­fort­able when I’m doing this ” gross habit.” And yes, it does hurt. Of course it does, but giving it up is not as easy as you might think.

For anyone out there reading this, I imagine have had enough with it if you are here, right? These tips are what i found through research, my own expe­ri­ence, and other people around me. I do really hope they help you.

1. Try to figure out the reason behind it

There could be mul­tiple rea­sons: anx­iety, stress, sorrow, boredom, panic, dis­com­fort, easing the pres­sure, sen­sory pro­cessing issues, dif­fi­culty con­cen­trating…

See, if you are suf­fering from anx­iety or stress-related prob­lems, this is the most common reason people obses­sively bite and pick their nails. If you are able to find out the source of your anx­iety, do your best to fight it by cut­ting out stres­sors, get­ting away from places and people that make you anx­ious.

And, if you’re not able to get away, you can try to manage your stress.  Do med­i­ta­tion. You don’t need to be in your Yoga pants by a lake, all you need is just a short time (even 3 or 5 min­utes) to give your self some head­space.

You can find guided med­i­ta­tions on web­sites or down­load appli­ca­tions like Insight Timer. There are loads of apps which are really helpful and can calm you down. Don’t give up at first or second ses­sion. It takes a while, but believe me, med­i­ta­tion is really helpful.

2. Consult a Professional

Depending on your emo­tional state, they can be helpful with talking you through feeling better– and some­times, you just need to go with med­ica­tion to help you manage your anx­iety.  The obses­sive behav­iors aren’t as bad when the anx­iety isn’t as high.  Consult friends and look at reviews online to find a com­pe­tent doctor who under­stands your spe­cific pro­file, and find a good, under­standing coun­selor. You deserve to feel calmer and better.

3. Want to Stop

Don’t stop because social pres­sure.  If you’re trying to stop, you should really want to stop. Fighting the temp­ta­tion would definitley be hard, but if you think it’s time to stop, help your­self to over­come it.

4. Replace the Behavior

These repet­i­tive behav­iors are called “stims,” which is short for self-stimulatory behavior.  Inherently, stim­ming is per­fectly healthy and normal behavior.  Some people flap their hands, twirl their hair, crack their knuckles, or even hum when they stim

If you’re going to stop one stim because it’s unhealthy or causing you prob­lems, then you need to find another stim that replaces the behavior and helps you to stay reg­u­lated.  Trying to stop without replacing the behavior will cause your anx­iety to go up.

If you’re biting your nails because you need to chew on some­thing, con­sider get­ting a piece of jew­elry designed for stim­ming and made to be chewed.  If it’s the tactile/touch aspect, con­sider get­ting a toy, fidget spinner (or sim­ilar), or ten­sion bracelet to keep your hands occu­pied. 

There is an autistic-ran store called Stimtastic which has lots of items designed specif­i­cally to help people– autistic or not– with finding healthy and enjoy­able ways to meet the neu­ro­log­ical needs of stim­ming.

5. Bitter Nail Polishes

This is really helpful but should only be used by someone who is old enough to want to do this for them­selves and should not be used on chil­dren or people who can’t or don’t con­sent.  An adult has the autonomy to make the deci­sions to use aver­sive stimuli to help redi­rect a behavior. 

There are nail pol­ishes designed specif­i­cally to taste hor­rible for this pur­pose, and it’s bitter enough to help a lot of people avoid it.  I’ve seen many people use Aloe vera instead of a nail polish, which is a safe and healthy alter­na­tive that works for them.

☆Be wary that the nail polish gets washed away over a few days, so repeat it fre­quently.

Wear it for some period after you have stopped biting. Even after I mostly moved away from biting my nails, my lips were mostly bitter, and it was because I would uncon­sciously touch my mouth.  The taste would bring the behavior to con­scious­ness.

6. File Your Nails Short

A tiny sliver of nail, a jagged edge, or loose skin can trigger me to pick that down to my knees. Try to make your nail even and soften any rough edges.

7. Keep Them Short

The shorter they are, the less you’ll have to bite.

8.Keep a Small Nail File in Your Pocket

You might still be playing with your hand and try to pick with your fin­gers. File any­thing that you had slightly pointed up away.  If sen­sory issues make using a nail file dif­fi­cult, try to keep a nice pair of clip­pers on your key chain, in a pocket, or in your bag.

9. Get a Manicure or Wear Nail Polish

The look of it can dis­tract you from the nails under­neath, and you might be more moti­vated to keep them nice and clean.  Sparkling nail polish makes a great visual stim, too.

Fellow Muslims, there are breath­able nail pol­ishes that let you per­form your ablu­tion and do prayers. Just search for them online and you can make sure that they are legit.

9.Cover Them

If you see that you are get­ting out of con­trol, take few deep breaths, shake your hands a bit, then cover them with a ban­dage, tis­sues, or gloves.

Remember to take deep breaths as they reduce anx­iety and stress.

10.Keep Your Cuticles Clipped

The coars­e­skin left from wounds can lead you to pick them. File them gently after a few days so they are almost even as your skin. There are spe­cial clip­pers designed for your cuti­cles which are amazing for people who struggle with sen­sory issues.  They can help you to get rid of hang­nails and cuti­cles so easily.

12. Moisturize

Don’t touch chalky things if you can avoid it. If you do, wash as soon as pos­sible. Keep your hands really mois­tur­ized throughout the day, or if you dis­like the oily feeling on your hands, put a thick layer of cream on before bed.

13. Strengthen

Your nails are really fragile now. use nail oils or creams so you’ll harden them and they won’t break easily.

14. Special Meditation

There actu­ally are med­i­ta­tions designed for giving up this habit and calm you down. You can find them over the net.

Picking lips

Use scrubs. The good, old home­made sugar scrub will do. Add sugar, coffee, olive oil, and cin­namon. Cinnamon helps so so much to smooth better. If there is less dead skin, you wont have any­thing to pick.

Use balms reg­u­larly so they wont dry or tear, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.  Being dehy­drated might be another source of your anx­iety, and a lot of people with sen­sory issues don’t realize when they’re thirsty.

You are not gross if you bite your nails or pick your skin. You are prob­ably calming your self through a way that is def­i­nitely not ideal, but others won’t have under­standing of your sit­u­a­tion and how much stim­ming helps you.

You still are worthy and beau­tiful and should not be bul­lied.

There are people out there who under­stand you and have been where you are.  I am one of them.


  1. I used to bite my nails the same way.

    And then one day I realised I’d stopped.

    Can’t remember exactly when, and have no idea how. I just appar­ently did.


  2. nails picking are very very common with Autism..Aspergers


  3. *chews nails and skin while reading this* Yeah, I think this is life­long. lol! Good tips, though, and I’ve used most of them with varying results. It always comes back to the biting and picking. I think I’ve just accepted it now.

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