How to Stop Biting Your Nails and Picking at Your Skin

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.

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6 Responses

  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. *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.

  3. got any tips for skin picking that isn’t lips? I do that too but also shoulders, chest, upper back. Having my nails too short is sensory hell for my finger tips (never had a biting problem with them thankfully).

  4. Most suggestions have been around for a very long time. And I’ve all of them out except the replacing the chewing on nails with having something else I can chew on? I can’t do any type of gum as it bothers my stomach. Especially for how often I chew my nails, both consciously and when not realizing it. I’m to the point of considering getting a pacifier for when I’m by myself at home. Which is insane!
    Overall, this is a totally untapped market as I know I’m one of many who needs something to chew on while surfing the net, on the phone, etc.
    Any suggestions? You mentioned jewelry but is that ok for my teeth? I know my biting my nails has done damage to my teeth over the years (something actually common for those of us wo have been doing it from the start. Also, it can also can cause TMJ, which is true for me as well. This is from both my dentist as well a neurologist (who I see for migraines and headaches).

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