Onychophagia – how do you stop biting your nails?

8 October 2023
Woman nail biting. En

Habitual nail biting may seem like a harmless habit, but in reality it can lead both to damage to the nail plate and to various types of bacterial or viral infections. What causes onychophagia? How do you stop biting your nails?

Onychophagia – what is it?

Uncontrolled and habitual nail biting – this is onychophagia, a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Onychophagia often affects children and adolescents, as well as some adults. Habitual nail biting often occurs in moments of boredom and severe stress. Some people suffering from onychophagia also bite their nails when they feel hungry.

The symptoms of onychophagia are fairly easy to spot – the affected person bites their nails and often the cuticles around them. If it happens to her sporadically, she is said to have mild onychophagia. When nail biting becomes the only way to neutralise stress or boredom, the habit becomes more difficult to control. Sometimes onychophagia can also be accompanied by other obsessive-compulsive behaviours and even acts of self-aggression. If onychophagia affects you or a loved one, seek specialist dermatological and psychiatric help.

Habitual nail biting – causes

The immediate cause of onychophagia is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can be influenced by many different factors. Most commonly, nail biting is influenced by:

  • Stress – both strong feelings of stress in occasional situations and chronic stress that may accompany work, study or other areas of daily life.
  • Hyperactivity and low self-esteem.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders.

Bitten nails are not only an aesthetic defect, but also raise the possibility of various infections.

Is onychophagia dangerous?

Although the habit of nail biting itself seems harmful only from an aesthetic point of view (bitten nails and cuticles do not look good), in reality this disorder can also contribute to other conditions and complications. The most common of these are:

  • Viral and bacterial infections – hands and nails are a veritable breeding ground for bacteria. You touch all sorts of objects with them every day. Even frequent hand washing will not eliminate the risk of transferring bacteria and viruses to the mouth if you bite your nails. In addition, wounds that are caused by biting the cuticles around your nails can also become infected.
  • Destruction and deformation of the nail plate – this is not just an aesthetic problem. A deformed and weakened nail plate can break, which is associated with pain and with difficulties in performing daily activities.

Onychophagia in young children can even contribute to malocclusion, which is why habitual nail biting by little ones should not be underestimated.

How to stop biting your nails?

There are various specifics and methods that can help treat onychophagia. However, the most important thing is to identify the cause of this disorder. It is for this reason that a psychiatric consultation is essential, during which it will be possible to identify the likely causes of the problem and implement the most beneficial treatment. What treatments are available for onychophagia?

  • Pharmacological – if habitual nail biting is due to depressive and anxiety disorders, treatment with antidepressants is possible.
  • Therapeutic – it is often appropriate behavioural therapy that helps to break the nail-biting habit. It is recommended when the cause of the condition is stress and an inability to control one’s own emotions. As part of the therapy, effective relaxation techniques can be learned, as well as how to control one’s own behavioural patterns.
  • Cosmetic – special remedies to lubricate the nails and the cuticles around them can be effective in stopping nail biting. These are very bitter, so may discourage biting.

It is difficult to pinpoint a single treatment for nail biting that will work for every person – which is why it is important to consult a doctor to help determine the cause of the problem. Once the habit of nail biting has been reduced or permanently eliminated, it is also worth thinking about strengthening the nails.

Ways to improve nail condition with onychophagia

Compulsive nail biting can lead to severely weakened nails. Fortunately, there is no shortage of ways and treatments to improve their condition and appearance. What are these methods?

  • The use of conditioners, whether rubbed in or in varnish form. Such cosmetics regenerate the weakened nail plate. If in varnish form, they form an additional protective layer on the nails.
  • Getting a manicure – a professional classic or hybrid manicure not only helps to restore the hands to a nice appearance, but also affects the condition of the nails and cuticles. A hybrid manicure should only be performed when the natural nail plate is not cracked and too thin.

Keep in mind that in treating onychophagia, the most important thing is not only to improve the condition of the nails, but also to identify the cause of the problem and eliminate it. Only this will guarantee that the problem will not return.

Karol Popko

Karol Popko is an experienced author whose pen has been shining in the lifestyle world for many years. With his copywriting practice and insight into trends, he not only shares practical tips, but also opens up a deeper understanding of these topics to his readers. According to Karol, beauty can be found everywhere, and life is worth celebrating with passion and style.


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