Growing up, I dreaded getting my nails done. I am the daughter of an ex-manicurist, so often my dining room table was turned into a makeshift salon table. Though this would typically seem like a Libby Lu-obsessed tween girl’s dream, there was one issue; I was a nail-biter.
My nails were never “nice”, and even if they were polished, I would still bite them. My mom tried everything on me; specially formulated “no-bite” polish, acrylic nails, gel nail polish, yet nothing worked. So I wonder, what really causes nail biting, and is there any way to kick the horrible habit?
Why do we bite our nails?
It seems that many impulsive behaviors, such as nail biting, are a result of primitive instincts relating to grooming.
Nail biting can be triggered by a number of things. For a compulsive nail-biter, even mundane everyday activities can trigger a nail-biting binge. So much so, that the latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders, which includes pathological grooming such as nail-biting. This pathological grooming has also been seen in mice, leaving many with severe hair loss.
Another reason why people bite their nail is simply because it is satisfying. Many use it as a stress reliever or it can be triggered by anxiety.
Nail-biting is not only a nuisance but it can also be very dangerous. The habit increases the risk of infection and sickness by leaving your body susceptible to bacteria and germs. Yet, as we discussed during class in regards to the hand washing experiment, it is unclear to how much of the bacteria on our hands is actual harmful.
You know you want to stop, but how?
A 1973 study showed that habit-reversal showed to be widely effective in decreasing nail biting. Though the trial was successful, when looked at closer it is seen that this specific study only involved 12 people. As Andrew taught in class, such studies no matter how effectively preformed do not provide sufficient evidence to responsibly validate a claim.
However the scientists involved in this particular study recognized that fact and preformed the study again in 1979, this time with 97 participants. Habit reversal, once again, proved superior, reducing nail biting by 99% throughout a 5-month observation. Though when considering what we have learned in class, I still find this data to be insufficient, since it involved less than 100 people and only followed their progress for a short period of time.
Scientists today are even going as far to observe the effect of pharmaceutical drugs on reducing nail biting. A 2013 double-blind randomized placebo trial found that a drug called NAC, significantly reduced nail-biting in children. Though this study is an experimental, controlled study, it is another small study observed only over a short period of time and had a large drop out rate. As it was instilled in us in class further testing is required before a solid claim can be made.
So what now?
For me, my nail-biting habit was insignificant. I grew out of it by high school, and now the nasty habit only comes back during finals and other times of high stress. However that is not the case for many.
As shown through the presented studies there has yet to be a clear cure for nail-biting. Leaving many compulsive nail-bitters turning to domestic remedies, such as regular manicures, to kick their habit. Some even go as far as hypnosis, of which is exemplified in this video.
Maybe one day we will find a cure, but until research catches up we will just have to deal with a society of short nails and wasted manicures.