Searching for a maniCURE

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.

Why stop?

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.


Picture Links:

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8 thoughts on “Searching for a maniCURE

  1. Taylor Weinstein

    I loved this blog post and this bad habit has affected me since very recently. I just stated stopping the nail bitting and I have seen a positive result. However, I did like the part in the article where you talked about the reasons people do bit there nails. I have a lot of anxiety so for me it makes me calmer in the moment but then I look down at my nails and get mad because they look awful. I really also liked how you used the hand washing experiment that we talked about in class and related it back to your topic. I like how you encourperated that we are still unclear about how harmful it is since we can’t be 100% about anything. Do you think this is an observation or an experiment? I would have liked for you to talk more about scientific information and talk about the x and y. This is a topic that I think including myself can relate to a lot.
    Here is an article that talk more about the stress of nail bitting since that is what concerns me the most. This study talked about, it talked about being a perfectionist and it talked about being antsy which I am sometimes. It’s crazy to think that habits we do could have crazy meanings that relate to us in such a way.

  2. Dana Corinne Pirrotta

    I really liked how in depth you went with this post- you definitely were able to analyze the information you found critically and apply it to your topic. I feel like all of us were nail biters at one point, and because I pay close attention to other people’s nails, I do notice when peers have nibbled their nails away. One of my old college boyfriends went to a really stressful university, and without fail would always bite his nails when he was stressed out. I think that is is awesome that you include your personal experience with nail biting, especially because you say your mom was an ex-manicurist.
    This post was definitely well thought out because you kept finding new studies and even though they supported your conclusion, you were able to distinguish them from other, better studies. It is important that we pay attention to a population size because a small population can not contribute to a normal distribution model.
    Here is a link to a website that further details why it is necessary to have a quality population size. The most useful part of this link is the section in which there is detail about the negatives of having a population that is too small, like the populations in the studies you were able to find.

  3. Rebecca Aronow

    I thought your post was really interesting, especially because I used to (and still sometimes do) bite my nails. When I was little, I would bite my nails so low that they would hurt. My mommom bought me that “no-bite” polish you were talking about and that actually stopped my nail biting for a while. The punishment of getting that horrible tasting nail polish flavor stuck in my mouth for minutes after biting my nails was enough to stop me. This study found another possible solution to nail-biting. It stated that being aware of your behaviors is a key component in decreasing or getting rid of nail-biting. 40 subjects were randomly split into five treatment groups—self monitoring, self monitoring plus positive incentive, self monitoring plus negative incentive, just going in for nail length checkups, and minimal contact. All subjects’ nail lengths were recorded for six weeks. The results showed that although all groups experienced an increase in nail length, there was no difference between the groups with incentives versus no incentives. Therefore, it seems that self-monitoring plus regular checkups to measure nail length leads to a decrease in nail-biting. However, the criticisms that you pointed out in your blog about the studies you included are applicable here as well—there were only 40 subjects and the timeframe of six weeks is relatively short, so it is difficult to make a generalized conclusion. As for me and my reasons for nail biting, lately I still bite my nails but only because I’m too lazy to trim them with nail clippers. So the impulsive behavior that you said was related to primitive grooming instincts makes clear sense in that case, as I’m biting my nails not as a nervous habit but to keep them short (after all, apes didn’t have nail clippers). This study offers another explanation for nail biting, stating that people who are characterized as perfectionists are more likely to bite their nails as it helps ease boredom or dissatisfaction. This article
    in Scientific American sums up the study pretty well. Overall, I think it’s hard to say why we bite our nails, and it seems that the best cure for it varies from person to person, but luckily there’s a lot of research to lead us in the right direction!

  4. Heather Grace McDermott

    Loved this blog! Your post was not only well-written, but also had an extremely engaging topic since this problem is so common. Personally, I was never a nail biter, I have always been a hair twirler. Ever since I was little I would come home from school with huge knots in my hair from twirling it in class. My friends always catch me twirling it when I’m either bored, studying, or anxious. I could completely connect with not being able to kick your nail biting problem except I still have not grown out of mine. After some quick research, it seems as if the advice that they give to hair twirlers is the same as nail biters. In , Dana Oliver explains some common ways to break these unhealthy habits.

  5. Rachel Sara Anton

    I was drawn to this post because of how bad my nail biting habits used to be. Interestingly though, I stopped biting my nails compulsively around when I was a senior in high school. Was it because I grew out of a bad habit, or were lower stress levels a factor? I think it’s awesome that you put two studies in your posts just to refute them. I agree with the fact that such low numbers of people over such short periods of time cannot prove anything. Check out this article that even goes as far to say that nail biting could be a mental disorder.

  6. Jillian Nicole Beitter

    Great blog! I can relate to this very well because I am a nail bitter. I am so insecure about it, yet I’ve tried so hard to stop and can’t. I find that I do it when I’m stressing out. I’ll catch myself in a nervous situation doing it. I always would wish that my coping mechanism with nerves was something else. I’m working on getting rid of my habit. For those who struggle with it, I recommend trying to find something else to do as a nervous habit. Sitting on your hands is also very helpful. It sounds stupid but it fights the urge for you to do it. I also always remind myself how gross it can be. Like you mentioned, making it a thing to get your nails done will help with your habit. It gives you a reason not to bite your nails. For those struggling, I also recommend you make yourself a goal. For example, “I won’t bite my nails for 3 months.” You will be surprised how much progress will be made. Hopefully by 3 months, that progress will encourage you to continue!

    1. Margaret Marchok

      This post was very well-written! It caught my attention because I bite my nails ALL. THE. TIME. It has gotten so bad that even I am tired of it, yet cannot seem to bring myself to stop. I have ADHD and OCD, so my doctors and I believe my nail biting is due largely in part to those things. I must admit I even bite my nails subconsciously sometimes. Mostly, I find myself biting my nails during times of stress or times when I am bored. I too have tried anti-biting polish and manicures, but nothing works. This article gives some great advice on how to kick the nail-biting habit- I know you said your habit only comes back during times of high stress, but try these out when you get the urge and maybe they will help!

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