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Help For Nail Biters

Are you a chronic nail-biter who has tried (without I success) to quit? Here are compelling reasons why you should, plus tips on how to kick the habit.

The Basic Facts

Your fingernails are composed of layers of keratin, a protein also found in hair and skin. The nail plate, which is dead, compacted and hardened keratin, is the visible part of the nail that you polish, and the nail bed is the skin beneath it. The cuticle is tissue at the base of the nail; it overlaps the nail to form a protective seal with the nail plate. The nail is formed (and grows) from the area beneath the cuticle, called the matrix.

What To Look For

Nail Nibblers Beware: this habit's not just unattractive, it can cause a slew of problems:

Red, Swollen And Painful Skin 

Red, swollen and painful skin around the nails is a sign of infection, caused by bacteria getting into cuts, tears or other openings in the protective cuticle.

Weak, Splitting Nails

Result from regular biting.

Dental Problems

Dental problems are the reality of many lifelong biters. Since nail-biting is common in children and adolescents, the habit can affect teeth formation.

Simple Solutions

Catch Yourself In The Act

In a day planner, make a note every time you find yourself nibbling. Since nail-biting is often an unconscious habit brought on by anxiety, it helps to be aware of trigger situations. (eg, stressful moments at work or a fight with your other half).

Manage Stress

Learn to cope with anxiety through relaxation, exercise and even therapy. In detox, a book that's part of the 'Teach Yourself series, author Denise Whichello Brown emphasises not just detoxing the body, but the mind as well for a complete cleansing. This means making a commitment to manage our stress and clear away negative thoughts and emotions. Offering simple, practical tips, psychologist Jennifer tells us how.

  • Close your eyes and count to 10 while you take deep breaths and block out all other distractions. You can even do this at work in a toilet cubicle.
  • Take a break during the day. It doesn't matter if it's just going to the toilet or walking around the office for 20 seconds.
  • Go out for lunch - no matter how busy your day is - rather than eat at your desk. Leave work behind when you leave the office. Look forward to life outside of work.
  • Take time to do something you enjoy, like watching a movie.
  • Drop one bus stop earlier to your destination and walk through a garden to smell the air.

Decorate Your Nails As You Grow Them

There are self-adhesive nails that can be attached to make stubby ones look longer. If you're painting your nails as a no-bite tactic, first use a strengthening base coat so your nails get stronger. A long-wear polish will also keep your fingers looking nice for days, so you won't be tempted to nibble.

Set Up A Reward System

If you don't bite for two weeks, for example, indulge in a new pair of box shoes. If you last a month, splurge on a massage.

What's The Worst Case Scenario?

Broken nails and fungal diseases, warns Dr Eileen, consultant dermatologist. Chewing on nails creates a breeding ground for germs. Also, look out for any deviation from the normal pinkish tinge healthy nails should have. "Discoloration is a sign of infection and requires immediate medical attention;" she says. A good way to deal with this problem would be to simply trim long nails. Short, neat nails are more manageable. As nail-biting can occur due to stress, look for ways to better manage your stress level or seek professional help, suggests Dr Eileen.

Stay Germ-Free

Some products come in tubs that require you to dip your fingers in to get them. To keep the product clean from germs, use a new cotton bud instead to dip in each time.

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