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We Try It! Leaving The Cuticles Alone

Raise your (bandaged) hand if you chew on your fingers or cuticles! Don’t be shy. You’re safe here.

There are a few reasons why I, and presumably others who cuticle-chew, do it: stress, boredom, anxiety. There’s also a seemingly paradoxical perfectionism involved; even though it almost always leads to bleeding and, it’s just so hard to let a hangnail just sit there, once I know it’s there.

While some people might not mind their finger-chewing habit, I decided that I really wanted to stop. First of all, it’s a painful habit. I was sick of wincing every time I reached into my purse for something and one of my raw cuticles would rub something. Second of all, the actual act of biting and chewing on one’s fingers is unsanitary and, to a certain degree, immature. I couldn’t help comparing it to thumb-sucking for its comforting properties. And finally, there was vanity. My nails are in pretty good shape, because for whatever reason I’ve decided to spare them my wrath, and I wanted my hands to look nice, cuticles and all.

So I crowdsourced with the other editors for some solid strategies to stop, and decided to make it work. My reward was that I would get myself a nice mani/pedi if I were able to stop chewing long enough that I had no open skin on any of my fingers. Here’s what worked for me, with a nod to my fellow editors for their great tips.

Step 1: Keeping wounded fingers under wraps. Before I could really start fixing the problem, I felt I needed to work on healing whichever fingers were already hurting. So every morning and every night, I bandaged up any and all wounded digits, using Neosporin underneath. Trust me, if you try this it’s going to be ridiculous at first, as it was for me when I realized there were more fingers bandaged than un-bandaged. (Keep in mind that I work in an office. No one ever asked me what happened to my fingers, which is good because I wasn’t able to come up with a decent white lie for anyone who did ask.)

Step 2: Stashing a nail kit in my purse. Naturally, part of the problem with ravaging your cuticles is that you’re stuck using your other nails and your teeth to get some delicate work done. The logic of this step is that, if had a little nail clipper, file, and/or scissors with me, I’d be able to nip potential problems in the bud. This turned out to be a partial solution; I was able to prevent a lot of injury, but overzealous clipping can be just as harmful as chewing. I still ended up bleeding plenty of times and needing those handy Band-Aids.

Step 3: Mindfulness. This is actually a strategy that’s used frequently for a wide variety of habit-breaking. It just involves being aware of what you’re doing, in the moment that you’re doing it. And, of course, if your goal is to stop doing it, then stop. So for me, every time one hand started to fumble over the other hand, or a finger went up to my mouth, I’d stop for a second. Usually this was enough to semi-shame myself into not doing it, and I’d take a deep breath or take a sip of water while the urge passed. There were plenty of times, especially early on, that I’d just do it anyway, but those subsided pretty quickly under the constant scrutiny of: Hey look! You’re doing that thing you don’t want to be doing!

Step 4: Moisturizer. Hangnails and cuticles are much more likely to be noticeable, and tempting to pick or chew at, when your skin is dry. I am an over-hydrated person, so I go to the bathroom a lot when I’m at work, which of course means I’m constantly washing my hands. Add to that the generally punishingly-dry winter air, and it’s no wonder my hands were parched. Rubbing lotion on my hands and fingers a few times a day not only kept the skin soft, and kept the cuticles down, but the repetitive motion acted as kind of a replacement to the habit I was trying to break.

Step 5: Bribery. As I said before, my reward for success was an indulgent manicure/pedicure. I love getting my nails done, and hadn’t been in such a long time, so I was really dying to go. Do you want to know how long it took from the time I made this resolution and when I got the manicure? Six weeks. There were a few “relapses” in which I was pretty much back to square one: more than half my fingers with bandages on them. And, in the few weeks since I got my nails done, I’ve relapsed again. I have a Band-Aid on my left thumb right now, in fact.

So I guess for me, this is a work in progress. I think my methods are pretty solid, but I also think I’m up against a pretty tough opponent: myself. It’s actually a pretty illuminating experience to go up against yourself in such a way. If you’re trying to stop chewing on your nails or cuticles, I’d certainly encourage you to give it a shot. And if you have any battle stories of your own, feel free to share in the comments!

12 replies on “We Try It! Leaving The Cuticles Alone”

The only thing that works for me for my cuticles is to get fake nails put on. Then for some reason the cuticles heal up a bit. Also the nails are too thick to pick at the cuticles as well. It’s not cheap but worth the non bandaged look or the pain and bleedy raw look.

I’ve gotten to the point that I mostly leave the cuticles/skin on my fingers alone, but my thumbs are another story. I was literally picking my thumb when I spotted this story; I have the skin on both thumbs picked all the way down to my first knuckle. I’m so tired of having constant open wounds on my thumbs, especially when my daughter decides to poke them with her ridiculously sharp fingernails. Thanks for the tips; I’ll definitely try to kick the habit!

Yep, guilty. As a kid I was a nail biter and a cuticle biter. I’ve kicked the nail biting habit, although it comes back when I’m under extreme stress. The cuticle biting is something I’ve never been able to kick, no matter how gross it is – although I do it much less now than I used to. And keeping my nails looking good – just past my fingertips, shaped and polished – doesn’t keep me from gnawing on my cuticles. I think I’ll probably have the habit to some extent for the rest of my life. :-/

Another member of the club here. I used to bite the skin around my nails really badly. My thumbs in particular.

A lot of people will tell you it’s an anxiety thing, but it just became more of a learned, subconscious habit for me (unless I was watching a scary movie or stressful action movie, in which case it was finger-eating time).

I definitely did the band-aid thing. I had to, my thumbs were usually so bad that they were bleeding and raw, the skin bitten or torn off. I tried using Burt’s Bees cuticle cream, didn’t help much; ditto with Smith’s Rosebud Salve. The band-aids forced me to break the habit for a few days while my fingers healed. Pretty much the only thing that helped the non-chewing stick was getting into nail art. I didn’t want to chew my fingers because the polish remover would burn later, it made my fingers look gross and a lot of people wanted to see my nails, and I didn’t want to get polish in my mouth if I chewed. Now I use cuticle oil and that seems to have helped me kick the habit!

Used to be a nail-biter in my teens, successfully kicked that. Then I moved on to picking at my cuticles and managed to stop that habit as well. My remaining vice – and this is disgusting – is to get a fingernail underneath an opposing fingernail and kind of roll the skin away from the nail. It’s great in that it doesn’t ruin my manicure or transfer terrible bus germs to my nibbling maw, but it hurts like hell and threatening myself with a nail bed infection is empty as I haven’t had one to date.

Writing it out makes it seem even more aberrant and weird than in my head >.<

This is one of the main reasons I’ve been painting my nails (aside from all the purty colours). If I keep my nails painted: 1) I don’t nervously bite at my cuticles because it wrecks the polish; 2) I take MUCH better care of my cuticles and moisturize more so that hangnails (I’m with you, Hattie, I can’t leave one alone once I notice it and it ALWAYS ends badly, and I know it, and I never learn) don’t happen in the first place.

Edited to add: I actually can’t bite my nails because my front teeth don’t join properly (small benefit), but man! could I wreak havoc on my cuticles!

I bite my nails more than I chew on my cuticles, but both are bad habits. The thing that has helped me the most is keeping my fingernails painted. It’s kind of the opposite of what you talked about in the article. I’m less likely to bite my nails if they’re pretty (and I tried doing the bribery thing once but had made zero progress several months later). If I do bite my nails the ruined polish makes it pretty obvious, so I’ve got the whole shame thing working for me. The constant maintenance also results in fewer hangnails, which means there’s less temptation to chew on them.

Oh man. This is a serious problem for me. Well, I’m getting better but I had to find many ways to stop. It’s always hardest to take those first steps to get the hands to heal…

But the first thing I did that totally worked was this. When I would get out of the shower, I’d notice white skin around the wound, basically, the torn skin that I would bite at – the Instigator. So, I took a fingernail clipper and pinched off all that white skin – this way, all that torn skin was gone but none of the fresh skin was broken and bleeding. When my hands dried, it looked a little messed up but there was nothing to bite. I would keep doing this for a few weeks.

I also started using exfoliant on my hands to get the smaller tears reduced. It also helped smooth down the scabs so I couldn’t pick at them.

And then I found the greatest nail tool ever and I have no idea what it’s called. It’s a v shaped metal edge that’s sharp enough to cut through dead skin – I think it’s meant for cuticles but it’s not that clipper thing. I hate that clipper thing. It causes more harm than good. I push the v-shaped device across my cuticles and the sides of my fingers and slice off any extra skin that could become nail-biting gold. It also helps lift off all the dead and dried cuticle stuff that makes my hands look old. I love that tool.

I still bite at the sides of my fingers, where the nail meets the skin but thankfully that area doesn’t bleed – the skin is too thick.

But my thumbs are no longer torn up – that was my worst area. My grandma would be so proud.

Also – even if you don’t bite your fingers, you should exfoliate your hands, it feels SOOO nice. :)

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