Can Fake Nails Help You Kick Your Nail-Biting Habit? We Asked A Psychologist

Chronic nail biting, or onychophagia, is a common everyday habit that affects 20% to 30% of the population, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment. As with most unhealthy body-focused behaviors, people often believe that stopping the habit is simply a matter of self-discipline. However, the reality is that putting an end to nail biting is more challenging than people first assume. That said, there's a genius solution to chewing your fingernails, according to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York City-based neuropsychologist and the director of Comprehend the Mind, and it comes with pretty perks.


"Using fake nails as a method to end the habit of nail-biting can be a viable option for some individuals," Dr. Hafeez exclusively shared with Glam. "The physical barrier created by fake nails makes it more difficult to engage in nail-biting behavior, serving as a reminder and deterrent." As such, a trip to the salon can, indeed, help you abstain from your nail-biting habit. In this case, an acrylic or gel polish manicure in particular can deter you from biting your nails, thereby providing jagged nails and sore skin the opportunity to heal and grow.

Do fake nails work for everyone?

In theory, applying fake nails to help you curb a habit sounds like a win-win scenario. However, from a psychological standpoint, relying on fake nails alone to stop compulsive chewing forms more of a temporary solution. "They may not address the underlying psychological triggers contributing to nail biting," Dr. Sanam Hafeez exclusively told us. However, that isn't to say that all nail-biting habits stem from debilitating psychological conditions. "Some people may find sensory stimulation from nail-biting soothing or satisfying," Dr. Hafeez explained. "The act of biting nails can provide sensory feedback and tactile stimulation, which may temporarily alleviate feelings of boredom or restlessness." 


Therefore, individuals who bite their nails out of boredom or sensory feedback may find that getting their nails done is enough to help them break the habit. As this removes the satisfying sensory experience, you'll need to find sensory stimulation elsewhere, preferably through an alternative habit that is less destructive to the nails and skin. For instance, consider keeping your hands busy by using a fidget spinner, therapy putty, or chewing gum to replace nail biting.

When acrylics simply don't cut it

More often than not, chewing on your nails is an outward manifestation of emotional distress or discomfort. "Nail-biting often serves as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety," Dr. Sanam Hafeez exclusively told Glam. "It can provide temporary relief or distraction from uncomfortable emotions or situations." For instance, a person may develop a nail-biting habit during times of heightened stress to alleviate tension or anxiety, according to Dr. Hafeez. If the habit began during childhood and persists into adulthood, the pattern can be especially challenging to break, as certain situations or emotions can re-trigger the habit. An individual struggling with social anxiety, for example, may bite their nails when surrounded by large groups of people or even during more intimate gatherings. 


Comparably, individuals with a nervous disposition or a perfectionist personality may also demonstrate habitual nail-biting, "The repetitive action of biting nails can serve as a way to channel nervous energy or alleviate feelings of perfectionism-related stress," Dr. Hafeez said. Note that despite the overlapping tendencies, there's a clinical difference between perfectionism and high-functioning anxiety, and each concern calls for a different treatment method. In both cases, it's best to reach out to a mental health expert to help you understand the reasons behind your chronic habit, as simply replacing your nail-biting habit with pricey salon visits may not do the trick.

Other tips to end nail biting

"Some individuals may find wearing fake nails uncomfortable or inconvenient, and the process of applying and maintaining them can be time-consuming and costly," Dr. Sanam Hafeez shared exclusively with Glam. In this case, Dr. Hafeez suggests implementing alternative methods to redirect the nail-biting urge to a healthier habit – think stress balls, chewing gum, and fidget toys. For those who prefer simple manicures, consider using regular nail polish as a deterrent or, better yet, a polish designed to discourage nail biting. A bitter-tasting polish leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth to deter you from repeating the behavior. On occasions where you would rather remain polish-free, you can keep your nails trimmed and the edges smoothed down to make them difficult to chew, which will remove the temptation.


However, if you struggle to break the habit and can't find a healthy alternative to replace nail-biting, this is a sign that you may need to reach out to a professional for support. Speaking to a counselor or mental health expert can help you identify the situations or emotions that trigger your nail-biting habit. "Understanding the underlying triggers can help individuals develop alternative coping strategies," Dr. Hafeez told Glam. "Ultimately, the effectiveness of using fake nails varies from person to person, and individuals need to explore different strategies and address the root causes of their nail-biting habit for long-term success in breaking the behavior."