If you’ve been chewing your nails for years—or decades—you don’t need a scientific study to tell you that biting your nails can cause permanent damage. You already have the evidence in front of you: the short nail beds, the perpetually jagged edges, and that one nail that grows in kind of crooked.
But just in case, here are the facts: A 2009 study in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found that long-term nail biting repeatedly pulls the nail bed from the nail itself, which “ultimately results in permanent shortening of the fingernails.”
If that’s not bad enough, more bacteria (including the infamous E. coli) was found in saliva samples of kids who bite their nails than from non-biters, according to a study in Oral Microbiology and Immunology.
Here’s how to quit the habit for healthier (and less stubby) nails.
Keep your nails short. You’ll be far less tempted to chew a nail that’s not there.
Apply a bitter-tasting polish. You can buy a special, over-the-counter polish that has a bitter flavor, which is meant to keep you from putting those fingers in your mouth.
Invest in manis. You might be more motivated to leave your nails alone if you like how they look or know how much money you spent on them. Do you really want to chew off your $30 gel manicure on day two? (Learn more about getting a safe mani or pedi here.)
Squeeze away your stress. If nerves are a trigger for your nail-biting habit, squeezing a stress ball or playing with your kid’s fidget spinner might do you good. Even if you’re feeling calm, these gizmos might keep your hands busy enough to avoid the bite.
Lotion up. Hangnails are a big trigger for some nail biters. You can avoid that altogether by keeping your fingers (especially the area around the nail) soft and tender with lotions, creams, or petroleum jelly.
File away rough edges. You know that burning temptation you feel when your nail is snagged and sticking up, basically begging to be ripped off? Well, give your teeth the day off and use a nail file instead. Better yet, be proactive and file your edges consistently so you’re less likely to have those snags or jagged edges to begin with.
Chew gum. For many people, having something to chew on, like gum, is all it takes to give up biting your nails.
Munch on veggies. When you feel the urge to chew your nails, chew on carrot or celery sticks instead.
Looking for more nail care tips? Here’s whether you should ask for square or round tips.