I have been a nail biter for as long as I can remember – literally. I don’t recall a time when I ever really had nails. As I grew up and girls started to go to the nail salon, I was always too embarrassed to go because my fingernails were stubby and bitten and couldn’t even be painted. My nails weren’t painted for senior prom, high school graduation, or for the majority of my college career.
This picture, from a few years ago, is one of the few photos I can find where my nails are visible. I’m so used to keeping my hands balled up in fists to hide my ragged nails from people that to this day, even with nails, I have to consciously remember not to hide them.
It bothered me my whole life, but no matter what I tried, I was never able to quit. The longest I would go without biting my nails was a few weeks, maximum. I tried all kinds of nasty tasting clear polishes to curb the habit, but I would bite through them after a day or two. It was compulsive and obsessive – the second there was enough growth for me to be capable of biting off, I would do so.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I was finally able to stop. I finally realized that in just a few short month’s I’d be graduating and off into the real world. I’d have graduation photos and job interviews, and the last thing I wanted was to look like a nervous wreck with bitten nails. I decided to try getting acrylic nails to see if it would finally do the trick.
I ended up paying over $100 for a set of UV gel extensions last March (Greenwich prices, man…). The nail tech was able to use the gel to extend my nails, even though they were bitten halfway down my nail bed. For the first time in my life I had nails, painted in a pretty, light pink color. Best of all? The gel was so thick there was no way I could bite through it.
I ended up continuing to get gels and acrylics for a couple of months. When they would start to grow out, I would pick at them as they began to peel up, but it was nothing that a quick trip to the salon for a fill couldn’t fix. I had a beautiful set of light nude acrylics for my graduation, and I’m so glad that all the photos from that day show them off. When I finally felt confident that I kicked the habit, I had the acrylics removed and began a whole new journey – healing my natural nails.
It’s no secret that gels and acrylics are incredibly harsh on our nails. When I stopped getting them, my nails were so brittle, but I expected that since they had never been grown out anyways. I ended up getting onycholysis on two of my nails, which is a condition where the nail lifts from the nail bed and becomes white since it’s no longer connected to the skin. As someone who is OCD about nails, cuticles and any kind of skin condition, this drove me crazy.
I started taking biotin and painting my own nails regularly, sometimes multiple times per week. The second a nail chipped I would peel all of the polish off and I’d have to paint them over again or else risk me biting at them again. But by fall, my nails were stronger than ever and there was even less of an urge to pick at them.
Now, I don’t even feel the need to keep my nails painted at all times. I will always use a strengthening clear coat of some kind to keep them looking healthy, and I like to have them painted if I’m going out with friends. I occasionally treat myself to gel manicures just because they look so nice and last for two or more weeks, but I try to keep them natural as it’s the best way to keep your nails strong. I can’t even tell you how nice it is to not worry about my gross, bitten nails anymore – and how nice it is just to be able to actually scratch myself!
Here are some of my tips for growing out your nails and keeping them healthy:
1. If you’re a nail biter, try using Mavala Switzerland’s Mavala Stop Nail Biting polish. This runs for about $15 on Amazon and is one of the only bad tasting polishes that I found to work at all. Don’t waste your time on the ones available at the drugstore – they didn’t work for me at all.
2. If that doesn’t work, don’t give up. Even if you’re embarrassed, force yourself to walk into a salon and ask for gel or acrylic extensions. I would try to remind myself that even though my nails were awful, these women have seen thousands of clients, and some of them had to have had worse nails than I did. Doing this is what finally helped me kick the habit.
3. Paint your nails. I really like Essie’s Gel Couture line because of its lasting power. These polishes also have a great wide brush that makes painting nails a breeze. I’ll use the gel top coat on top of any brand of polish and I definitely think it helps the manicure last a bit longer. The more you practice, the better you get. Just be sure to keep cotton swabs and nail polish remover on hand (or even a small angled makeup brush) for any cleanup. If you’re as OCD as I am and hate smudges or those dreaded sheet lines in your nails, try to paint them early in the day to allow ample drying time. If you must paint them at night, invest in drying drops. I like these ones from Essie.
4. Always carry a nail file. One of my main problems when I was growing out my nails was that they were so brittle that they broke frequently. If I didn’t have a file on me, I would bite the entire nail off just to attempt to even it out. I now keep nail files next to my bed, in my desk at work, and in my purse. I would even bring nail polish with me on trips so that if a nail chipped I could fix it before peeling all of the polish off and, inevitably, biting at my nails.
5. Keep your cuticles clean and neat. Now that I’ve stopped biting my nails, I’ve moved on to biting my cuticles, which is almost as bad. Sometimes I’ll bite my cuticles until they bleed which can be extremely painful. Before you fall down that rabbit hole, be sure to keep your cuticles moisturized with something like the Burt’s Bees cuticle cream or this OPI cuticle oil, which I find absorbs much faster, although it’s not as thick and moisturizing as the Burt’s Bees.
6. Treat yourself to salon manicure from time to time. While painting your own nails certainly saves money, sometimes going to a professional is the best way to make sure your cuticles are cleaned up, nails properly trimmed and filed, and it’s just a good way to stay mindful of your nails. Plus, you deserve to treat yourself after kicking such a bad habit!