Nail-biting does far more than ruin your fresh manicure—from bacterial infections to lip warts, these gruesome truths will inspire you to nix the habit for good.
Nail-biting (onychophagia if you want to be fancy about it), may seem pretty harmless, ranking somewhere between picking your nose and examining your earwax on the scale of “gross things everyone does but won’t admit.” In fact, up to 50 percent of us will gnaw our nails at some point in our life, according to a study from the University of Calgary.
But why is chewing our fingertips so compelling and even satisfying? It turns out it has nothing to do with your nails and everything to do with your feelings, says Fran Walfish, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, author, and psychology expert on The Doctors (CBS).
“Fingernail biting, like drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, and other addictive behaviors, is a way of not dealing directly with uncomfortable feelings,“ she says. In other words, when you’re in an uncomfortable situation, your body feels like it needs to do something to deal but if you can’t (or won’t) address the discomfort directly, you can temporarily soothe yourself with a distracting and calming behavior, like nail biting, she explains. Taken too far, the nervous habit can even turn into “pathological grooming,” an obsessive-compulsive behavior that you may feel like you have to do to calm down, she adds.
Even though it’s not on the level of doing drugs or binge eating, nail biting can be detrimental to your health—in some ways that may surprise you. From making you sick to cracked teeth, these 13 science-backed facts are scary enough to make you nix the bad habit for good. (Don’t worry we have tips for overcoming your nail-biting habit, too.)
14) Nasty Infections
There’s a reason cops and coroners always cleanout under a victim’s nails on crime shows: Fingernails are perfect catch-alls for dirt and debris. When you chew yours, you’re giving all those germs a one-way ticket to your insides, says Michael Shapiro, M.D., medical director and founder of Vanguard Dermatology in New York City. “Your fingernails are almost twice as dirty as your fingers. Bacteria often gets stuck under the nails, and can then be transferred to the mouth, causing infections of the gums and throat.“
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