308 East 38th Street, Suite 201 New York, NY 10016

The Ultimate Guide To Onychophagia: Is Nail Biting Self Harm?

By Dr. Ori Shinar

Share This:


There is of course nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s still best to try and nip your nail biting habit before it gets too out of hand. Why do people bite their nails? Is nail biting self harm? Here is the ultimate guide to onychophagia, where we hope you get answers to all your questions. 

Onychophagia is the scientific term for the compulsive urge to bite one’s nails. Though it is a fairly common habit, nail biting isn’t a healthy habit, and it has some potentially serious consequences.

What Exactly Is Onychophagia?

 is nail biting self harm - girl biting nails

Onychophagia, better known as nail-biting, is the repeated destruction of the body by means of the fingernails. It’s a fairly common habit that begins in childhood, and roughly 20%-30% of the general population struggles with the habit (though estimates range from 12%-44%). 

People who bite their nails report a tension when trying to resist the habit, feeling pleasure before and after indulging, and at times even eating the nail. However, the most detectable sign of onychophagia is visibly damaged nails. 

Nail biting leads to the nails looking damaged and unhealthy, but that is the least of your concerns. If untreated, onychophagia may cause bacterial and viral infection, injury to the soft tissue lining the mouth, dental problems, and other concerning effects. 

Why Do People Bite Their Nails? 

is nail biting self harm

Nail biting often begins in childhood, and can be a difficult habit to break. While typically an automatic behavior, there are several underlying factors that may contribute to why you bite your nails at all. Here are just a few:


If you’ve been biting your nails for long enough, it can become your default activity when you’re bored or waiting around. You may not even realize you’re doing it.


Nail biting may also be your body’s gut response to feeling anxious. Since you’ve possibly been biting your nails since you were a kid, it’s likely become a self soothing habit.

Onychophagia can also be an effect of numerous mental health conditions like ADHD, OCD, separation anxiety, and Tourette syndrome

Is Nail Biting Self Harm? 

Is Nail Biting Self Harm

Whether or not you’re doing it subconsciously, nail biting can have harmful effects as discussed above. However, that does not inherently mean self harm.  People tend to target their nails in a trance-like state as a way to release or avoid intense emotions when they struggle with experiencing negative emotions.

While nail biting is usually a subconscious behavior, if you find that you are doing it to purposely harm yourself, then you are in fact engaging in self harm. It should be noted that if you are self harming in any way, it is best you seek professional help.

Tips For Managing Onychophagia

Tips For Managing Onychophagia

You can’t expect yourself to quit biting your nails overnight, but here ares some things you can do to make it easier to quit 

Recognize Your Triggers

Though you may bite your nails subconsciously, it’ll help you to recognize if there are situations or feelings that make the urge to bite your nails even stronger. Then, you can work on finding healthier ways to cope with those feelings

Put Polish On Your Nails

Frankly, a lot of nail polish tastes bad, and if you use it, it’ll make biting your nails much more unpleasant. With time, you’ll associate biting your nails with the taste of the polish. 

Try Manicures

Manicures go beyond just a cosmetic procedure. Whether it’s an at-home manicure or one from the salon, you’ll likely not want to bite your nails after time and money has gone into making them look good. 

Find A Better Habit

putting lotion on your hands

Every time you feel like biting your nails, replace it with a healthier habit, like taking a sip of water or putting lotion on your hands. That way, you’ll phase out the nail biting and incorporate something productive into your daily routine. 

Seek Professional Help

Finally, it is always encouraged to talk to a professional. A therapist helps you walk through your triggers and traumas and facilitate a breakthrough. It’s always good to have people on your team! 

Again, there is no shame in biting your nails and there is certainly no shame in asking for help. In fact, recognizing that you need help to begin with is an incredibly brave first step. 

Breaking a habit isn’t easy, but  that does not mean it’s impossible. Over time and with the right guidance, you will be able to take control over your onychophagia. 

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

Recommended Blogs


Schedule Your Free Consultation

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

By submitting this form you authorize us to send you email notifications. We Will never sell your data or send you spam.