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As a decade long nail biter and cuticle picker, I have a soft spot in my heart for clients that come in with hands that bear the brunt of their owners stress everyday.

During childhood we have very limited ways of expressing ourselves or releasing the many pressures placed on us by the adult world. We can’t drink, we can’t smoke, we can’t do drugs; we aren’t supposed to be having sex, we can’t under-eat or over-eat, we are supposed to get great grades, and we’re supposed to be in appropriate social circles when our families haven’t necessarily prepared us how to accomplish those things. That, combined with incredible hormonal changes in a relatively short amount of time, is really hard to deal with.

So we can become perfectionists in over-grooming ourselves, biting and pulling ‘bad’ pieces of ourselves from our bodies. Its seen as a bad habit, and not as the attempt to control something in our lives since we have little control over anything else in adolescence. It seems to fit in with our barrage of criticisms people lay into us with at that age, and for many of us, continues into adulthood.

More than half of all school age kids bite their nails, and about 20% of the  population continue to bite their nails into adulthood. You, as their nail technician, could be the key to helping them be kinder to their hands. Yes, I understand a lot of clients will say they are ready to change, and then fall into old habits. Just like eating too much of the ‘wrong’ foods on a diet, or dating the ‘wrong’ type of person for yourself on dating websites, a person can think they’re ready to change when they’re actually not “ready”.

But we as a professional should be the constant in their variable filled journey until they see enough progress to become motivated. They will be your most loyal clients, your best referrals, and possibly some of your greatest work in that they make you teach yourself how to make better protocols to help clients like them in the future.

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Here is a preteen that I’ve been working with for the last month. All biters have a favorite finger to go after, and in his case it’s his thumb. From left to right is his first day after I did a manicure, then one week, two weeks, and four weeks after. His mom promised to buy him a video game he’s been wanting pretty badly, and I think he’s going to get it lol 😉
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There is a regular routine I establish with each client looking to stop biting and picking at their nails or cuticles:

  1. Take a day one week one photo with the focus being on detailing the state of your client’s hands up until they started coming to you. This is going to be so gratifying to us ‘fixers’ once we see progress, and will lift your client up  to look at how far they have come when they’ve had setbacks on their goal.
  2. Make 8 appointments that are paid up front for manicures, a glass file, a and a cuticle pen to take home so they will be held accountable for their progression. That way if they quit or dick around on you you’ll at least have the time paid for if they want to try again. Prepaying almost always guarantees commitment. No one wants to just give their money away for nothing.
  3. Talk to them about setting a prize for attaining their goal other than having nice looking nails, so they have something else to work towards. Just having nice hands is not really enough, because biting them was worth more.
  4. Give them a glass file, a cuticle oil pen (unscented), and teach them how to manage snags that come from dryness between appointments. Glass files are easy to use since they can saw back and forth on their nail, yet not damage them the way cardboard files do.Nails filed down is much better than snaggly, ripped nails. Even if there is no free edge, the seashell-like luminosity, smoothness, and fleshy pink color that they will see in their nailbed will be really motivating. Some biters can’t stand seeing a free edge. To me that’s ok, some people want color on their nails, some want french only, some don’t want to see any white on their nail…it’s just a preference. As long as they’re not biting and ripping, who cares about seeing a big free edge? Those long pink nailbeds will look so good compared to the stumps they had before!
  5. After each appointment, take another picture. Email them progression pictures each week. Comment on highlights like leaving their favorite finger alone enough for the skin to heal, leaving the skin around their nails alone or trimming it instead of ripping it off, filing their edges instead of biting it, having no hangnails from oiling their nails like they need, and so on. Remember, you’re helping them brake years of an old habit. Any truthful positive comments will help them tremendously.
  6. If they do go after a nail, try to figure out with them what was going on. Were they watching tv, and their file was on the counter out of reach? Ask them to pick up some more glass files to place around the house where they find themselves biting their hands. Did they rip that piece of skin off at a stoplight? Have them take another cuticle oil pen to have in the cupholder of their car. I say pen instead of a nail polish type bottle because the bottle ones are really annoying to use in the car, and many male clients can feel emasculated by using something that looks feminine like a nail polish bottle. Even the eyedropper style ones are annoying to use.
  7. Offer a service after their 8 weeks is up that is not on their pre-paid list, like a basic pedicure or nail art or whatever you would like to offer. After all, you’re getting testimonials that you alone are making a difference in a person’s life that you can market with. Are they not worth that?Are there any other techniques you use on nail biting clients that has resulted in them breaking the habit? Let me know in the comments.