The basic facts
Your fingernails are composed of layers of keratin, a protein also found in hair and skin. The nail plate, which is dead, compacted and hardened keratin, is the visible part of the nail that you polish, and the nail bed is the skin beneath it. The cuticle is tissue at the base of the nail that overlaps to form a protective seal with the nail plate. The nail is formed (and grows from) the area beneath the cuticle, called the matrix.
What to look for
Biters beware; this habit is not just unattractive, it also can cause a slew of problems:
Red, swollen and painful skin around the nails is a sign of infection, caused by bacteria getting into cuts, tears or other openings in the protective cuticle.
Weak, splitting nails.
Dental problems are the reality for many lifelong biters. Since nail-biting is common in children and adolescents, the habit can affect teeth formation.
1. Catch yourself in the act. Use a day planner to keep track of every time you find yourself nibbling. Nail to mouth? Pen to paper. Since nail-biting is often an unconscious habit brought on by anxiety, it helps to be aware of trigger situations (e.g., stressful moments at work, a fight with your beau).
2. Manage stress. Learn to cope with anxiety (through relaxation, exercise and even therapy).
3. Decorate your nails as you grow them. Self-stick nails can be attached to make stubby ones look longer. If you're painting your nails as a no-bite tactic, use a strengthening base coat first. A long-wear polish will also keep your fingers looking nice for days, making you less tempted to nibble.
4. Set up a reward system. If you don't bite for two weeks, for example, indulge in a new pair of shoes. If you last a month, splurge on a massage.