The Truth Behind Nail Biting: Why The Bad Habit Your Mom Hates Might Be Good For You

by Dan Scotti

There aren’t many habits that hold a worse reputation than nail biting, and still, that never seems to stop us. While some people bite their nails in the face of anxiety, for others, the motivation is much less well-defined.

I’m a nail biter – have been since as long as I can remember. But I can promise you, I don’t bite them because I’m especially nervous or anxious. I don’t bite them because they taste good, either.

For me, it’s sort of just a habit – one that I engage in for no specific reason. Almost like an instinct.

But instincts don’t just materialize out of nowhere. Usually instinctive behaviors serve important purposes. That got me thinking, does any good come from biting our nails? Or is it just a “tacky” habit that everyone should stop doing, immediately.

What I found was rather interesting. It turns out that nail biting, albeit a bad habit, might not be so bad as the common perception, and what’s more – there might actually be a good side to nail biting.

Nail biting boosts your immune system

While biting your fingernails isn’t the cleanest of habits, it has been linked to certain health benefits. As Daily Mail tells us, our hands are f*cking filthy, which in the case of nail biting, is actually a good thing.

Every time we find ourselves gnawing away at our fingernails, we’re exposing our bodies to a multitude of new germs. Some even immune-boosting.

However, once our bodies have been exposed to these potentially harmful germs for the first time, we start to build up antibodies and subsequently strengthen our immune systems.

It’s the same concept as the “flu shot,” where a vaccine will inject a minuscule amount of the virus into our bodies to avoid any serious infection.

Additionally, by constantly biting your nails and bringing newer germs into your body, you’re, in effect, “working out” your immune system. By keeping your immune system actively fending off bacteria, you’re continuously strengthening it more and more.

Biting your nails relieves stress

According to Amy Standen of, nail biting is now considered an act of “pathological grooming,” and psychologically viewed in the same vein as obsessive compulsive disorder.

The distinction that she draws between the two, however, is that while people with OCD carry out compulsive behaviors for no real reason – such as closing the door three times or checking the stove five times before leaving the house – people who bite their nails do so for a reason, and receive satisfaction from doing so.

This is because nail biting is done to relieve stress. Standen interviewed Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist of UCSF and a specialist of all things nail biting, and Mathews explained the “reward system” that nail biters engage in.

During times of pressure or anxiety, when you bite “the right nail,” it just sort of  “feels good,” according to Mathews. This is why nail biting is such an advantageous stress relief method when compared to more dangerous vices such as, say, a cigarette.

Some of your favorite celebrities bite their nails

While I’m sure the series of A-list celebrities who bite their nails is much longer than the one provided by, I’m pretty content with the variety that they included. Famous superstars Tom Cruise, Eva Mendes, Elijah Wood, Britney Spears, Phil Collins and Andy Roddick are all celebrity nail chewers, among others.

Check out this video of Andy Roddick getting interviewed from 2008. Right when he gets put on the hot seat, and gets asked about his girlfriend, Roddick shows his discomfort and starts immediately gnawing away at his nails.

Nail biters work well under pressure

Although the old stereotype links nail biters to nervous, hesitant, frightful people – an old newspaper describing pilots during WWII suggests the opposite.

According to this source, the best pilots during World War II were “not the calm ones,” but the ones who were nail biters. According to the Dr. Maury Massler, chewing habits and other examples of oral fixation are valuable methods of releasing and coping with stress.

While it’s a common stereotype that nail biters are constantly nervous – by biting their nails, it often results in the opposite. So this stereotype is rather flawed in its logic. Nervousness may cause, or ignite, nail biting – but, usually, not the other way around.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It