Here’s the scene: You just dropped $40 on a trendy tie-dye manicure and you’re setting up the perfect #nailart Instagram shot, when all of a sudden it hits you: the urge to bite your nails. Say goodbye, tie-dye.

worried woman in glasses

Arrghhh, right?! Bad habits are tough to break. But, research shows that your nail-biting might not be the worst thing in the world. Or, at least, it wasn’t when you first picked it up. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, kids who have hand-mouth fixations like sucking their thumbs and biting their nails are less likely to have allergic reactions later in life.

Researchers followed 1,000 people born in the early ’70s and kept in touch with their parents on their thumb-sucking and nail-biting habits at various ages. By age 32, about half of the participants who didn’t suck their thumb or bite their nails growing up had allergies; participants who had just one of these bad habits were 40% less likely to test for allergies; and those who had both bad habits had the lowest rates of allergies (31%) as adults. These findings support the “hygiene hypothesis,” which asserts that early exposure to bacteria, viruses and allergens can strengthen your immune system and make your body better at responding to germs.

So if you’re not popping a Claritin as you read this, congrats — your nail-biting has that going for you! But, that’s not to say science is endorsing your stubby, chewed-up nails; it’s more saying, “Hey parents, don’t freak out about a little dirt.” It’s still an unhygienic habit (not to mention how it ruins your chances of being “discovered” as a hand model on the street). So here are a few tips that can help you quit.

Young smiling woman having manicure treatment in bedroom.

1. Figure out what’s making you bite. Try to identify the things in your life that can set you off into a nail-biting frenzy. Is it something you do when you’re stressed out? Mad? Sad? Bored? Find activities that will help you find your zen and channel that energy into something good for you, like yoga or meditation.

2. Don’t let yourself get away with it. If you’re biting your nails absent-mindedly — not even realizing you’re doing it until you look down at your uneven fingers — you’ve got to stop zoning out. When you catch yourself chewing, force yourself to stop, or give yourself some sort of “penalty” to deter you. Like a swear jar, but for nail-biting.

3. Have your friends call you out. It might be a little bit embarrassing, but let your friends know you’re making the effort to quit once and for all and ask them to point it out if they catch you doing it. You’re probably not going to keep chewing through happy hour when your bestie’s across the table like, “Girl, stop.”

4. Keep ’em short and smooth. A lot of the time, habitual biters will feel the compulsion coming on when they notice unevenness in their nails. Carry clippers and a nail file on you so that you can fix the issue properly, without just going, “Well, my mouth is right here…”

5. Get your nails did. If the thought of messing up a fresh, fancy mani is the only thing that’ll keep you from going to chew-town on your nails, then hey, you’d better buck up and make those weekly salon appointments. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (that end in a relaxing shoulder massage).

Reward yourself for ditching your nail-biting habit by showing off your nails with us on Instagram using #BritNails!

(Photos via Getty)