I hate long finger nails. Every two weeks, I trim my nails down to a length that lets me clack away comfortably on the computer keyboard all day, but that also lets me scrape and pick at things. Like my skin.
See, while I’d never, ever bite my nails (gross), I have for years had a problem with chewing the skin around my nails, sometimes to the point of bleeding. Which is also gross, I know. Believe me, I know.
I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I can’t remember a time when I’ve had two completely intact thumbs — they’ve always been in some stage of skinlessness. To me, this is normal. When I see perfect-looking hands with perfect-looking skin modeling hand lotion or engagement rings, I think, That looks so weird.
Having chewed-up fingers should be embarrassing, but it’s something I’ve gotten so used to, I rarely care anymore if others notice it, even when the skin is red and raw with dried blood caked on it. In fact, this chewing of skin (and eating, I might add. Yes, I am a self-cannibal) is so normal to me, it took 35 years before I finally started to wonder why I do it, and if I should, you know, stop.
So I turned to my family doctor, Dr. Internet, and Googled “biting skin.” Up popped a couple of options: Onychofagia is the name of the condition for those who compulsively bite their nails. That definitely is not me. Dermatillomania is a bit closer — it’s when you can’t stop picking at your skin, usually on the face, but also on other body parts as well. However, dermatophagia, a type of obsessive-compulsive order in which sufferers bite the skin around their nails, seems to be the winner.
According to a site called Right Diagnosis, the symptoms of dermatophagia include discolored skin, skin damage, bleeding skin, callouses, hangnails and compulsive skin biting. Here’s what my thumb usually looks like:
Again, I’m not a doctor, and I’m well aware Dr. Internet isn’t the most reliable source for medical information, but dermatophagia seems about right.
So why do I do it? Am I nervous? Stressed out? Anxious? Bored? Hungry? Probably all of those things. Maybe I just can’t stand seeing the skin grow back unevenly, so I have to pick at it until it’s smoothed over (by the way, it’s never smoothed over).
When I’m chewing on my skin, I feel calm. I may start out anxious, but that goes away. And the skin heals pretty quickly, actually. I just give it a day or two while I work on a different finger.
There are ways to combat dermatophagia. Actually, just one way, as far as I can tell, and that’s coating the nails in a foul-tasting deterrent. I’m not sure that would work for me, though. I’ve had nail polisher remover on my nails and skin, and even that did little to dissuade me from chewing.
I guess what I’m saying is, although it’s not ideal, it’s a bad habit I can live with. I don’t know much about obsessive-compulsive disorders (and I’d rather not delve into the underlying causes of my anxiety, thanks), but if this is the worst it’s going to get for me, I can definitely handle this dermatophagia thing. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll magically stop, and Neutrogena will ask me to model their amazing hand cream.