Katie Barnes
Katie Barnes

What is a nail habit-tic & can it be treated?

By Katie Barnes | 22 February 2022 | Expert Advice, Feature

Canva Picking Nails

When a client sits at your nail desk and presents you with a thumb nail such as below, you may wonder whether it is a contraindication which you should not treat.

Image courtesy of Wikpedia.org

This is habit tic deformity. Most commonly seen on the thumbnails, it is a nail condition caused by repeatedly pushing back or picking at the cuticle. This condition classically presents as a longitudinal defective band from the cuticle to the free edge. Depressions, often in a washboard pattern can also be present along this band.

With this condition, the cuticles are always compromised and are often completely absent, with accompanying redness and swelling along the proximal nail fold. The lunula can also often be more prominent than usual.

Any repetitive trauma to the cuticle can ultimately result in the irregular outgrowth of the nail because the cuticle directly overlies the nail matrix, where the beginning of the nail grows.

Consequently, overly aggressive cuticle removal or repetitive pushing back or picking of the cuticle is likely to impact and deform the appearance of the nail. The cuticle is the nail’s natural protective seal and once this is compromised, the new nail will grow in a very abnormal setting and if the problem persists, the nail itself will begin to grow irregularly.

Habit tic deformity is usually a result of onychotillomania, which is a compulsive and repetitive habit of picking at the nails specifically at the cuticle area.

Clients may or may not be aware of their habit. Most clients are aware of their habit, but simply don’t know how to break it or may be embarrassed to admit it. A habit just like biting nails, can take time and perseverance to break.

Nail after breaking the habit

There are discussions about applying cyanoacrylate to the cuticle area to prevent picking of the remaining or non-existent cuticle; however, this could cause skin irritation and is not a method which I would recommend. The application of topical treatments applied for nail biting can be used and can be successful with some clients. Just like nail biting, cessation of trauma to the nail is the most effective treatment for habit-tic deformity.

Learn more about the difference between preventative and restrictive contra-indications and how to differentiate them here.

Love Katie B x