Can’t stop biting your nails, picking your skin, or playing with your hair? New research suggests an incredibly simple technique could cure the problem
Millions of people who routinely pick their skin, bite their nails, or pull their hair could break the habit with a trick anyone can do.
It might sound too simplistic, but researchers in Germany have found that gently rubbing the skin whenever someone feels the urge can help combat the behaviors.
In a six-week study of 268 people, 53 percent of participants who used the behavior said they saw an improvement, compared to 20 percent of those who didn’t use the trick. Eighty percent said they would recommend the hack to a friend.
Researchers in Germany said gently rubbing the skin whenever someone felt the urge to pick at it or bite their nails could help kick the habit
One of the movements they suggested was to put your hands together and gently rub your fingertips together
Up to five percent of Americans — that’s 17 million people — suffer from the condition, which is medically known as body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB).
People compulsively pull their hair or pick their skin and cannot stop, even if scabs, scars, or bald patches develop.
Doctors say the behavior is likely related to stress or concerns about appearance.
In the past, patients were treated with behavioral therapies to help break the habit or treated with antidepressants.
In the latest study published in JAMA dermatologyIn 2022, scientists recruited people with BFRB through social media.
Most of the participants were in their 30s, with 68 percent reporting repeated skin-picking, while 36 percent reported repeated nail-biting and 28 percent said they constantly pulled their hair.
They were split into two groups, with one group told to practice the behavior while the rest were informed they were on a treatment waiting list.
To learn the technique, participants were sent a video and asked to choose one to three of the movements shown whenever they felt the urge to choose themselves.
This included gently circling the index and middle fingers around the top of the thumb without touching the nails, crossing your arms, and stroking the hairs on your forearms.
Participants could also put the fingertips of both hands together and then gently rotate the fingertips against each other.
They were encouraged to perform the behaviors whenever they felt like picking their skin or engaging in similarly harmful behavior until the urge subsided.
The results showed that patients who followed the behavior saw a “significant” improvement compared to the control group.
In their conclusion, the scientists wrote, “The present randomized proof-of-concept clinical trial provides preliminary evidence that habit replacement is a viable and effective self-help strategy.”
Other strategies included crossing your arms and gently rubbing the hair on the edges of your forearms
They theorized that the movement may have helped stop the behaviors by teaching someone an alternative and less harmful habit.
Natasha Bailen, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the research, shared NBC that this has been termed “uncoupling” or when a habit is unlearned by performing a similar movement that one can switch to.
She explained that, for example, someone who wants to bite their nails could put their hand to their face but touch an earlobe instead of their mouth.