Many people ask if they can get cancer from biting nails. They might have read something on the Internet about how bad and dangerous it is to bite nails. Maybe they have found some articles about the possible consequences and saw the word cancer. No matter what – you will find different information on the Internet, so I hope this post will help you understand what is up and down in regards to this question.
Your fingernails (and for those also biting the skin around your nails) cannot give you cancer directly!
BUT – and this is a very important but – your fingernails are almost twice as dirty as your fingers, considering they are difficult to keep clean. This makes them a perfect place for all sorts of bacteria to hide, which will be transferred to your mouth and the rest of your body when you bite your nails. And this is not good!
What is hiding under our nails?
Your nails can be home for all sorts of germs, which are tiny little living organisms that you can´t see without a microscope. Germs can thrive under your fingernails, so putting them in your mouth is an open invitation for these germs to get into your system, where they significantly raise the risk of you becoming sick.
Salmonella and E. coli
In 2007 Turkish scientists tested 59 people to see if nail-biting would transport more bacteria to the mouth. It turned out that 76% of the people biting their nails had diarrhoea and vomiting bacteria such as E. coli and for non-biters, this number was 26.5%. Other studies from Birmingham´s Aston University have also shown traces of Salmonella. This is not a big surprise. Both Salmonella and E. coli belongs to a bacteria family that thrives very well under your nails.
Remember last time you were sick and had to stay home from work? Well – that could easily have been bacteria you got from biting your nails.
How does all that stuff get under our nails?
Think about a normal day.
You wake up and pay a visit to the toilet. No matter how clean you keep your toilet, there will be some bacteria. Yes – of course, you wash your hands afterward, but it is impossible to get rid of all the germs.
Throughout the day you will touch many things like the steering wheel in your car, keyboard and mouse, the coffee machine at work, your smartphone or maybe you used public transportation today.
You are getting exposed to thousands of bacteria every day and many of them end up under your fingernails. When you then bite your nails, these bacteria end up in your mouth and the rest of your body.
Long nails vs. short nails
So, it is better to have long or short nails?
A study in San Francisco shows that nails longer than 3 millimeters beyond the tip of the finger will carry more harmful bacteria and yeast under them, than short nails.
Other studies have also shown that artificial nails are collecting more bacteria than natural nails. This has not necessarily anything to do with the nail material but could be because some women, in an effort to protect their artificial nails, don´t wash their hands as effectively.
How do we keep our nails clean?
No matter how much you scrub, clean and wash, it is impossible to remove all germs. And especially under the nails – which is where a lot of them are hiding.
But regardless of your nail preference (short or long), frequent hand-washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs.
Follow these guidelines to properly wash your hands:
- Get your hands wet with warm running water.
- Apply soap and rub it in for 20 seconds.
- Make sure you get all around your hands, both sides.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel
You can also consider carrying a bottle of alcohol-based gel which has shown to be very effective in killing bacteria.