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Habit Busters

There's this thing about getting rid of a bad habit that grade school teachers (and doubtless a few high school guidance counselors) like to point out. You have to get rid of a habit a little at a time -- and as a visual tool, they write the word "habit" on the blackboard. A little work and a swipe of the eraser, and there's "abit" of it left. More work, another swipe, and there's still a "bit" left. A little further in time and it's certainly diminished -- but you still have "it." Redouble your efforts, erase the board, and it's gone.

That's just a little sophistry based on a coincidence of spelling, but it makes a good point. Bad habits, no matter how destructive or self-sabotaging they are, can be gradually erased if you're willing to work at them. It won't happen all at once, but it'll happen.

Many habits we develop are self-destructive, and when it comes to skin and nails, the damage can be literal. With both, your worst habit can be a failure to properly take care of what can be your most valuable assets, in terms of looking youthful and presentable. Your best way to deal with both bad habits? Invest the time, effort, and money in a good daily skin cleansing routine, and in a weekly program of nail care. In the long run, both will be worth the effort. If you want the best-looking skin and nails, you should also make a conscious effort to keep yourself healthy: exercise, eat a diet rich in lean meats, fruit and vegetables, and avoid too much caffeine, sugar, and fried foods. Even more importantly, you'll have to avoid smoking: cigarette smoke can dry out skin tremendously and discolor your fingernails, not to mention all the nasty things it does to the interior of your body.

Your hands and fingernails are, sadly enough, especially likely to get abused. One bad habit you should avoid is changing your nail color more than once a week, at least until they invent that handy gadget that lets you change the color with the touch of a button, like that receptionist in the movie Total Recall. Stripping and reapplying your nail polish is bad simply because it involves the use of fingernail polish remover, which is made from harsh chemicals that can dry out your skin. For some of us, this habit's going to require a little discipline; try keeping a notation on an organizer or calendar of the day you've set aside for nail care, and stick to that schedule, not allowing yourself to change nail polish on any other days.

Some of us also have the bad habit of using our lovely, long nails as tools. Shame on you! A thumbnail is neither an eggshell cracker nor a letter opener, no matter how well it might seem to work. Do it once too often and you'll end up with chips, cracks, or worse, a break -- which will take a long time to repair, unless you're willing to hide your break with nail enhancements.

Of course, the very worst thing you can do to your nails is to bite them. We all get nervous or worried, and biting your nails can be normal in such situations -- but it can also be habit-forming. At some point, you might find yourself biting a nail just because you've noticed that it's gotten long. Let's enumerate all the bad things that fingernail biting does:

- It's ugly and hard to fix.
- No matter how much you try to spit the nail fragments out, some will end up in your digestive system, eventually lodging in the body's junk drawer -- the appendix. This could lead to appendicitis.
- It weakens the affected nail.
- No matter how evenly you do it, it can cause splitting and cracking.
- It can cause pain, bleeding, and nail bed infection if done overenthusiastically.

Of course, these things apply to all your nails -- so no nibbling on those toenails, even if you are that flexible.

If you make a conscious effort to get rid of your nail-biting habit and it doesn't work, you can experiment with homegrown remedies like dusting your nails with cayenne pepper or painting them with Tabasco sauce. The problem there is, if you touch a sensitive part of your body with said fingers, you may just find yourself in exquisite pain. Therefore, you may want to try the various commercial nail-biting prevention products meant to deter you by flavor. The idea is that you put the product on your nails, and if you try to bite your nails the result is a taste so unbelievable foul that you'll be broken of the habit in no time. Those who have tried these products report that some don't taste all that bad, but others apparently taste like an unholy mixture of gym socks, old underwear, bad Limburger, and intestinal products too nasty to name. This should help you break the habit right away -- if you can bring yourself to use such a noxious product.
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