The reason nose picking is a worse habit than you think

Picking your nose looks weird if you do it around other people, and most people don't do this past early childhood once they realize it's not exactly socially acceptable. However, even if you're all by yourself, you probably shouldn't root around in your nostrils, either. Picking your nose is a bad habit and not just for social reasons — it's bad for your health, too.

There are a couple of ways nose picking can be unhygienic and could be physically bad for you. For starters, digging around in your nose with a finger opens your nostrils up to scratches and scrapes from your fingernail (via Time). Dr. Brett Comer, a head and neck surgeon and assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Kentucky, said that the skin that resides inside your nose is delicate and can be damaged more easily than other skin.

Even worse, once you have a cut inside your nostril, it can take forever to heal, and sometimes, a scab inside your nose is irresistible if you're already in the habit of picking your boogers. "You feel it, and you pick again, which reopens the wound and creates more scabbing, and so you keep picking," says Comer. "It's a vicious cycle."

Health woes from picking your nose

Also, picking your nose means you're literally shoving your fingers inside your nostrils — fingers that are very likely not 100 percent clean and sterile. Dr. Vijay Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Colorado, says that the undersides of fingernails are chock full of bacteria, so if you have open wounds inside your schnoz, they might become infected.

Even if you don't have abrasions inside your nose, you could be packing your snout full of viruses or bacteria (courtesy of the already-mentioned dirty fingernails). This can give these germs easy access to your innards and could set you up for a cold, influenza, or something even worse. Normally, germs have to work their way in through your body's natural defenses, but if you're putting your fingers inside your actual nose, you're giving them a head start. 

If you're still in the habit of rooting around in your nose, it's good to know that proper handwashing can cut down on the number of bad germs you're introducing into your nasal cavity. The CDC helpfully outlines the best way to do so. You should first wet your hands with clean, running water — temperature doesn't matter — turn off the tap, and then apply soap. Lather your hands very well with the soap, and it's important to not focus just on your palms — get under those nails, too. Scrub them for at least 20 seconds, then turn the tap back on and rinse them well with clean, running water.

While this may not get rid of every single bad germ lurking on your fingers, it will vastly cut down on your chances of introducing extra grossness into your nose when you do a little digging. Don't ignore your hands (and fingers) after your nose-picking adventures, either — if you do find yourself picking your nose, definitely wash your hands afterwards to prevent spreading even more germs. 

Ways to break your nose picking habit

If you are a nose picker and would like to cut down on the habit, there are a few strategies you can try out. Niket Sonpal, MD, a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist based in New York City, told Well + Good that a few environmental adjustments could help you cut down on nose-picking. For starters, he suggests bumping up the humidity in the home with a humidifier, which can keep your nasal passages from drying out and forming those oh-so-tempting, crusty boogers. 

Also, if you're up for some major changes in your home, rip out your carpets — they look great, but they trap and hold allergens that can keep your nose producing more mucus than you'd like. You should clean on the regular for the same reasons, because of all the extra dust floating around and adhering itself to the surfaces in your home. 

Picking your nose may not be socially acceptable, but even if you mine your beak in private for whatever reason, you could be causing yourself health issues. Try to cut down on nose picking if possible, and keep in mind how much bacteria could be teeming on the underside of your fingernails if you're having trouble kicking the habit.