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Fingernails (or simply nails) are a functional part of the integumentary system that protects the underlying skin and receptors of the toes and fingers. Without them, these receptors would be exposed to damage and many harmful particles within the air. They can also be used as a means by which to express oneself. Fake nails and nail art are just a few of the ways women have showed off their own personal flair. Since the early centuries, women have grown their nails as long as possible to demonstrate high class and success. The nail is such a small piece of the greater makeup of the body, but its function is detrimental. God's handiwork can be seen in the delicate makeup of the nail and its purpose.


The nail, whether on the finger or the toe, is composed of various cells and materials, each with a specific function. The plate of the nail is composed of a protein called keratin, which offers the support and strength needed in everyday activities. Although strength is a crucial part of the nail’s anatomy, there are four key characteristics that make up a healthy nail. Those characteristics are hardness, strength, flexibility and toughness. The combination of these four help the nail endure and withstand pressure and harmful objects to an extent. The following list identifies the specific parts of the nail and their functions.

  • Proximal Nail Fold - soft tissue that protects the nail plate. The name's actual meaning is “Nearest attached end.”
  • Lateral Nail Fold - extension of the proximal nail extension and whose function is to protect each side of the nail plate.
  • Eponychium - part of the proximal nail folds that can be seen ending at the base of the nail.
  • Cuticle - thin, transparent layer of skin shed by the eponychium. The cuticle sits on the nail plate and seems to grow from under the proximal nail fold. This is the section removed during a manicure.
  • Lunula - white “half-moon” shapes located at the base of the nail. The lunula produces the cells that grow forward and become the flat nail surface.
  • Distal Edge - commonly known as the free edge of the nail.
  • Nail Plate - are made of many layers of dead, flattened, keratinized (filled with keratin protein) cells that protect and support.
  • Matrix - determines the shape and thickness of the nail. It also produces the cells that become the nail plate.
  • Nail Bed - made of the dermis and epidermis. The dermis attaches to the bone, and the epidermis is the upper portion right below the nail plate.
  • Solehorn - unique cuticle that sheds between the nail plate and hyponychium, either by natural means or manicure.
  • Hyponychium - soft skin located under the distal end of the nail.
  • Onychodermal Band - seal between the nail plate and hyponychium.


[1] The process of nail growth and development is quite fascinating. Interestingly, the nails grow the most during youth, reaching their peak development between the ages of ten to fourteen. Although the rate at which nails grow varies from person to person, there are certain factors that will inherently affect that rate. Factors such as age, health, weather, and diet all contribute to the overall growth rate and well being of the nail. Scientists have discovered that on average, the nail will grow approximately 3mm per month. This estimate is for a healthy nail, and does not take into consideration the factors mentioned above. The time it takes for the entire nail to grow out can take up to six months. The toenails take almost twice as long, requiring up to a full year to fully grow out.[1] However, any damage or contributing factors will increase this time frame even more. The state of sleep actually increases nail growth, while certain illnesses can slow down the process. The human nails grow at specific rates according to the finger. The “pinkie nail” grows slowest, followed by the thumb, other fingers, and the index being the last. Essentially then, the nail on the index finger grows at a faster rate than the rest of the nails.

The growth process begins at the end of the nail underneath the skin and epidermis. The actual nail itself grows from the nail matrix which eventually transitions into the nail bed.[2] It is in the matrix where the keratinized cells are produced (filled with the protein keratin), flattened, and brought forward to create the nail plate. Due to this maturing, the cells are hard and translucent as seen on the actual nail. The different shapes, textures, and density of nails are a direct result of the matrix’s size and shape. The nail's plate happens to be one of the strongest parts of the nail and is held together by interconnecting bands of protein fibers that aid in the nails strength. Flexibility is produced by natural oils and airflow from the underlying nail bed. Once the substance absorbs to the surface it creates a shiny coat and offers protection and flexibility. The nail plate sits forward on the nail bed and slowly wears away with age. [3] In order to grow properly, the nails require specific vitamins and minerals. Calcium, Vitamin b, folic acid, and water all contribute to smooth shiny nails sure to impress anyone. [4]


Ingrown toenail

Being one of the most exposed elements on the body, the nails are also the most susceptible to disease and infection. They come into contact with dirt, germs, and particles in the air and on everyday objects. The two most common types of problems encountered are fungal and bacterial. Other complications may result from simple malnutrition or bad diet. Many, but not all, nail disorders can be treated by a doctor and a simple prescription. Listed below are some of the most common nail disorders and complications.

  • Paronychia - infection of the nail fold that can be caused by fungus, bacteria, or a virus. This disease is very contagious and occurs when the barrier created by the proximal and lateral folds rips or tears. When this occurs, bacteria freely enter. Redness and infection occurs, along with a great deal of pain. Those working with their hand continually submersed in water are more susceptible to the disease. [5]
  • Pseudomonas - bacterial infection that occurs between the nail bed and plate or between an artificial nail and the nail plate. The disease feeds on dead tissues within the nail and lives in the moist warm spots. Some effects of this disease are the darkening of the nail bed and softening of the nail. It is not uncommon for the nail to turn a greenish color as well.[5]
  • Tinea Unguis - commonly known as ringworm, this condition results in nail deformities and thickening. If left untreated, a patient suffering from tinea unguis will eventually suffer nail plate loss.[5]
  • Onychorrhexis - nails that have split vertically due to the massive amount of brittleness. The causes of this condition can vary from heredity to exposure to chemical products. Certain rehydrating treatments are available, but is recommended to see a physician in order to rule out disease.[5]
  • Leuconychia - tiny white dots or lines located in the nail plate. These tiny marks are caused by bubbles of air trapped between the nail from certain types of trauma. Although annoying, the spots grow out as the nails plate grows.[5]
  • Brittle Nails - condition is caused by age or an overexposure to chemical products. Extensive water exposure also contributes to brittle nails. Vertical splitting and peeling layers result from this condition, and can easily be treated with an application of vitamin E. The rich oils in vitamin E provide nutrients for the nail which has been deprived of its natural oils.
  • Onychocryptosis - commonly referred to as an ingrown nail. This condition occurs when the nails grows and cuts into one, or both sides of the nail bed. Often times, the ingrown nail occurs with the toenails and can be extremely painful. One is advised to soak the foot in warm water, although surgery may be required depending on the seriousness of the condition. Redness and swelling occur, and can be minimized with proper care. It is crucial to monitor an ingrown nail due to the serious problems it can result in if untreated. [6]
  • Hangnail - small piece of skin that has been torn by the finger or toe nail. A hangnail can be easily treated by gently removing the piece of skin. One must be gentle in order not to rip the remaining skin left around the nail.[7]
  • Onychauxis - condition in which the nail plate is overly thick. Although uncertain, doctors believe this may be a result of an internal disorder. [5]
  • Koilonychia - caused by iron deficiency in the body; often accompanies anemia. The nail will appear thin and concave. A person suffering from koilonychias is advised to see a physician for medical treatment.[5]

Personal Hygiene

An important reminder to wash your hands in order to keep your nails and total body healthy.

Maintaining clean, healthy nails is not only for women trying to look pretty, it also has many health benefits. The nails are exposed to numerous germs and bacteria daily, and should therefore, be thought of as part of the hand. One of the most important ways to ensure cleanliness is by washing one's hands. Any bacterial build up or infection located on the hands or under the nails can be easily taken care of with this simple action. A doctor may even ask to check a patient's nails during a checkup in order to look for signs of diabetes or amnesia. There are many other easy and quick processes one can do in order to keep the nails clean and healthy. To prevent brittleness or cracking, it is very important to always wear gloves when handling strong chemical products. A person working extensively with water should be sure to prevent too much nail exposure to the water. Another key to keeping up nail maintenance is not biting the nails. Although this common habit will not cause any long term affects, it can cause colds and even the flu due to the spreading of germs to the mouth. The area bordering the nail bed may also become irritated causing an annoying, and painful situation. Regularly checking for any sign of disease or damage is also important. Some signs to look for are discoloration, pitting, curling, and white nails. If any of this sign arise, one is advised to see their doctor right away. [8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nail Anatomy and Structure Nail and Beauty Solutions, Accessed 5/11/10
  2. Normanallan “Finger Nails”, Accessed 5/10/10
  3. Understanding your Natural Nails Hooked on Nails, Marti Preuss, 2000.
  4. Nail growth. Livestrong 1/23/10 Livestrong “Nail Growth”, Accessed 5/11/10
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Nail Diseases and Disorders Hooked on Nails, Marti Preuss, 2000.
  6. Ingrown Nail Wikipedia, Accessed 5/11/10
  7. Hangnail Wikipedia, Accessed 5/11/10
  8. MayoClinic “Nails: How to Keep Your Finger Nails Long and Healthy”, MayoClinic Staff, Nov 25, 2008

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