The Structure and Growth of The Natural Nail

The human nail is not just the part we cut, file, and shape whenever we visit the nail salon, the nail is a collection of structures that work together to make up a single nail unit. Our fascination with long nails continues to grow and has established nails as a multi-billion dollar industry.

Ask someone to show you their fingernails, and they will usually point to the nail plate; however, the plate is only one of the many parts that comprise the complete nail unit.

Some functions of the human nail,

Nails serve several important purposes.

  • They help humans to perform simple tasks. When we look at some animals we can identify claws, well our nails are basically flat claws that help humans to dig, scratch around, climb, pick up small objects, etc.

  • They enhance the sensation. The fingers and toes contain nerve endings, these allow us to receive information about our environment whenever we touch or interact with it.

  • They protect the sensitive parts against injuries. The nail plate, just as the name suggests, these flat hard plates serve as a protective plate that helps the fingers and toes for constant injuries, pressure that may be sustained from daily activities.

Nail Growth

Let's examine the nail closely. Below is a cutaway/ section through the nail plate;


Proximal nail fold: In scientific terms, proximal means ‘nearest attached end’ and is the soft tissue that protects the emerging nail plate.

Lateral Nail fold: This is an extension of the proximal nail fold and protects each side of the nail plate.

Cuticle: Often confused for the eponychium, the cuticle, also called "true cuticle" is the part that nail care professionals remove during the manicure procedure. The cuticle is produced by the eponychium that sheds a colorless, thin layer of transparent skin that is seen above the nail plate. Always remember to allow only trained professionals to remove this layer of skin.

Eponychium: This is a very important part of the human nail, it is the visible part of the proximal nail fold that appears to end at the base of the nail. In my blog post, What's the Difference Between the Cuticle and Eponychium? I discuss the main features and differences, and how these two are frequently misunderstood in the nail care industry. It is a good read.

Lunula: This is an opaque pale white ‘half moon’ at the base of the nail, this part of the nail forms the emerging immature nail plate cells. When these opaque cells start to grow forward, they begin to turn hard, transparent, and flat by losing their inner material.

Free Edge: Also called the distal edge is the part of the nail unit where the nail plate and the nail bed lose contact.

Nail Plate: The nail plate is made of a strong protein called Keratin, formed from amino acids. flexible material made from many layers of dead flattened cells. Keratin is also the type of protein that makes hair and skin. The Nail Plate is basically the part of the nail unit where most of the modifications are done during a manicure or pedicure. All the cutting, trimming, filing, and shaping is done to the nail plate. In this post Getting a Manicure & Pedicure for Men. A step by Step Male Grooming Guide for Men. I detailed the steps to perform a manicure which included, shaping and trimming the nail plate. It is a good read, read more to learn what a manicure entails.

Matrix: The matrix is the factory for your nails. It produces the cells that become the nail plate. The width and overall thickness of the nail plate are determined by the size, shape, and length of the matrix. The different shapes of the nail plate, such as arched, flat, hooked, or ski-jump are determined by the shape of the distal phalanges or fingertip bones.

Nail Bed: The nail bed is made of two types of tissue: dermis and epidermis. The dermis is the lower portion which is attached to the bone, while the epidermis lies just underneath the nail plate. The epidermis moves forward with the nail plate and is attached to the dermis by tiny ‘rails and grooves that allow the nail plate to move As we age, the nail plate becomes thinner and we see evidence of the ‘rail and groove’ as vertical ridges in the nail plate.

Solehorn: This type of cuticle is a layer of translucent, dead tissue that is shed from the seal between the nail plate and the hyponychium. It either sloughs off on its own or is removed during the manicure process. This skin, if not properly removed, can become stained with nicotine and/or other chemicals and will give the appearance that the distal edge of the nail plate is discolored.

Hyponychium: This refers to the soft skin at the tip of the finger that is at the distal end of the nail unit. It represents the end of the nail bed and lies directly underneath the ‘free edge’.

Onychodermal Band: This is the seal between the nail plate and the tip under the nail or hyponychium. It is found just under the free edge and it has a grayish color. The onychodermal band is found in that portion of the nail where the nail bed ends. It cannot be seen on

Nail growth slows down as a result of aging and poor circulation. being that the hard nail is made up of keratin which is a protein as stated above, poor circulation will have a negative impact. poor circulation causes poor protein distribution to the matrix bed for nail production. Fingernails grow at a rate of 3 millimeters per month and usually, It takes about five to six months for a fingernail to grow from the root of the nail to the free edge. Toenails grow slower than fingernails, at just 1 millimeter per month. and sometimes take up to a year or two to grow from the root to the toe tips.

The matrix, or the factory of the nail, lies directly underneath the proximal nail fold adjacent to the nail root. The visible end of the matrix is seen as the lunula. The matrix cannot be seen on all nails but is generally seen on the thumbs, index, and middle fingers. As discussed above, the oldest cells are the most compact, making the nail plate harder and denser as it gets closer to the free edge. As they grow out, they lose their inner material and become flat, hard, and translucent. As a result, If you sustain any damage on the matrix, it can be observed on the emerging nail plate. The longer the matrix, the more cells it can produce, resulting in a thicker nail plate.

Ok lovies I hope you found this blog post informative. And remember your nails are important, spend time and money to take good care of them. Thanks for staying with me today, until next time, stay fabulous!

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