What are nails made of?

What are nails made of?

In your everyday life, you probably think about your fingernails. But it might also be true that you think about them in an aesthetic sense. You might look at their shape, consider the color of your next mani, or focus on keeping them at a certain length. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself—what are nails made of? And why do we have fingernails in the first place? Knowing a few details about their composition and structure is key when it comes to keeping nails healthy. So, here is a short guide with just about everything you should know about nails.

What are nails made of?

Nails are composed of keratin, which is a type of hardened protein. Keratin forms cells that make up your fingernails and toenails. Curiously, keratin is also what your hair and skin are made of. And that information helps answer a common question–-are nails bones? No, they are not.

Structure of the nail

The structure of your nails is far more complex than you might have realized. The parts of the fingernail are as follows:

  • The matrix–where your nail comes from
  • The nail plate
  • The nail bed
  • The cuticle–a protective membrane that seals the nail plate to the fingertip
  • The nail folds
  • The lunula–the white base of your nail
  • Hyponychium–the pink skin underneath the nail
  • Sinus–the base of your nail found underneath the skin
  • Free edge–the white part above your fingertip that you can trim

Where do nails grow from?

As you now may know, nails grow out of the part that is called the matrix. You can find nerves, lymph, and blood vessels in the matrix. With regards to where it’s found, it’s hidden just under the cuticle. Nails are formed when older cells are pushed out from the matrix by new ones. These older cells are then compacted and grow into what we know as the nail.

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Where do nails grow from
Have you ever considered where do your nails grow from?

Why do we have fingernails at all?

As primates, humans have opposable thumbs and nails instead of claws. In fact, the common ancestors of all primates evolved opposable thumbs, which helped them grasp branches and other smaller objects. Fast forward to the present day, it’s still obvious that our fingernails are very helpful. Here are just a few ways that your nails most likely prove useful:

  • You often use your nails as a tool, for example, when opening that soda can or when peeling an orange
  • They can serve as a form of weapon. When being attacked, you can scratch and hurt the perpetrator
  • As our fingertips contain many nerve endings and blood vessels, nails can shield the tips and protect them
  • Nails increase the sensitivity of our fingertips, thus helping our tactual sensation

What do healthy nails look like?

A typical, healthy-looking nail has an even color, it’s smooth, and it doesn’t have any pits or grooves. However, external factors and health issues can affect how our nails look. Regular manicures that don’t allow your nails to breathe can, over time, weaken them and lead to breakage. Cleaning with harsh chemicals and not wearing protective gloves can also prove detrimental to the condition of your nails. Finally, various diseases, such as those to do with the thyroid, can also impact the condition of your nails.

What do healthy nails look like
It’s worth to remember the importance of nail care

How to keep nails healthy

The more you learn about your nails, including what are fingernails made of, the better you can tweak your daily habits to keep them healthy. Your dietary habits should include proteins, fatty acids, and plenty of water. For that extra boost, you can also consider taking a biotin supplement. As for external factors, keep your nails clean and try not to bite them, as this may lead to infections. Trim them, and if possible, don’t overdo those manis. Between manicures, give them time to breathe and regenerate. Always properly remove gel nails or acrylics, as peeling them off can lead to severe damage. And finally, always, we mean always, when cleaning your house, wear protective gloves.

Facts about nails

  • Your fingernails grow faster than your toenails
  • A common misconception is that nails continue to grow when you die. This, however, is not true
  • Fingernails on your dominant hand grow faster
  • If you have a thin, curved nail with ridges, you may be suffering from an iron deficiency
  • You can tell from someone’s nails whether they’ve taken drugs or drank alcohol over the last few months
  • Onychophagia is the name of the nervous habit of nail-biting

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