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Structure of the Nail


Nails serve as protection for the tips of the fingers and toes. Nails are also the focus of beauty routines, and keeping nails healthy increases the appeal of the nails. Discoloration and changes in shape may indicate undiagnosed medical conditions. A deeper look at the structure of the nail can help understand all of these factors.

Growth of the Nail

The rate of growth depends on issues such as general health, adequate nutrition, age, and even the time of year. Under optimal conditions, the nail grows approximately one eight of an inch each month. Toenails have a slower rate of growth than fingernails. Growth occurs from the base of the nail, behind the place commonly called the moon. This is where the matrix is located. Cells in the matrix form keratin that becomes the nail. Keratin is a tough yet elastic structural protein that makes up nails. It also composes the shells of turtles, feathers, and beaks of birds, and quills of porcupines.

Anatomy of a Nail

The nail root is the portion where growth occurs. It is located beneath the skin at the base of the nail and extends out several millimeters. Just beyond the root is the lunula or moon. This is a whitish curved half-moon shaped area. The nail plate is the name for the fingernail that forms from the matrix in the root. It is translucent allowing a view of the blood vessels that lie beneath the nail in the nail bed. The cuticle is an extension of skin from the finger that protects the base of the nail.

Health of the Nail

A healthy nail appears smooth, free from discoloration, and pink in color. Vertical ridges running from the base to tip are generally harmless, as are small white spots caused by minor injuries to the base of the nail. Good nutrition and overall health are key points in maintaining the health and appearance of the nail. Nails and cuticles should be moisturized frequently. Trimming the cuticle can lead to infection. Keep nails clean and filed. Don’t bite or pick at nails, this can weaken or break the nails.

Nails as a Mirror to Your Health

Nail health and appearance can reflect general health issues. A change in color or shape of the nail may indicate serious health problems. According to several sources red nail beds may indicate heart disease, pale white and brittle nails may specify anemia, and pitting or rippling of the nail surface may be a sign of psoriasis.

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