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Skin, Hair and Nails > Nails

Our finger and toe nails are to protect and shield our extremities.

The nails are horny plates firmly attached to the nail bed of our fingers and toes. They are made up of keratin cells as is our hair. They are about 0.4 - 0.8mm thick and consist of the front free edge - the body of the nail or nail plate which is - and the nail matrix, which is embedded in the proximal nail fold.

Like our skin, the health of our nails is a reflection of the health of our bodies. Strong healthy nails are the result of a good diet and lifestyle.

Nail Structure

  • Nail Wall
    Folds of skin that overlap the sides of the nail. It holds your nail in place and protects the nail plate edges.
  • Matrix
    The only living reproducing part of the nail, this is situated directly below the cuticle. New cells form here and continually push towards to produce the nail plate. It also contains blood vessels and nerves. Blood supply provides the cells with nourishment. If the matrix is damaged the nail will grow deformed.
  • Lunula or half moon
    Meeting point for the matrix and nail bed. Pearly coloured and crescent shaped due to the cells being pushed closely together, the blood capillaries cannot be seen through the lunula because of this.
  • Nail Plate
    Visible nail that rests on the nail bed up to the free edge. This is made up from dead cells (that have been pushed up from the matrix) and minimum amount of moisture. The nail is semi-transparent – allowing the colour of blood supply of the dermis to show through (pinky colour).
  • Nail Bed
    Part of the nail that the nail plate rests on, also a continuation of the matrix. It is abundantly supplied with blood vessels and nerves, having numerous parallel ridges which dovetail exactly with the ridges on the under surface of the nail plate.
  • Free Edge
    Is an extension of the nail plate. It overlaps the hyponichium. This part of the nail must be cut, filed and shaped.
  • Cuticle
    This is the overlapping epidermis surrounding the nail. It protects the matrix from invading bacterial (good and bad, pathogens) and physical damage.
    • Eponychium - base of the nail.
    • Peronychium - sides of the nail.
    • Hyponichium - The portion of the skin at the end of the finger that is underneath the free edge.
    • Nail Groves or furrows - Are at the side of the nails upon which the nail moves on and acts as a guideline for the nail to follow.

Nail Growth
Several things can affect the growth of your nails including age, diet and poor health and it can take between 5 - 6 months for the nail to grow from the matrix to the free edge.

  • Smaller children – the growth is rapid 6 – 8 weeks.
  • Normal adults – growth can be between 0.5 – 1.2 mm a week.
  • The nail plate growth slows on average 25% - 33% over a normal lifetime.
  • Nails will grow quicker:
    • In younger people rather than older people
    • During pregnancy
    • In the summer than in the winter
    • On the hands rather than the feet.

Nail Care and Problems
If the nail is lost or injured, it will generally grow back, but if the matrix is damaged the nail may grow back deformed. 

  • Trimming
    Keeping your nails trimmed/cut/filed so that the free edge is no more that 2 - 5 mm means that they are less likely to catch and break
  • Ingrown Nails
    Sometimes the nails, especially toe nails will in grow at the sides. To help remedy this, cut the nail more straight which encourages the nail edges to lift.
  • Brittle nails
    May have a low water content effecting the flexibility of the nails, so drinking more water and improving your diet and lifestyle will help to strengthen your nails.
  • Nail varnishes and oils
    Can temporarily protect and strengthen nails, however nail polish removers can damage nails.



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