Nail is an integral part of the human fingers and toes, corresponding to the claw, hoof or talon of animals and birds. It is plate-like, translucent structure, mainly composed of a tough protective layer of protein called alpha-keratin. The growth of the nails start from the nail base at the fingers or toes and the nail base also supplies the nail bed and the plate the required nutrients.
The nail bed is very rich in blood vessels and keeps the nail alive until the part of the nail is in contact with the nail bed. Once the plate of the nail grows out of the boundary, the cells of that part of the nail die.
The most important function of the nail is to protect the tips of the fingers and toes from trauma. We use the edge of the nails for various purposes like opening lids, scratching, digging into something soft and keeping it beautiful.
While fingers and toes contain millions of nerve endings for sensation, nails provide the counterforce to provide a better input to the sensory information received in fingers or toes.
Growth of nails:
- The nails grow at the base of the nails, under the skin. The new cells keep pushing the old cells further and further until they reach outside the nailbed. Here they are either trimmed by us, or fall of by themselves.
- Fingernails grow very slowly, at about 2.5 millimeters a month. If a nail has been detached from the nail bed, it takes about 5-6 months to regrow to the full extent. Toenails grow at a much slower rate.
Parts of the nail:
The edge of the nail root appears as a white crescent, called the lunula and lies under the skin, below the nail and extends up to a few millimeters into the finger. The nail and the nail bed grow from here.
Nail bed extends from the nail root, up to the hyponychium. Millions of blood vessels and nerves. Melanocytes are found in nail bed, which produce melanin for the nail.
Keratin is the main constituent of the nail plate, the part of the nail that is seen on the finger. Healthy nail is characterized by its pink colour, which is due to the network of blood vessels under it. The nail has grooves underneath it so that it anchors to the nail bed.
Also known as Cuticle, it is the area between the skin of the finger and the nail plate. The cuticle acts as a seal to fuse the nail plate and skin and also acts as a water barier.
The skin that overlaps on the nail plate on the sides of the finger is called perionychium and is most vulnerable to infection and other problems of the nails.
This is the site at the tip of the finger, where the free edge of the nail plate is in contact with the skin. This also provides a water-proof barrier.
Nail care is important to maintain hygiene and keep oneself free from infections. Trimmed and moisturized nails and fingers help in healthy growth of nails. Nail paints can be used, but make sure that you don’t use the painted nails during eating, cooking or licking something out of them. Manicures and pedicures are done at professional level to keep the hands clean of dead cells and extra growth of cuticles, apart from trimming and filing the nails. However, make sure that the salon maintains the tools well and sterilizes them after use on each and every customer.