what are nails made of

What are nails made of and why do we have them?

Ever looked down at your hands and thought about what our fingernails are doing there? What are nails made of? Why do we have them? Well you’re in the right place! Learn all about your fingernails and why we have them below.

What are fingernails?

Fingernails are produced from living skin cells in our fingers. They are made up of the following parts:

  • The nail plate: the part of the nail you can see

  • The nail bed: the skin underneath the nail bed

  • The cuticle: the layer of clear skin that overlaps and forms a rim at the base of the nail plate

  • The nail folds: the skin that supports and frames the nail on three sides

  • The lunula: the white-ish half-moon shape at the base of your nail

  • The matrix: the buried part of the nail found under the cuticle

What are nails made of?

Fingernails are mostly made up of a hardened protein called keratin – you can also find it in skin and hair. New nail cells are produced in the matrix and the older cells get pushed out. As these older cells are compacted, they take the hardened, flattened form of the fingernail.

How fast do nails grow?

Some people go to sleep and wake up with what seems like a whole lot more nail and others struggle to get their nails to grow at all. The average nail growth rate is 1cm in 100 days (or 0.1mm a day). This differs from person to person, with factors like age, sex, diet and time of the year affecting how fast nails grow. Young males in the summer tend to have the fastest growing nails – try to control your jealousy ladies!

Why do we have fingernails?

We often think of nails as a fun way to add decoration to ourselves – going to lengths like adding layers of plastic onto them to make them look pretty. Other than that, they’re good for scratching an itch or helping to peel off labels, amongst other everyday tasks. But surely, they have more of a purpose?

It turns out that we have fingernails because we are primates. Fingernails are what distinguish us primates from other mammals who have claws. Mammals use claws to climb, dig holes and grab and scratch things, and it’s suspected that primates ‘lost’ their claws to aid their locomotion.

Fingernails are sort of like flattened claws that are handy for grasping smaller branches while scampering across tree canopies and collecting fruits. Now humans have a broader fingertip than most other primates, which is thought to be why we are so good at using tools, etc.

How to look after your fingernails

Whether you use your fingernails to grasp branches… or like them to look pretty, it’s important to keep your nails nice and healthy. Most of the time if your nails look normal, they are probably healthy. They’re quick to tell you if they’re not with tell-tale signs such as breaking and splitting and becoming discolored, read about what your nails could be saying about your health here .

If you’re nails are looking relatively healthy but may be weaker or maybe a little less pretty than they once were, a general nail MOT could be what they need. Here are some tips for keeping your fingernails in check:

  • Keep ’em clean: maintaining good hand and nail cleanliness is perhaps the easiest yet one of the most important factors in keeping your nails looking food. Make sure your nails and the skin surrounded them are dirt free. The same goes for when you’re removing nail varnish – use an acetone-free remover if possible.

  • Be gentle: don’t scrub at them or use mental tools under the nail.

  • Clip them regularly: just like your hair, your nails need to be trimmed regularly – try for every 2 weeks.

  • Keep a nail file close by: often get rough edges on your nails while you’re out and about? File the problem away as soon as it happens to avoid further damage

And that’s just a short guide! Read our 13 top tips to strengthen nails and keep them healthy.

Last updated: 29 April 2020



Nail HealthNatural Beauty