Know Your Nails
Which Part of the Nail is the Active Growing Area?
Have you ever stopped and really looked at your nails? I don’t mean silently admonishing yourself for the state of them, or giving yourself a pat on the back for the awesome manicure you’ve just finished. I mean looking at their structure, how they grow and fit onto the end of those weird digits that work so hard for us?
Even before we are born our nails start growing, becoming fully formed when the fetus is 11 weeks old, already starting to perform the task they were designed for which is to protect the tips of our fingers from being damaged. How amazing is that!
Nails are made up of keratin, a protein that forms long interlocking strands strands that form the hard flat surface of the nail bed. Hair, bird’s feathers, hooves and horns are also made by keratin locking together to form hard surfaces.
The protein cells are constantly being produced by the eponychium, and these push the older cells out of the way, causing them to be packed together and become interlocked. These older cells form the hard nail body that we see. This process continues all the time, 24/7, causing the tips of our nails to extend beyond our fingertips due to the new cells pushing forward from the nail base. The reason it isn’t painful to trim or file our nails, then, is because the part of the nail we see is dead.
The eponychium is protected by the cuticle. This small section of skin prevents any germs or bacteria getting into the eponychium and affecting its ability to produce new, healthy cells. This is why it’s so important to moisturize your cuticles whenever you can as a dry cuticle can become damaged very easily, allowing the nasties to get in.
Nails grow at approximately one tenth of an inch each month, but this can be dependant on a number of factors. Following a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet will reflect in your nail’s health and growth rate, also the time of year can have an effect, with nails growing slower in the dull winter months and increasing in the summer sun. Interestingly, the nails on your dominant hand grow faster, too, and science doesn’t quite know the reason for this. One theory is that using that hand a lot can increase blood flow, which in turn, brings essential nutrients to the base of the nails, allowing cell production to increase. Hormones and certain medication have also been shown to have an affect on nail growth; if you’re pregnant, you may well notice the need to file more frequently.
From when we are 11 weeks old, then, our nails keep growing throughout our lives, providing protection for our sensitive finger tips, and giving up the perfect surface for decoration. We are so awesome!