Fingernail Anatomy, Nail Saving Tips

Your nails are made up of layers of keratin — a protein that's also found in your hair and skin. Each nail is comprised of several parts,

Nail Structure

The structure we know of as the nail is divided into six specific parts - the root, nail bed, nail plate, eponychium (cuticle), perionychium, and hyponychium. Each of these structures has a specific function, and if disrupted can result in an abnormal appearing fingernail.

Nail plate. The nail plate is the actual fingernail, made of translucent keratin. The pink appearance of the nail comes from the blood vessels underneath the nail. The underneath surface of the nail plate has grooves along the length of the nail that help anchor it to the nail bed.

Nail folds This is the skin that frames each of your nails on three sides.

Nail bed Your nail bed is the skin beneath the nail plate.

Cuticle The cuticle of the fingernail is also called the eponychium. The cuticle is situated between the skin of the finger and the nail plate fusing these structures together and providing a waterproof barrier. Your cuticle tissue overlaps your nail plate at the base of your nail.

Lunula The lunula is the whitish, half-moon shape at the base of your nail.

Perionychium The perioncyhium is the skin that overlies the nail plate on its sides. It is also known as the paronychial edge. The perionychium is the site of hangnails, ingrown nails, and an infection of the skin called paronychia.

Hyponychium The hyponychium is the area between the nail plate and the fingertip. It is the junction between the free edge of the nail and the skin of the fingertip, also providing a waterproof barrier

Pterygium Inversum Unguis is an acquired condition characterized by a forward growth of the hyponychium characterized by live tissue firmly attached to the underside of the nail plate, which contains a blood supply and nerves.  Possible causes are systemic, hereditary, or from an allergic reaction to acrylics or solvents.  Never use force to 'push back' the advancing hyponychium -- it is an extremely painful approach, and will result in a blood flow.

  This is what I have and as my nails grow the skin grows. (extended nailbed)

Left--See how my nail bed appear to be extra long.
Right--See the skin growing up the nail (hyponychium)

When my nails break down into the nailbed that hyponychium is very sensitive.  In time it shrinks away and when nails grow back long its back again.  Does your nails grow like this too?   

Growth of Your Nails

Unlike hairs, your nails grow continuously throughout life and are not normally shed. Your nails grow approximately one-half to one millimeter per week. It takes from five to seven months for a nail plate to completely replace itself - from the time it is formed at the root, until it reaches out beyond the finger tip. Toenails grow more slowly, a third to half the rate of fingernails. A thickernail usually grows more slowly than a thin nail. Nails grow more quickly in the daytime and during the summer. The nail on the middle finger grows fastest, with the rate progressively decreasing on the fourth, second and fifth fingers with the thumb the slowest. If a nail is injured and falls off, it is usually replaced at the normal growth rate. If the matrix is destroyed, a new nail will not grow. If the matrix is damaged, the new nail will grow distortedly. In right-handed people the nails grow more quickly on the right hand, with left hand nail growth faster on left-handed people.

A Few Nail-Saving Tips

1. Dial the telephone with the end of a pencil, not your fingertips.

2. Avoid picking up objects when it means your fingertips may strike a hard surface - slide the object off into your hand.

3. Don't use your nails to pry, cut or scrape.

4. Use a letter opener, not your fingernail, to open envelopes and packages.

5. Wear rubber gloves when doing dishes or other "tough on the nails" jobs.

6. Manicure your nails regularly since nail polish can protect the nail surface.

7. Dig your nails into a bar of soap before gardening to prevent dirt getting under the nails - or wear gardening gloves.

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  1. Wow that was so informative! I always thought it was the middle finger that grew the slowest and the ring finger the fastest. My hyponychium also doesn't grow like yours on the under side of the nails, but maybe that's because I just started growing long nails. I wish it would, I hate dirt getting stuck underneath!

  2. Thanks for all this info!! My ring finger also seems to grow the fastest, who knew it was your middle finger?? Also my hyponychium doesn't grow like yours, which makes me sad because I'm always getting grime under my nails and digging it out. :(

  3. Cheryl: both my ring and middle fingers grows about the same but the thumb is surely the slowest. Hey, I never thought about not have dirt stuck in my nails due to having the extended hyponychium I guess that is a plus but boy does it hurt when my nails break :/

    VV: These articles sometimes aren't always right with everyone. Ha Ha! By having the over extended hyponychium most times my nails break down into the bed making them uneven until they grow back out.

  4. nails grow like yours too! When they are polished, they look much longer than thet actually are (that's a good thing)It doesn't happen to my thumbs, but on the rest of the nails, with the emphasis on the index fingernail. Thanks for that info, I didn't know of anyone else who had that.

  5. Wow, so much information I did not know, Thank U!

    Sometimes my hyponychium recedes and I have to cut my nails and wait till it grows back.

  6. Oh man! I am a walking don't. I only do #6 and use my nails as tools. Opps! The post was informative - thanks.

  7. Thanks for this, this is really informative!

    Actually my little finger seems to grow the fastest, followed by my ring finger. *ponders* Anyway, interesting post!

  8. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for this!

  9. Awesome post. Only my index finger & thumb has the same hyponychium situation as yours. I know that sounds odd, right? Your nails seem to grow so fast girl. I am clipping mine all of the time b/c I prefer an active length. I use my knuckles to press elevator buttons, atm buttons etc (insert germophobe here) LOL .

  10. Hi, nice post. I also recently covered this on my blog. I have one addition to the nail anatomy. The cuticle is made of two parts. The live skin is called the eponychium and should not be cut while the true cuticle grows on the nail plate and is dead therefore can be safely cut/trimmed. I have pictures if you want to see the difference.

  11. All my nails have that high hyponychium you have. I remember when I was little I would hate getting my nails clipped because my mum didn't realise my nails were different to hers (they even bled once). Her free nail starts way before the end of her finger.

  12. I know this post is about a year old but it's very informative. I was freaking out because I thought something was wrong with my nails when I noticed the skin underneath was raised up. It only started to look like that after I got acrylics. Now I see that it's normal and nothing to worry about. Thank you!

  13. very informative! i always wondered what on earth that skin is doing on the underside of my nail.

    great blog post!

  14. After reading this, I do believe I have the Pterygium Inversum Unguism thing a little bit on my fingernails, more so on my toenails. I always thought I had warts under the edges of my toenails, but now I think it's just callused hypo...stuff. :)

  15. I have extended nail beds on my toes and it gets painful sometimes when I wear closed shoes. Is there any way I can treat them? :( :(

  16. Incredibly informative! My skin also grows slightly up the underside of my nails. Must be a con of having long nail beds....


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