Nail Anatomy and Function | Minnesota

Nail fungus is a common disease in Minnesota. Many people in the Minneapolis and St Paul areas seek medical advices from their doctors every year. This blog briefly introduces the nail anatomy and function, which helps the patients to know more about nails.

Nail Anatomy

A nail covers the dorsal aspect of the distal parts of fingers and toes. The nails are made of a tough protein called keratin. The matrix is the tissue which the nail protects. It is the part of the nail bed that contains nerves, lymph and blood vessels. The matrix is responsible for producing cells that become the nail plate. The width and thickness of the nail plate is determined by the size, length, and thickness of the matrix. The paronychium is the border tissue around the nail and paronychia is an infection in this area.


A nail has the function of protecting the distal phalanx from injuries. It also serves to enhance the sensitivity of the fingertip. Finally, the nail functions as a tool for the extended precision grip”.


The growing part of the nail is under the skin at the nail’s proximal end. In humans, fingernails grow up to four times faster than toenails. In humans, nails grow at an average rate of 3 mm a month. Fingernails require three to six months to regrow completely, and toenails require 12 to 18 months. Actual growth rate is dependent upon age, sex, season, exercise level, diet, and hereditary factors.

In contrast to the general believing that the nail is an impermeable barrier, it is much more permeable than the skin, and the composition of the nail includes 7-12% of water. This permeability has implications for penetration by harmful and medicinal substances.

Effect of nutrition

A lack of vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium can cause dryness and brittleness. Not enough B12 vitamin can lead to excessive dryness, darkened nails, and rounded or curved nail ends. Insufficient intake of both vitamin A and B results in fragile nails with horizontal and vertical ridges. Protein is a building material for new nails; therefore, low dietary protein intake may cause white nail beds. A lack of protein combined with deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin C produce hangnails. Essential fatty acids play a large role in healthy skin as well as nails. Splitting and flaking of nails may be due to a lack of linoleic acid. Iron-deficiency anemia can lead to a pale color along with a thin, brittle, ridged texture.

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