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Finger Nail Anatomy and Composition

Now, is this post absolutely necessary? Umm… probably not. But, I like anatomy posts. I thought I’d share with you where some things are, mostly because I saw pics in my derm textbook and played a little with photoshop… As well, I’ll be referring to this post for some upcoming posts, like Thursday’s review of vitamins and how they affect your nails.

So, you can see here the nail matrix is underneath your cuticle basically, and this is where the nail is basically made. You can see its extension as the Lunula, the white semi-circle at the base of your nail bed. I think the other things are pretty self-explanatory. The hyponychium is the skin under your nail’s free edge and acts just like the cuticle, adhering to the nail to keep things together and prevent infection.

The nail itself is what we’re really interested in. The nail is made by the nail matrix, an area under the base of your thumb. This area is alive and needs to be nourished. So, the matrix creates the nail plate itself, slowly pushing it up and down your finger as it grows.

The nail plate is made by the nail matrix as the cells die off, becoming progressively thinned out and broadened. They fill with keratin (a protein) and even lose their nuclei. These cells are embedded within a matrix of more proteins and you’ll also find some elements (sulfur, calcium, iron, aluminum, copper, silver, gold, titanium, phosphorus, zinc, and sodium) just kind of hanging around in this area as well.

Obviously things don’t look exactly like I’ve depicted in this image, but I think it gives you a general idea. Dead flat cells, filled with protein. Big structural proteins (red and green) in the background and elements are found somewhere… in there. Yes. I didn’t show that the cells are actually cross linked together for more stability. They use cysteine bonds, which contain even more sulfur. Decreased cysteine levels have been found to cause brittle nails that split and chip.

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About Me

Iā€™m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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  1. 6.11.11
    Katrine said:

    Maybe you are able to answer a question then…. I've been wondering whether varnishing tin foil to the nail is a bad idea. I mean, it has obvious benefits (Shiny!), but as a general idea (wrapping a body part in tin foil?), I'd say no. I'd probably even hit the suggester (…me) on the head and put them (me, still) in a corner. To think on things. Like the difference between 'people' and 'food'. Any input? Do nails need to 'breathe'?

  2. 6.12.11
    Christine said:

    Because the nails are dead cells and protein they don't need to breathe. I wouldn't go for tin foil though, likely it would be nearly impossible to look perfect. I'd go for a foil nail polish instead. These polishes have irregularly shaped glitter that create a super shiny finish that kinda looks like… yes, foil. You can get them in all sorts of colors. What shade do you want? I'll look around for you.

  3. 6.12.11
    Katrine said:

    It was a never ending chorus from my mum when i was a kid – that I'd somehow suffocate my nails with extended polish use. I grew mighty paranoid for a while, there šŸ˜› I do know those actually. i just can't ever get them to look as shiny as I want – brushstrokes, for one, and the gray base in silvers cropping up too much. I'm probably doing it wrong, and also only have the one (an Essie silver), so there may be better ones. I haven't seen any others (in Denmark – fairly limited choices!), but if you have any recommendations for a good shiny silver I'd very much appreciate it!

  4. 6.12.11
    Christine said:

    There are definitely some that have issues with brush strokes! I have both Deborah Lippmann Stardust and China Glaze Cheers to You are bright and shiny. However, for a really foil and flawless looking manicure you need something like Minx Nails, I'm not sure if you can get those in Denmark though. šŸ™
    My friend Michelle from All Lacquered Up had some great near-minx like results with Nfu Oh, so that might be worth checking out too. šŸ˜€