Ask the Salon Services Expert – Beverly Ashdown


Ask the Salon Services Expert – Beverly Ashdown

Nails 101: What’s In a Nail? Part I

Fingernails are made up of much more than what we see. They grow in varying sizes and shapes, as well as varying degrees of strength. To understand how the fingernail grows, it is important to understand its structure.

The structure of the nail can be broken down into several parts. The first and possibly the most important is the matrix, or mother of the nail. If the matrix has been badly damaged, it will affect how or if the nail will grow.

The matrix continually produces new keratin protein cells that push forward, causing the nail to grow. When the keratin cells leave the matrix, they are round, white and plump.  These cells at the front end of the matrix usually first become visible as the lunula, or moon, the whitish area of the nail plate located at the base.

After leaving the matrix, the nail cells begin a process of compressing and flattening, forming the nail plate, and turn completely translucent. Their translucence allows the color of the nail bed to show through. The matrix determines the shape, width and thickness of the nail. A short matrix produces a thin nail; a long matrix produces a thick nail.

When it comes to nail growth, each nail plate grows at a different rate, which is determined by numerous factors. The thumbnail grows about 1.5 inches a year, and the left usually grows faster than the right. As a rule the longer the finger, the faster the nail plate grows.  Nails grow faster in summer than in winter, and the two fastest-growing nails are the index followed by the ring finger.

The solehorn of the nail is attached firmly to the bottom of the nail plate and begins to pull away from the dermis as the nail grows. It forms tiny rails that fit into equally tiny grooves found in the dermis. This rail-and-groove system allows the nail plate to slide across the nail bed as new cells move toward the free edge. If you have ever seen thin, dark, splinter-like lines on your nails, they are splinter hemorrhages. If the nail is damaged, the tiny blood vessels beneath can break and leak blood causing a tiny “nail bruise”, or hemorrhage, which will follow along in the groove until it grows off the free edge.

The eponychium and lateral folds are living tissue that surround the nail plate and protect the nail bed and matrix. The eponychium is the living tissue at the base of the nail and is often mistakenly called cuticle. This is a very important part of the nail, as the epoychium acts as a guard, protecting the matrix. This area should always be treated with care.

Cutting the living eponychium can lead to serious infection, as cutting breaks its seal, allowing bacteria to enter. Cutting also causes the living tissue to grow back thicker and harder each time it is cut, as a protective response.  The only time it is safe and acceptable to trim is to remove a hang nail or dead skin.  A good rule is: If the tissue is white, it is safe to trim; if it is pink, don’t trim, just gently push back. Never cut into living tissue.

Cuticle is actually a very sticky, clear substance that lies on top of the nail plate and is the non-living tissue shed from the underside of the eponychium fold.  It tightly attaches to the nail plate to complete the matrix seal. This tissue “hitches a ride” with the nail plate as it grows, and in a manicure, is gently buffed off up to the eponychium edge.  The matrix seal is comprised of the eponychium fold and cuticle seal working together to protect the matrix, which continuously incubates new nail plate cells. Once the cuticle grows beyond the eponychium, it has served its function, and the visible portion can be safely removed during a manicure.

Another seal of protection is the hyponychium or the nail bed seal. It is the living tissue found under the free edge, and protects the nail bed from pathogens. Breaking this seal is one of the leading causes of infection and separation of the nail plate from the nail bed. Treat this area with care as well when cleaning under the free edge, and never push this tissue back.

To be continued in next month’s issue.

With thanks to Doug Schoon

Call today at 306-955-5400 or see us online at