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Learning about the structure of the nail can help you understand the importance of proper nail care and help you to diagnose minor problems that can present themselves in the nail bed. The nail, whether it is a fingernail or a toenail, has many distinct parts that require proper care.

The Nail Root

The nail root is where the magic happens, so to speak. Also called the germinal matrix, this is the area of the tissue that sits under your skin, starting a few millimeters into your toe or finger and terminating at the base of the visible nail. Your blood vessels provide the root with nutrients, which your body uses to create your nail.

The Lunula

Also called the half moon, this is the white curved piece that you can see at the very base of your nail. You can see it best when you hold your hands in front of you with your fingers pointing upwards. It is easier to detect on the thumbs and big toes, in many cases. This is actually the edge of the nail root and is essential in nail formation.

The Cuticle

You may have heard of the cuticle due to the prevalence of products designed to soften it. This area, also known as the eponychium, sits between your skin and your nail plate at its base. It works like a sealant to make sure water can't get under your skin at the base of your nail. Having a little bit of cuticle is good and healthy.

The Perionychium

Similar to the cuticle, this part sits between the skin and the nail plate at the sides of your nails. At times, your nail may grow into the perionychium, resulting in an ingrown nail or hangnail.

The Nail Plate

This is the part you think of when you picture the fingernail. It's the hard, brittle area that you cover with polish. It is not pink, but translucent in appearance, since it is made of keratin. It only looks pink because you can see the blood vessels beneath it. The top is smooth and the bottom is grooved. The grooves help it stay attached to the nail bed.

The Nail Bed

While not actually part of the nail itself, the nail bed is essential in nail creation. It adds strength and thickness, thanks to nerves, melanocytes and blood vessels. Growth doesn't end at the root, but continues all the way to the free edge. That's why it hurts so much when your nail gets peeled back.

The Free Edge

This is the piece of the nail that has the whitish appearance and is painless to trim off. It is also the least protected and most vulnerable part since it no longer receives nourishment from the body. The point where the free edge connects to the fingertip or toe tip is known as the hyponychium. Like the cuticle, it keeps the connection between the nail and the skin waterproof.

Fingernail Problems: Links to Underlying Medical Conditions:

The study of the nails is referred to as onichognomy. Often an indicator of the overall body health, the nail bed and the nail condition can reflect the performance of the internal organs and any body/vitamin deficiencies. When caring for your health, it's important to identify nail disorders and seek medical counsel to properly diagnose any underlying medical diseases or conditions.

While this information cannot serve as diagnosis, the following common fingernail conditions and their silent symptoms may be linked to serious health issues that require further treatment. If you have any of the following conditions, seek medical counsel for treatment options:

  • Vertical nail splitting: This is a very common condition which may be associated with aging. 

  • Brittle nails: Brittle nails are a common nail condition and may indicate vitamin, calcium and/or iron deficiency. This condition may also indicate overexposure to chemical solvents and/or water.

  • Pitted nails: Pitted nails may be associated with psoriasis, alopecia areata, or eczema.

  • Blue nails: Blue nails may be an indication of circulation problems, or pulmonary conditions such as asthma.

  • White spots (Leuconychia): These are common with those suffering from a zinc deficiency. These can also be seen in serious conditions like sickle cell anemia and Hodgkin's disease and can occasionally be hereditary and may disappear over time.

  • Flat nails: Flat nails could be possible indicators of a thyroid condition, Vitamin B12 deficiency, or anemia.

  • Yellowed nails: This problem could have several causes, such as diabetes, or a lymphatic system disorder.

  • Horizontal ridges: These ridges could be an indication of malnutrition or anemia.

  • Beau's Lines: This is another type of horizontal ridge on the nail. These dark, horizontal depressions on the nail may be caused by anything from trauma or illness to malnutrition or chemotherapy. Metabolic conditions may also be to blame.


  • Terry's nails: In Terry's nails, the tip of each nail has a dark band; this may be associated with liver disease or congestive heart disease.

  • Pterygium Inversum Ungius: This condition causes the hyponychium (the soft skin that lies directly under the free edge of the nail) to grow forward with the fingernail. It can be systemic or hereditary, or it could stem from an allergic reaction to acrylics or chemicals.

  • Pterygium: Pterygium occurs when the skin behind the cuticle begins to advance over the nail plate. This is usually the result of trauma due to surgery or cuts to the nail plate

Nail Trauma and Infection:
  • Many nail problems are associated with trauma to the nail or nail bed and may not be caused by a systemic health issue. Trauma can be caused by a number of situations, ranging from:

  • Biting the nails

  • Crushing injuries

  • Rubbing or removing the skin the vicinity of the nail

  • Overexposure to any chemical substance, including nail polish

  • Meanwhile, other conditions may be associated with infections. Infections are easily defined as invasion by fungi or bacteria, but can lead to a host of symptoms, including:

  • Changes in nail color, shape or texture

  • Nail plate loss

  • Pain

Nail Infections:

ONYCHOMYSOSIS - Fungal Infection

Fungal spores are a type of reproductive structure. They have a tough and durable exterior which allows them to lie dormant until the environment is such that it is suitable for them to grow and reproduce. It is seen as a yellow color on the nail.

Persons with a fungal infection cannot be treated for this infection for it is easy to spread. They must see a Doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. 

PARONYCHIA - Bacterial Infection

This is seen a green, brown or black in the nail and is caused by a number of bacterial cells reproducing and it is fed by the natural oil present in the nail. It is an acute yeast infection and is usually seen on people who continually have their hands in hot water. It produces redness, swelling and pain.

No enhancements should be applied to these nails until you know the bacteria, is dead and grown out. This, bacteria can be very painful and may have long term results.

ONYCHOLYSIS - Nail Separation

This is where the nail plate becomes separated from the nail bed. It can be caused by having overlong nails, trauma or allergic reaction. If slight, you may still have nail enhancements but these should be worn short.

Sometimes the nail can grow back attached to the skin, but as soon as you put enhancements on, it will detach again. Sometimes where you have had a bacterial infection on your nail, it can cause you to have permanent Onycholysis in the same location.


Characteristics are painful itching overgrowth of skin cells. Nails can also be affected and become severely pitted and be accompanied by ONYCHOLYSIS. This may be a hereditary condition and is not contagious. Nails should be kept at a short and sensible length.

I do not suggest enhancements, for a skin reaction is a lot easier to experience when you have open wounds.


This is highly contagious and caused by a vegetable parasite which invades the free edge and spreads down towards the cuticle.

ONYCHOPHAGIA - Severe nail biting

This habit is responsible to a vast number of nail deformities and is usually accompanied by biting of the skin surrounding it. It can lead to nails and skin becoming infected by disease. 

No enhancements should be applied to these nails until the nail and the cuticles surrounding are healed.

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