Which bit is which? Anatomy of the nail

By | March 17, 2013

The anatomy of the nail isn’t all that complicated, but is helpful to know when taking care of your pretties. The diagram below shows my thumb nail, and the 9 main parts of the nail which are explained in more detail below. The left side of the diagram shows the parts of the nail we can see from the outside, while the right hand side shows the two parts that are inside our fingers that we can’t see from just looking at our nails.

1. Free Edge 
The free edge of your nail is the portion that is no longer attached to the nail bed (see point 8). The purpose of the free edge is to protect the fingertips from pressure or damage. People that usually have a long free edge can experience sensitive fingertips should it break or be cut down to the hyponychium (see point 2).

2. Hyponychium (hie-po-knee-ki-yum) 
The hyponychium is commonly referred to as the ‘quick’. This is where your skin joins the end of your nail, and it creates a seal. The hyponychium exists to protect the nail bed from bacteria and infections.

3. Nail Plate 
This is what is commonly referred to as the ‘nail’ when we talk about polishing our nails etc. This is the pink, hard part of your nail that we cover when we polish the nail. Its purpose is to protect the nail bed from damage, such as bangs and knocks. The nail plate is made up mostly of keratin & is not living.

4. Nail Wall 
The nail wall or side wall is the skin that grows along each side of the nail. In this skin there are grooves which guide the growth of the nail and creates the shape our nails grow in. This is where you find hang nails (which are the result of dead skin growing up the nail, similar to cuticles).

5. Cuticle 
Not to be confused with the eponychium (point 7), the cuticle is dead skin that lays on the surface of the nail plate, usually near the base of the nail. This can be pushed up with a cuticle pusher and removed with erasers and creams. This is dead skin that should not be painful when removing. The cuticle has no function.

6. Lunula (loon-ool-a) 
The lunula is the white half circle that you see on your nails and is actually the visible portion of the matrix (see point 9). While you can see this, it’s actually an internal part of the nail and is part of the matrix, which produces the cells to create the nail. This part of the nail will be slightly softer than the rest of the nail as the cells in this area are not fully dead.

7. Eponychium (ee-poh-knee-ki-yum) 
This is commonly mistaken as the cuticle when people discuss the nails. This is the living skin attached to the base of the nail and forms another seal, just like the hyponychium. The purpose of the eponychium is to protect the matrix (point 9) from bacteria and infection. If the seal between the eponychium and nail plate is broken it can be quite painful. The eponychium is living skin and should never be cut with anything, such as cuticle nippers.

8. Nail Bed 
The nail bed is situated directly under the nail plate and gives a pink appearance to the nail. This is due to the nail bed supporting the blood supply to the nail, this is how the nail receives oxygen and nutrients – disbanding the myth that you need to give your nails time to ‘breathe’ between coats of polish (polish ALL the nails!).

9. Matrix 
Finally we have the matrix. This is not visible and is just under the skin at the base of the nail, as shown in the diagram. The matrix is responsible for producing the cells to create the nail plate. If the matrix is damaged, it can cause the nail to grow with deformities, such as severe ridges. If damaged badly enough, it can actually cause the nail to grow into obscure and unrecognisable shapes.

While there are more parts of the nail than you’d first imagine, it’s all pretty straightforward in the end. Mostly, knowing the difference between the cuticle and the eponychium is vital when applying cuticle nippers to the nail as infection can cause not only pain, but enduring problems with the nails, so don’t chop at any living skin!

Julz is an avid nail art fanatic currently studying her Certificate II in Nail Technology. When she’s not working her 95 reception job, she’s painting her nails or planning trips to the beach with her friends for some camping & drinking fun – and on occasion has snuck some polishes to the beach with her! You can find out more about Julz on her blog Julz Perri Nails, Instagram (@julzperri), or her Facebook page.

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