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Nail Anatomy

  1. The nail matrix (nail root) is found beneath the skin under the proximal nail fold. The cells within the nail root produce the nail plate and most of the nail bed. The leading edge of the nail matrix is seen as a white, crescent shaped structure called the lunula.

  2. The nail bed is partially produced by the nail matrix. It lies under the nail plate. It extends from the edge of the lunula, to the hyponychium. The nail bed contains blood vessels and nerves, while the nail plate has none. As the nail plate is produced by the nail matrix, it moves down over the nail bed, which adds material to the undersurface of the nail making it thicker. It is important for normal nail growth that the nail bed be healthy and smooth.

  3. The nail plate is the actual nail, and it is composed of translucent keratin. Keratin is made up of compressed hard layers of a protein substance that is produced by the cells of the nail matrix. The pink appearance of the nail comes from the blood vessels located in the nail bed.

  4. The cuticle (eponychium) is situated between the skin of the toe and the nail plate, fusing these structures together and providing a waterproof barrier. The cuticle helps to prevent micro-organisms and moisture from harming the nail matrix.

  5. The perioncyhium (lateral and medial nail fold) is the skin that overlies the nail plate on its sides. The side closest to the big toe is called the medial nail fold. The opposite side is known as the lateral nail fold. These folds act as guides so that the nail plate grows straight and does not shift toward one side of the toe or the other. Unfortunately, the edge of the nail plate does occasionally shift a bit, and this may cause an ingrown toenail.

  6. The hyponychium is the area between the nail plate and the tip of the toe. It is the junction between the free edge of the nail and the skin at the tip of the toe. The hyponychium is a waterproof barrier at the end of the nail plate, which protects the nail bed from germs and moisture.

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