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What Are Your Toenails Made Of?



The toenails are tough, yet they are susceptible to breaking, getting infected and the effects of malnutrition. Both your toe and finger nails are made from the same protein your hair is made of. Keratin, the protein that makes up the toe tip, is not alive and was present since before you were born.

The tips of toes, along with the finger tips protect the tip of your toes and fingers, aid in gripping and scraping by redistributing pressure from the tips of the toe and the finger tips. The toenail is comprised of multiple parts. These include:

The Matrix

The nail matrix, also called the onychostroma or keratogenous membrane is the part that is protected. It is part of the nail bed that contains nerves, lymph nodes and blood vessels. The matrix produces cells for the nail plate. The production of nail bed cells will continue as long as there is nutrients and is healthy. As new bed cells are made, the old cells get pushed forward and get compressed against the nail.

The Lunula

The lunula, or “small moon” is the white, crescent shaped portion of at the base of the nail.

The Nail Bed

Underneath the nail plate is the nail bed. The nail bed is made of two tissue types: the deeper dermis and the epidermis. The two layers are connected to each other by matrix crest. As one ages, these groves become more pronounced as the plate thins.

The Nail Sinus

The root of the nail is located in the nail sinus. The sinus is located at the base of the nail, underneath the skin. It originates from the living cells of the matrix.

The Nail Plate

The nail plate is the hard part made up of dead, compacted keratin protein cells. The keratin makes the nail plate both strong and flexible. The plate is often what is referred to when one uses the word “nail.”

The Free Margin

The free margin is the tip of the anterior to the nail plate. It is the part that gives it its cutting surface. The hyponychium is the area of epithelium located at the junction of the free margin and the skin of the tip of the toe. This part of skin protects the nail bed by producing a seal. The hyponychium is more noticeable in fairer-skinned people.

The Eponychium and the Cuticle

The eponychium and the cuticle form a protective seal for the toenail. The cuticle is the light-colored semicircle at the top. The cuticle is made of non-living dead skin cells that spill out on and covers the back of the plate. The eponychium is a small band of living cells located near the cuticle that folds back onto itself when an epidermal layer of skin is shed and a new layer of the plate is formed.

The Nail Wall

The nail wall contains the part that overlaps the side and end of the nail. The paronychium is a border of soft tissue around the toenail. This soft tissue can get infected.

Each toenail has many different layers which are made of different materials and serve different purposes. It’s important to take care of your toes as painful infections and ugly, brittle ones can occur such as ingrown toenails.

If you have any pain or discomfort from one of your toes or you experience any other kind of foot pain, it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with your podiatrist.

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