1. Your nails are made of keratin
Keratin plays an important role in nail health. It protects nails from damage by making them strong and resilient.
2. Yes, that’s the same stuff that makes up your hair
3. Your visible nails are dead
Nails start growing under your skin. As new cells grow, they push old ones through your skin. The part you can see consists of dead cells. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to cut your nails.
4. But they need blood flow to grow out and create the “nail”
5. Nails do have feeling — sort of
The nails you can see are dead and have no feeling. However, a layer of skin under the nails, called the dermis, has sensory nerve endings. These send a signal to your brain when pressure is applied to your nails.
6. Fingernails grow about 3.5 millimeters each month
And toenails grow about 1.5 millimeters per month. Those are the averages for healthy adults. Whether you’re getting proper nutrition and how well you take care of your nails can affect the growth rate.
7. Your nails stop growing when you die, though
Although the myth about nails growing after death isn’t true, there’s a reason it exists. After someone dies, their skin dehydrates and shrinks, making it look like their nails grew.
8. Men’s nails grow faster
9. So do the fingernails on your dominant hand
If you’re right-handed, you might’ve noticed the nails on that hand grow faster than on your left and vice versa. This could be because that hand is more active (see item 11).
10. Seasons influence growth
11. How much you use your hands affects growth, too
Using your hands a lot makes your nails more prone to minor trauma from things like tapping them on a table or using a keyboard. This promotes blood circulation in your hands, stimulating nail growth.
12. Your nail color can change according to your health
About 10 percent of all dermatological conditions are nail-related. Yellow, brown, or green nails usually mean you have a fungal infection. In some cases, yellow nails are a symptom of a thyroid condition, psoriasis, or diabetes.
13. White spots on your nails aren’t actually a sign of calcium deficiency, though
14. And stress can really affect your nails
Stress can cause your nails to grow more slowly or even temporarily stop growing. When they start growing again, you might have horizontal lines across your nails. They’re usually harmless and will grow out.
15. Nail biting is the most common “nervous habit”
Also called onychophagia, nail biting usually doesn’t cause long-term damage. However, it raises your risk of getting sick by spreading germs to your mouth. Damage to the skin around your nails could cause infection, too.
16. You really do need to let your nails “breathe”
To keep nails healthy, take breaks from using polish or having artificial nails. Using and removing these products can be hard on your nails, so taking a break from them helps nails repair themselves.
17. You can blame your parents for how thick (or thin) your nails are
Nail growth and other nail characteristics partly depend on your inherited genes. Other factors include your age and health status.
18. Cuticles do have a purpose
This small sliver of skin at the base of your nail protects the new nail from germs as it grows through your skin. You shouldn’t cut your cuticles. Doing so removes the important barrier that helps prevent infection.
19. Nails separate primates from other mammals
Primates, including humans, have nails instead of claws as well as opposable thumbs. This gives humans more agile hands that allow us to grasp things better than other mammals.
The bottom line
Your nails give you a picture of your overall health. Changes in your nail color or a disruption in their growth could be symptoms of a medical condition, poor nutrition, or excessive stress. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about recent changes to your nails.
Follow these tips for good nail hygiene:
- Trim your nails regularly, keeping them short.
- If you do have longer nails, scrub the underside of them when you wash your hands. Use soap and water every time and consider using a nail brush as well.
- Sanitize nail grooming tools before each use (and make sure any salon you visit does the same).
- Don’t bite or chew your nails.
- Avoid ripping or biting off hangnails. Instead, use a sanitized nail trimmer to remove them.