The Structure of the Nail

Matrix - This is the most important area of the nail. The matrix is positioned directly under the proximal nail fold, its where calls are incubated to form the nail plate. New cells push the older cells forward and this is the growth of the nail plate.

The shape and size of the matrix will determine the thickness and width of the nail. The matrix starts at the base of the nail and extend down to the first joint. The longer the matrix, the thicker the nail. Thin nails will tend to have a short matrix. The width of the nail will be determined by the width of the matrix. Naturally thin or thick nails are hereditary, however a lot can happen to them once the they are grown to change this characteristic. There is also no scientific evidence that anything you eat will make the nail plate thicker and stronger but there is evidence that malnutrition can make a nail weaker.


Proximal Nail Fold - The fold is living skin. The edge of the fold does not look like the living skin because it is the epidermis folding back on itself and this does not have any nerves or blood vessels in it. It is often mistake for the cuticle and non-living tissue, however it is still living and if cut it will react like any other area of cut skin. It will form a scar that will eventually thicken if cutting continues.

 Eponychium - This is an area at the base of the nail plate where the proximal nail fold meets the nail plate. It acts asa seal for that area of the nail and protects against invasive bacteria. During a manicure, this area needs to be treated gently because if the seal is broken it will be painful and an infection may occur.   

Lateral Nail Fold or Side Wall - The skin of the finger folds down along the side of the nail and provides the nail plate with protection and a groove to guide the growth of a nail. A seal is formed here to prevent the invasion of unwanted substances.

Perionychium - This term is sometimes used in general for skin surrounding the whole of the nail. 

The Cuticle - The nail fold is often called the cuticle but this is inaccurate. The underside of the proximal nail fold constantly sheds a layer of dead skin cells that sits on the nail plate and grows with it. This is the real cuticle and is not always visible until softened. This is the non-living skin that should be removed during a manicure and always before the application of artificial nails to avoid any lifting problems, as products do not bond with skin, only with the nail plate.

Lunula - This is known as the half moon, an area of the nail by or under the proximal nail fold, and the front end of the matrix. It appears whiter because the cells are not yet completely keratinised. Not everyone has a an exposed lunula and it is a misconception that the lunula should be visible. The nail is still slightly soft in this area and can easily be damaged so its better that the lunula is protected by the nail fold. People who have large exposed lunula often have very ridged nails, which is often more noticeable on the thumbs. This is due to continual trauma to the soft nail from everyday living. During a manicure or any work done in the cuticle area must be done with care. If you press too hard on the lunula it will cause a ridge in the nail that will then need to be grown out.  

The Nail Bed - That lies directly under the nail plate. It is skin just like the rest of the body and has many things in common with facial skin. It has a very rich supply of blood and lymph vessels in the dermis to keep the nail healthy. This is what holds the nail onto the nail bed. If the ridges are disturbed or if the nail plate becomes too thin and flexible, this hold is broken and causes the nail plate to separate from the nail bed. Over-buffing that causes heat acts like a friction burn on the nail bed and the bed epithelium will let go of the dermis, causing separation.  

The Hyponychium - This is the area of skin at the very end of the nail bed under the beginning of the free edge. It forms a very tight seal that prevents bacteria entering. There are many nerve endings in this area that act as a warning to this seal being broken. 

The Onychodermal Band - This is the area of the hyponychium where a slight change of colour in the skin can be seen. This is where the bed epithelium leaves the underlying dermis and is part of the seal protecting the nail bed from infection. 

Like hair, nails grow at different rates in individuals and at different times of the year but, unlike hair, grow continually. Fingernails grow faster than toenails. As an average guide, nails grow at the rate between 3mm per month and it takes approximately five to six months for a fingernail to grow from the matrix to the free edge and up to a year for a toenail. The growth rate is faster in the summer and during pregnancy and usually slows down with age. It can also be speeded up or slowed down by illness. 

You and your client will often notice an increased growth rate when they return for a gel polish renewal, this is due to the stimulation produced by buffing during application. Stimulation of the circulation in this area will improve this function and assist growth. Buffing the natural nail during a manicure is a valuable treatment, but care must be taken not to thin the nail or create too much heat through fiction, as this can cause splitting.