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What Is The Nail Plate? [What Does It Do?]

Have you ever wondered what is the nail plate? And what does a nail plate do? The nail plate is a part of our body that serves as an important building block for healthy nails. It is responsible for the strength and shape of our fingernails and toenails, protecting them from damage and infection. 

I’m going to share exactly what a nail plate is, how it functions, and why it’s so important to keep your nails healthy. Read on to find out all you need to know about the nail plate…

What Is The Nail Plate? [What Does It Do?]

What Is The Nail Plate?

The nail plate is the hard surface of the nail which can be seen, and what covers our finger tips. It is an evolutionarily developed structure; made of a protein called keratin.

This forms a protective layer to guard against damage and to create a smooth appearance on the surface of the nail plate.

Underneath this, our digits are protected by blood vessels with skin beneath all around it. The root of the nail is embedded in a tissue bed known as ‘the nail bed’.

This helps give a uniform color and appearance to the polish or natural look for our nails.

The corner we would use to file away excess length from our nails has cells between layers which help maintain shape during growth at its base – but only if trimmed correctly; otherwise it will leave behind sharp points that can cause bleeding under and around the skin beneath the nail plate.

This area contains very delicate blood vessels, so any kind of trauma here from incorrect trimming could cause injury and even infection if not treated carefully. 

It’s important that we take proper care of our nails – since they affect both their own health and our own general health.

Take extra special care when filing or trimming them to avoid damaging any of these underlying structures like blood vessels or tissue within/beneath & surrounding the nail-bed itself. 

Understanding the Nail Anatomy

The anatomy of the nail plate includes the nail bed, matrix, and nail plate. The nail bed is the skin underneath the nail plate, and the nail matrix is the area beneath the skin where nail cells are produced.

The nail plate is the hard, visible part of the nail that extends from the tip of the finger or toe to the base. It contains keratin, the same protein that is found in hair and skin.

What Is a Nail Unit?

The nail unit provides protection and support to the soft tissues beneath it, protecting them from physical trauma, preventing infection and preserving proper hydration of the underlying skin.

The nail bed is a thin layer of tissue that lies beneath the newly forming nail plate and cushions it while also providing an anchor for the eponychium to attach. The matrix is responsible for producing cells, which form layers of keratin that make up the growing nail plate. 

The cuticle sits just above the proximal fold and serves as a protective seal against bacteria and other foreign particles entering the body through the nail opening. It helps keep nails looking healthy by stopping dirt from gathering under them when they’re being trimmed too short or manicured.

The proximal nail fold refers to a thin band of skin at the root base of each finger or toe which prevents moisture loss from where the fingernail meets the fingertip. 

Above this are two more folds; firstly, hyponychium which forms a seal between fingernail and fingertip allowing sweat to be released; secondly, eponychium which attaches along the sides of each finger or toe located at their free edge firm to protect fragile skin beneath from trauma caused by overzealous trimming or manicures. 

How Does the Nail Plate Generate?

How Does the Nail Plate Generate?

The nail plate is generated by the nail matrix, which is a group of cells that produce new nail cells.

These new cells push the older cells up, and they eventually become part of the nail plate. The nail plate is also attached to the nail bed by small grooves and ridges that form a seal between the nail plate and the skin.

What Does The Nail Plate Do?

The nail plate is a vital component of the human body. It serves several important functions to keep our hands and feet healthy and functioning properly.

It is positioned between the fingernail and the underlying bone in each finger and provides a buffer against everyday bumps, scrapes, shocks, and other impacts that may cause damage.

The nail plate holds our nails securely in place, so they don’t become loose or start growing into our skin. By providing this protection at the base of each nail, it helps us to grip items better with less fear of injury.

The nail plate consists of three distinct layers – an external layer made up of mitochondrial membrane lipids; an inner layer consisting mostly of keratin-filled cells; and a lamina propria composed primarily of fibroblasts which form attachments to connective tissue.

The thickness of these layers varies depending on where it is located on the hand or foot, but collectively they form about 1 percent of all skin cells found within the body – making them surprisingly robust.

Not only does a healthy nail plate provide strength, but it also helps insulate from heat and cold temperatures by trapping air molecules between its layers and allowing for slow release when exposed to extreme temperatures – a great protection when we’re out in bad weather conditions.

What Is the Nail Matrix?

The nail matrix is the area beneath the skin where nail cells are produced. It is responsible for producing new nail cells that push the older cells up and become part of the nail plate. The nail matrix is crucial to nail growth.

How Does Nail Growth Occur?

Nail growth starts at the base of the nail, in the nail root. The nail root is attached to the nail bed, and as new nail cells are generated by the matrix, they move outwards along the length of the nail. The nail grows across and along the nail, and this process continues until the nail reaches the end of the finger or toe.

How to Maintain Healthy Nails?

How to Maintain Healthy Nails?

Having healthy nails is important and there are many ways to maintain them. The first thing you should do is visit a professional nail technician for assistance in taking care of your nails.

The nail technician can assess your nail health and provide helpful advice about how to best take care of them.

When the appearance of the nail comes from maintaining its luster, structure, and texture, it’s time to protect the nail matrix, which lies underneath the nail plate and is responsible for producing new cells.

Along with protecting the matrix, you must also take good care of the lateral folds that surround both sides of the nails and along the entire surface of each one.

Keeping both areas moisturized will help keep them healthy and strong; this also helps prevent dirt or bacteria from becoming trapped between your finger or toe and its respective nail bed, which could cause infections or even further damage.

The Role of Cuticle in Nail Health

The cuticle is a thin layer of skin that covers the base of the nail. It works as a protective barrier to keep bacteria and fungi out, preventing infection. It is important to take care of the cuticle by regularly moisturizing and avoiding cutting or pushing it back too aggressively.

What Is the Proximal Nail Fold?

The proximal nail fold is the piece of skin at the base of the nail that overlaps with the edge of the nail plate. It helps to protect the new nail cells that are generated by the matrix. It is crucial to keep the proximal nail fold clean to prevent the risk of infection.

What Is the Lunula and Its Importance?

The lunula is the pale, half-moon shape that is visible on the nail plate’s base. It is the visible part of the nail matrix and indicates where new nail cells are generated. It is essential to maintain the appearance of the lunula as it can signal underlying health issues.

What Is the Lunula and Its Importance?

Key Components of the Nail Unit

The Free Edge of the Nail Plate

The free edge of the nail plate is the part that extends past the fingertip or toe. It is made up of layers of dead, flat cells that are continuously pushed forward as new nail cells are generated by the matrix. The free edge of the nail plate is the part that is most vulnerable to breakage and damage.

The Importance of Hyponychium and Eponychium

The hyponychium is the skin that lies beneath the free edge of the nail plate. It helps to provide a seal between the nail plate and the fingertip or toe. The eponychium is the piece of skin that covers the base of the nail plate, protecting the matrix. It is important to take care of both the hyponychium and eponychium to prevent infection and maintain healthy nails.

Fingernails vs. Toenails: Differences in Structure and Function

The structure of fingernails and toenails differs in several ways. Fingernails are thinner, more curved, and often longer than toenails.

They are made up of a keratin plate which is supported by the cuticle and grown from the base of the nail bed.

The main purpose of fingernails is for protection, as they act as a barrier between our delicate fingers and the surrounding environment. Furthermore, they aid us with precision tasks such as picking up objects or zipping zippers. 

Toenails, on the other hand, are thicker, straighter and shorter than fingernails. Toenail plates also consist of keratin, but since there’s less pressure on our toes than on our hands, they require less protection, so they don’t evolve at an elevated speed like fingernails do.

Their primary purpose is to provide friction when we walk to maintain balance or traction on slippery surfaces, helping us avoid injury. 


How Does Keratin Affect the Nail Structure?

Keratin is the protein that makes up the nail plate, and it also determines the nail’s thickness and strength. Fingernails are typically thinner and more delicate than toenails due to the lower levels of keratin in the nail plate.

The keratin provides a protective barrier that helps to keep the nail healthy and strong. Without keratin, nails become brittle and break easily due to the lack of structural support. However, an overproduction of keratin can result in thickened and curved nails, known as “pincer” or “spoon” nails.

Keratin is also responsible for keeping the cuticles moist and healthy. Cuticles are important for protecting the nail from bacteria and other pollutants that may enter through small cracks in the nail bed. 

Plus, keratin is necessary for proper nail structure and health. It creates a protective barrier that helps prevent brittleness and cracking, keeps moisture locked into the cuticle area, and maintains strength so that your nails can withstand everyday wear-and-tear activities without breaking or becoming damaged. Healthy levels of keratin are essential if you want strong, beautiful fingernails!

Why Is Nail Growth Different in Fingers and Toes?

Nail growth is faster in fingers than toes. Fingers’ nails grow at a rate of approximately 3 millimeters per month, while toenails grow at a rate of approximately 1 millimeter per month. This difference is due to the difference in blood supply to the fingers and toes, with fingers having a much richer blood supply than toes.

The Effects of Nail Polish on the Surface of the Nail

Nail polish can affect the surface of the nail by changing its appearance and making it more susceptible to breakage and damage. It is important to take care when applying and removing nail polish to minimize the risk of damage to the nails.


Understanding the anatomy and function of the nail plate is essential to maintain healthy nails. The nail unit is made up of various structures that work together to produce the nail plate and protect the soft tissues underneath it.

Taking care of the cuticle, proximal nail fold, and hyponychium, as well as avoiding harsh chemicals and maintaining a healthy diet, can help to promote healthy nail growth and prevent infection or damage.

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