Your Fingernails

Your Nails have a job to do

You may not think about your nails, unless you just painted them blue or your mom says it’s time to  trim them. But your nails have a job to do. The hard surface of your nails helps to protect the  tips of your fingers and toes. And your fingernails make it easier to scratch an itch or remove a  dog hair from your sweater. Nails themselves are made of keratin (say: KAIR-uh-tin). This is the  same substance your body uses to create hair and the top layer of your skin. You had fingernails and toenails before  you were even born. Where do they come from? It may look like your fingernails and toenails start  growing where your U-shaped cuticle (say: KYOO-tih-kul) begins. But there’s more going on under the  surface.

Nails start in the nail root, hidden under the cuticle. When cells at the root of the nail grow,  the new nail cells push out the old nail cells. These old cells flatten and harden, thanks to  keratin, a protein made by these cells. The newly formed nail then slides along the nail bed, the  flat surface under your nails. The nail bed sits on top of tiny blood vessels that feed it and give  your nails their pink color. Your fingernails grow slowly – in fact, they grow about one tenth of  an inch (2.5 millimeters) each month. At that rate it can take about 3 to 6 months to completely  replace a nail. Where your nail meets your skin is your cuticle. Cuticles help to protect the new  nail as it grows out from the nail root. The lunula (say: LOON- yuh-luh) – which comes from the  Latin word for “moon” – is that pale half circle just above the cuticle. Your lunula is easiest to  see on your thumbnails.

Nail Care

You might need an adult to help you trim your fingernails and toenails, which can be a little  challenging. A nail clipper or a pair of nail scissors may be used. To smooth jagged edges, you can  use a nail file or emery board, which works like sandpaper. Fingernails should be trimmed straight  across and slightly rounded at the top. Having nicely trimmed nails can keep you from biting or  picking at them, which can lead to infections. It’s also a good idea to moisturize nails and  cuticles regularly. A little hand lotion will do the trick. Because toenails are slowpokes (they  don’t grow nearly as fast as fingernails), they don’t need to be trimmed as often. They should be  trimmed straight across, which can be difficult, so you might want to ask a parent for help.

Common Nail Problems

Most of the time, your nails are pink and healthy, but sometimes nails have problems. Some of the  most common for kids include: ingrown nail – when the nail curves down and into the skin, causing  pain and, sometimes, an infection nail injury – when you drop something on your big toe or catch your finger in a drawer. A bruise  may appear under the nail and sometimes the nail falls off. A new one grows in its place. nail deformity – when the nail isn’t smooth, like a healthy nail. People who bite or pick at their  nails a lot can have this problem, but it also can occur because the person has an illness that  affects the nail. hangnail – when a loose strip of dead skin hangs from the edge of a fingernail. Hangnails hurt if  you pull them off. Some of these problems, such as a minor nail injury or hangnail, can be handled at home by your mom  or dad. But infections and more serious nail injuries need a doctor’s care. Signs of a nail  infection include pain, redness, puffiness (swelling), and maybe some pus.

What Your Nails Have to Say

Don’t be surprised if your doctor takes a look at your nails at your next checkup, even if you’re  having no problems with them. Fingernails provide good clues to a person’s overall health. For  instance, when the doctor presses your nails, he or she is checking your blood circulation. By  looking at your nails, a doctor may find changes that may be associated with skin problems, lung  disease, anemia, and other medical conditions. Your nails are in the know!