Most of us will go our entire lives without giving much thought to our toenails. But our toenails serve important functions, so it’s worth exploring what they’re made of so that we can better understand and take care of them. In this article, we’ll examine the science behind toenail composition and structure.
1. A Look at Toenail Anatomy
Our feet are our means of transportation, so it’s important to know the anatomy of our toenails. Our toenails are comprised of several different parts:
- Matrix: A plate-shaped organ, making up the surrounding tissue of the nail, the matrix produces keratin.
- Cuticle: A layer of dead skin situated along the proximal end of the nail, the cuticle acts to protect the nail from infection.
- Nail bed: The flattened area lying beneath the nail plate, the nail bed is the region of the nail’s origin.
- Nail plate: The part of the nail we observe, the nail plate provides us with the visual cues for what we term as a toenail.
- Lunula: The curved crescent-shaped layer beneath the nail plate, the lunula’s purpose is to promote blood circulation.
Beyond these five main parts, supporting layers such as the eponychium and hyponychium surround the edges of the toenail. These layers are critical to ensure nails are strong and well-nourished.
2. Understanding the Structure of Toenails
Toenails can be both intimidating and fascinating. Knowing the structure of toenails can help you understand the normalcy of certain changes and what may require a visit to the doctor.
The primary structures of toenails are the keratin, the nail bed, and the eponychium.
- Keratin is protein-rich thickenings found in your skin cells. This makes up most of the toenail and allows it to be strong and flexible.
- The nail bed is just beneath the toenail and is made up of your skin. This is where the cuticle that covers your toenail begins.
- The eponychium folds back from the end of the nail and the skin. This part of the toenail is particularly important for protecting the nail from germs and bacteria.
Knowing the structure of a toenail can be invaluable to making sure that your toenails stay healthy. What may look like a harmless discoloration or change could be a sign of an underlying issue, so being knowledgeable of your toenails can help you spot this early on.
3. Composition of Toenails: What’s Inside?
As strange as it may seem, toenails are composed of some unexpected materials. People have 10 toenails in total, five per foot. Even though they seem to be one solid, homogenized piece, in reality they are composed of several individual elements.
Take a deeper look, and you will find that toenails are made of layers of keratin, a protein that also makes up the surface layer of skin and the hair on one’s head. This innermost layer is the living part of the nail, and is nourished directly by the nail bed. A bit further out, lies the connective tissue which helps grow and hold the nail plate in place. Still further adorns the matrix, where the nail is made. Go even further, and there is the eponychium, which is a cuticle-like part that covers and protects the matrix.
- Connective Tissue
Keratin makes up the bulk of the toenail, but underlying this is the rich composition of connective tissues, which gives the nails essential strength and support. It’s no surprise that toenails are composed of these components; after all, they are there from birth and never fail to serve their purpose!
4. Busting Common Myths About Toenails
Toenail health can be a big issue for many people, and there are lots of common myths and misconceptions out there about them. To help you debunk those myths, here are some of the biggest ones – and the truth behind them.
- Myth 1 – You can’t get fungus on your toenails.
Truth – Unfortunately, fungus can both cause – and be the result of – toenail disease. Despite careful foot hygiene, toenail fungus can easily spread from one person to another, commonly found in warm, moist environments such as public showers and pools.
- Myth 2 – Cutting your toenails will magically improve their health.
Truth – Unfortunately, trimming your toenails won’t always be a cure-all. Cleaning and checking your feet regularly can help prevent fungal infections, but it’s important to take a closer look at any existing symptoms you may have.
- Myth 3 – Toenail health doesn’t affect any other part of your body.
Truth – Toenail health and hygiene can affect other parts of your body. Poor foot hygiene can cause skin irritation and infection, and fungal infections may spread to other parts of your body (though this is rare).
Keeping your toenails healthy and clean is important, and knowing the truth about common myths is even more so. Regular cleaning, even with anti-fungal products, and periodic check-ups can help protect both your toenails and the rest of your body. So don’t believe everything you hear – the truth is right here.
Your toenails are truly amazing! They’re made up of layers of elements that protect your toes from everyday wear and tear and give your feet a lovey layer of adornment! Whether it’s polishing them up for a night out or simply keeping them trimmed, your toenails should never be taken for granted. So don’t forget to give them the TLC they deserve!