Structure of the nails

Fingernails and toenails are made from skin cells. Structures that are made from skin cells are called skin appendages. Hairs are also skin appendages.

The part that we call the nail is technically known as the “nail plate.” The nail plate is mostly made of a hard substance called keratin. It is about half a millimeter thick and slightly curved.

The nail is firmly attached to the nail bed beneath it. The nail and nail bed separate at the tip of the finger or toe, where the end of the nail sticks out. This allows us to use our nails as tools, for example for scratching. The nails are also an important part of the sense of touch.

The nail is framed by the lateral nail folds on the left and right side of it. The skin bordering the lower end of the nail is called the proximal nail fold. A thin layer of skin, known as the cuticle, grows over the nail there.

How do nails grow?

At the proximal nail fold, the nail is tucked into a pouch in the skin. This area is referred to as the matrix. If you look at a nail, you will see a light half-moon-shaped area shimmering through the nail plate at the base of the nail. This is the visible part of the matrix. It is called the lunula (Latin for “small moon”) because of its shape.

The matrix constantly produces new keratin that gathers at the nail plate and slowly pushes the nail forward, causing it to grow. Fingernails grow at a rate of about 3 millimeters per month. Toenails grow a little slower.

Aumüller G, Aust G, Conrad A, Engele J, Kirsch J. Duale Reihe Anatomie. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2014.

Moll I. Duale Reihe Dermatologie. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2016.

Wollina U, Nenoff P, Haroske G, Haenssle HA. The Diagnosis and Treatment of Nail Disorders. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113(29-30): 509-518.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on December 2, 2021

Next planned update: 2024


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.