We bite them. We rely on them to peel fruit. We pop open cans with them. That’s a lot to ask of something smaller than a postage stamp and made from the same type of protein as hair. Our fingernails are made of a protein called keratin, and there’s more to them than meets the eye.
Each of our nails is made up of six parts. The nail fold is the ridge of skin around the nail. The part we can see and normally call a fingernail (or toenail) is called the nail plate. Beneath the nail plate is the nail bed, which nourishes the nail. That half-moon-shaped area at the base of your nail is called thelunula, and it’s part of the nail matrix. The nail matrix is at the base of each nail, although you can’t see it – it’s below the cuticle, a fold of skin made of dead cells that keeps bacteria from getting in. The matrix makes the cells needed to grow your nails.