Your nails are designed for protecting not only the tips of your fingers and toes but also the surrounding soft tissue from any external injury.
While the fingernail may be tough enough to protect tender flesh, it also has the paradoxical effect of increasing the sensitivity of the finger. The front edge of the nail assists in the manipulation of small objects as well as for scratching.
Nails are composed of a tough protein called alpha-keratin. It is the same protein found in hair as well as the claws, hoofs and talons of other vertebrates. Nails grow continuously from a little pocket of cells under the skin at the root of the nail bed called the matrix. Thus, as new cells are formed, the old cells are modified, die and are pushed forward. The part you can see consists of dead cells, and that is why it doesn't hurt to cut your nails at their ends.
Fingernails grow at an average of about 3.5 millimeters per month, while the toenails only grow about 1.6 millimeters per month. Nails tend to grow faster in summer than in winter, and the fingernails of your dominant hand tend to grow faster than those on your other hand.
Normal healthy nails appear smooth and have consistent coloring. As you age, you may develop vertical ridges, or your nails may be a bit more brittle. This is because they tend to lose their water content with age which can lead to cracking or peeling. Living in a cold, dry climate and washing your hands frequently can also dry them out.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if you lose a fingernail due to injury, it can take up to six months to grow back. A lost toenail can take as much as a year and a half to grow back.
Painting and other forms of decorating nails have a long history. Five thousand years ago in China, men and women of the Ming Dynasty aristocracy grew their nails long and covered them with golden nail guards or bright home-made polishes. The long nails allegedly announced to the world their social rank and freedom from performing menial labor.
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