Sunday, September 25, 2011

Manicuring 101 - Anatomy of the Nail

Hey guys!

Today I have the second instalment of my Manicuring 101 Series for you!
I got many comments in my latest giveaway form that you were excited to see more of this series so I'm happy to hear that this is something that you're all interested in.

I'll try to get more instalments for this series up soon so that I don't get too far behind again. And if there's anything about nail care in particular that you'd like to see a Manicuring 101 post about, let me know in the comments!

Now since it's been about a month and half since my first Manicuring 101 post, I'm going to reiterate some of the information I posted in that one so that it's clarified for my new followers.

First of all, I'd like to clarify exactly what my qualifications are. I am not a "Nail Technician" since that refers to someone who is certified in acrylic/gel nails and I have not yet completed that course. However, I do plan on completing such a course in December.

My official title is a "Manicurist" or a "Pedicurist". What this certifies me in is the area of nail care, hand and foot care and the art of manicuring. I can also perform proper hand and foot massages but that's not really something that we'll be covering here.

I did my course with LCN and so I credit all of my knowledge to them. I still have a lot of my pamphlets from my course so a lot of information is coming from there as well as my own memory and experiences since completing my course.

Now that I've clarified upon that, let's get to our second lesson - a in-depth look at the anatomy of the nail.

Keep reading for all the info!

(This image isn't mine but it's a good illustration of some of the things we'll be talking about today. The image came from the Sally Hansen UK website.)

The Matrix:
The matrix is essentially the root of your nail and it is where the keratin cells that harden and grow into the nail plate itself (see Nail Plate below) are produced. The matrix is not visible - it is hidden and protected by the skin at the base of your fingernail. If the matrix is damaged, your nail will no longer grow or it will grow deformed.

You might often refer to this section of your nail as the "half moon" and it connects the matrix to the nail bed (see Nail Bed below). The lunula is visible for most people (especially on the thumbs) but not for all people so don't worry yourself if you can't see yours. The lunula is whitish in colour because it is made up of keratin cells that have not yet hardened, so be careful when working around this area (i.e. when pushing back your cuticles) because you could cause damage to the nail.

Eponychium: (pronounced ep-o-nick-ee-um)
The eponychium, more commonly known as the cuticle, is the thin layer of skin at the base of your nail. The eponychium protects the newly forming nail and should be pushed back very gently on a regular basis.

Pterygium: (pronounced ter-idg-ee-um)
The pterygium is actually considered the "true" cuticle and consists of the dead, flakey skin cells that build up at the base of the nail as well as around the edges of the nail plate (see Nail Plate below). These dead skin cells attach to the nail plate and become visible as the nail grows. The pterygium should to be removed regularly in order to prevent a build up.

Perionychium: (pronounced perio-nick-ee-um)
The perionychium is the skin tissue that surrounds the nail, whether it be the skin bordering the sides of the nail or the tissue protecting the matrix.

Hyponychium: (pronounced hypo-nick-ee-um)
The hyponychium is a soft layer of skin located beneath the nail plate (see Nail Plate below) at the junction between the free edge (see Free Edge below) and the skin of the fingertip. The hyponychium is more commonly known as the "quick". It is very important not to clean nails too deeply under the free edge (see Free Edge below) as the hyponychium can tear away from the nail plate which would be painful and would be susceptible to infection.

The Nail Bed:
The nail bed lies under the nail and contains nerves and capillaries and is therefore very sensitive. The capillaries reflect through the nail giving it a pinkish colour. The nail bed holds the nail plate (see Nail Plate below) in place and extends from the matrix to just under the free edge (see Free Edge below) of the nail.

The Nail Plate:
The nail plate lies on top of the nail bed and is composed of dead protein fibres (hardened keratin cells); this is the part of your nail that you cover with polish. You do not feel any pain when you cut your nails because there are no blood vessels or nerve endings present in the nail plate. The primary purpose of the nail plate is to protect the ends of the fingers.

The Free Edge:
The free edge is the length of nail that extends past the end of the nail bed; it provides protection to the fingertip. This is the section of your nail that you would file in order to shape your nail to your preference. A discussion of how to properly file the free edge will be covered later in the Manicuring 101 Series.

That ends our discussion of the anatomy of the nail. If you have any questions, send me an email by going to the Contact tab at the top of the page or leave me a comment on this post.
The next post in this series will be a look into the different nail shapes you can have and how to achieve those shapes.
Hope this post was helpful!


  1. I love this post. I'm just a hobbyist who likes to do my nails for fun. I know nothing about nails other than decorating them so I'm happy to learn a little something. :) Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  2. Feeling extremely enlightened right now! I heard so many different opinions of what cuticles/etc are on a nail that I was just confused before.

  3. Thank you Kayla <3 Like Nicole, I am a hobbyist, albeit a real 'newbie.' I used to "polish my nails" when my mama would let me , back in the fifties. When i was in high school (sixties) to me polishing my nails meant slapping on some transparent pearlescent shine. i never considered anything other than a pale peachy pink, usually platinum ( the sixties!!!) In the seventies, i graduated from nursing school. Fifteen minute scrubs prior to every surgery are murder on nails if not done correctly. I still considered a two fast coats of a transparent pearlescent to be the most... then came the eighties and the deep creams. I was no longer scrubbing, and my girlfriends would buy caseloads of "Beet" ( cannot remember who made it, and for the first time, I actually did a base, 3 coats and a top. I had acrylics in 1983: never again: I took them off myself when I was married in 84: they were ripping up my nailbeds. So, since then only the occasional bout of polish behavior. then I started watching Mad Men 7 years ago: EVERYONE has beautiful nails. i went in search of the perfect "betty Draper Pink," and found a world of nail color that did nit exist when I was coming up. Your articles are great: you really should charge for these lessons! For instance: god nail care is a must for every massage therapist! ( I have that degree also,) now I know the name of the area that is pulled away from the nail when someone does too much or not judicious massage ( Hyponychium ) When I have dome something ( like scraping a stubborn deposit on a skillet and it tears that away from the nail, now thanks to you I know what I have damaged! I have been reading all of your blogs: I am highly impressed and will be following you and recommending you. Thank you, this teaching is a true gift! ... Susan


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