The Purpose of Fingernails and Toenails

Thursday, November 6, 2014 Permalink 2

Man’s First Hand Tools Were Fingernails

Believe it or not, fingernails and toenails have a purpose. From a social and cultural perspective they often contribute to social status and artistic expression. From painted nails to manicured nails to acrylic nails, especially in a women’s world, the nails are a place on the body where we can be artistic and creative but also show how groomed we are. We have nail tools for cutting, shaping, and grooming them like nail clippers, nail files, cuticle nippers and cuticle pushers. We have nail polish, press on nails, and little rhinestones that can be glued onto the nails. On the contrary, bitten nails, hangnails, or nails with fungus are a sign of sickness or lack of internal health in some way shape or form. But many times we forget the biological purpose of our nails. Ultimately, the biological purpose is most important.


Biologically, the nails act as a protective layer and perhaps enhance the sensation of the fingertip. Because the fingers have many nerves, the fingers need to be able to feel a lot of sensation. As we touch objects, we use or hands for stimulation to let us know whether something is ok or not ok to touch. For example, a stove burner is very hot. Without the heightened sensitivity to heat at the fingertips, we would not know to remove our fingers from the heat as quickly as possible. It’s proposed that nails help to improve this sensation. Fingernails and toenails also help to pick up objects and grasp them more firmly. Nails allow people to pick, scratch, peel, grab, climb, dig, tear and a variety of other tasks. Being able to manipulate things with our fingernails allows humans to do much more than without them.


Nails help give clues of internal health. If your nails have small pits or small spots on them, this could be an indication of psoriasis. Brown stripes on the nails could be an indication of AIDS or melanoma. Other abnormalities might be clubbing, spoon nails, double white lines, or red lunulas. Each of these physical abnormalities is a possible sign of a more serious internal condition. So nails function as an indicator or outwardly sign you can use to assess health.


Nails are made up of keratin. Keratin is a hard protein substance also found in hair. There are six parts to the structure of a nail. There’s the root, nail bed, nail plate, eponychium (cuticle), perionychium and hyponychium. Each of these

parts has a particular function. The nail root is under the skin where the nail grows from. The nail bed is the skin that’s covered by the nail plate. The nail plate is the part of the nail that you are familiar with and see with the naked eye. The white half-moon you see at the base of the nail is called the lunula. The eponychium, better known as the cuticle, helps to prevent bacteria from getting between the nail and skin. The perionychium is the skin that surrounds the nail plate. You many understand this area as the skin where you see hangnails and ingrown nails. The hyponychium is the junction between the free edge of the nail and the skin of the fingertip. Understanding the anatomy of a nail helps you to understand that there is more to a nail than you think and that there was evolutionary effort into the creation of the nail.


Through evolution, fingernails and toenails are not as important today as they were thousands of years ago. Today, they play a different role although still share many of the same roles. Today, we look at nails and think social status or whether someone is healthy or not or hygienic or not. It seems that as long as nails continue to exist, there will always be a purpose for them, both biological and sociological.


Watch this video on the Satin Slim Nail Clipper!


Dedicated to exploring the world of beauty and writing about it.

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