MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: Are our fingernails made up of stiff hair? If not,what are they made up of?

Area: Anatomy
Posted By: David Schneider, Faculty Health Sciences
Date: Tue Jan 7 10:19:21 1997

Dear Shimin,

Thanks for your interesting question. Human fingernails are not made of stiff hair but are actually made from skin cells.

Nails grow from a "growth plate" located at the base of the nail. It's the half-moon shaped area at the base of the nail near where the skin connects. Nails are fomed by special cells called epithelium. Epithelial cells grow from the growth plate and as they mature, they are pushed outward. During growth they die and the inside of the cells become filled with a hard protein called "Keratin". It is the keratin that makes our nails hard and tough.

Thanks again for your question.

Admin note:
Incidentally, keratin is one of the predominant proteins that make up hair. So, although fingernails are not made of 'stiff hair' they contain lots of keratin, just like strands of hair.

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