ASK DOUG: Nail Growth – How Do Fingernails Grow?

Nail Growth: by Doug Schoon

Nail Growth: How Do Fingernails Grow?

ASK DOUGnail growth how-do-nails-grow-300

Hi Doug,

Is it possible to make my nails thicker or grow a different shape? Thanks for your help! ~Vicki


The finger nail plate is generally composed of about 50 layers of nail plate cells stacked upon each other.

Where do these nail plate cells come from?

The Master Source

They must come from a nail matrix that is long enough to produce the nail plate cells in a row (front to back).

Many such rows lay side-by-side to create the nail plate. Each row of newly made nail plate cells is slowly pushed upward and slightly forward by rows of even newer nail cells created from below, which are also being pushing upward as they are made by the matrix.

The matrix works in unison to create the nail plate—growing rows of new nail plate cells 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is how the nail plate grows.

The same holds true for a thin nail plate, which may be only 30 layers of nail cells thick, because this nail matrix can only produce 30 nail cells per row.

how nails grow

Got Curves?

The matrix also controls the curvature of the nail plate. Highly curved fingers have highly curved matrix areas which will produce a nail plate with the identical curvature; while a flatter matrix produces a flatter nail plate.

Now it should make sense that the shape of the front edge of the matrix determines the free edge shape of the natural nail. As the above image shows in the upper right corner, primates with oddly shaped lunula (exposed portions of the matrix), had identically shaped free edges of their nails.

False Thickening

Sometimes a nail plate can give the appearance of “thickening”, but since the nail matrix doesn’t grow longer, the plate is not really growing any thicker and will actually contain the same number of layers.

Doug-Schoon author Nail structure and product chemistry

Doug Schoon, Author of Nail Structure and Product Chemistry

However, when these layers of nail plate cells become separated, this can produce the false appearance of thickening. This can happen when the nail plate is infected with certain types of fungal organisms.

These organisms eat keratin and by doing so cause a breakdown in the structure of the nail plate.

As the infection progresses, the condition of the nail plate will worsen as the cell layers spread farther and farther apart until eventually the nail plate begins to crumble. If you are concerned that you may have a nail fungus, please visit your doctor.

In Conclusion

All of this demonstrates that shape, curvature, width, and thickness of a normal natural nail are ALL controlled by the nail matrix.

This also explains why changing the shape of the free edge, does NOT affect the nail plate’s growth patterns.

In other words, changing the shape of the free edge does NOT permanently change the way the nail plate grows, since the free edge shape and curvature is determined by the hardest working part of your finger, the nail matrix.

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