Facts About Fingernails Growth And How Diet Affects It
The nail matrix, unlike its counterpart in the hair, never gets a chance to “rest,” because nails don’t grow in cycles; they grow constantly. Fingernails grow at a clip (if you’ll pardon the pun!) of 1/8 to 1/4 inch per month; toenails, about two to three times more slowly.
Though growth rates vary from one individual to the next, it takes the average Joe or Jane around 6 months to grow a full fingernail, and 12 to 18 months to grow a full toenail, as anyone unlucky enough to have lost one of either could tell you.
The rate of nail growth tapers off as we age, but almost never, ever shuts down entirely, even when the nail matrix suffers severe damage. Thus, when the health of the matrix becomes compromised—whether through direct injury, infection, or extreme malnutrition— the typical result is slowed or deformed nail growth rather than no growth at all. Funky looking, misshapen nails or nails that grow in odd directions usually indicate that the matrix is not functioning as it should.
Did You Know?
Fingernails—like retirees—seem to favor warm weather. Nail growth rates, for reasons unknown to researchers, typically heat up in the summer and cool down in the winter. But don’t pack away those clippers just because it’s snowing outside: Changes in seasonal growth rates aren’t that dramatic!
Some other interesting morsels: In most people, the nails of the dominant hand row faster than the nails of the other hand, and growth rates vary from finger to finger. The general rule of thumb (ouch! . . . sorry, couldn’t resist!) is that the longer the finger is, the faster its nail grows. Thus the nail of the middle finger grows fastest; the ring finger, next fastest; the index finger next. Nail growth rates also accelerate during pregnancy and immediately after an illness.
Memo To Office Staff …
Don’t be shocked if the secretaries and data entry specialists at your place of work own some of the strongest, healthiest nails in the building. You see, it seems as though there’s something about the repetitive clicking of a keyboard that just drives the nail matrix crazy, stimulating it to produce new growth quicker than it does under ordinary circumstances. Likewise, the nails of most pianists grow at a faster than normal pace, even though you’d think the incessant pounding of the keys would instead cause splitting and breakage.
Nail Growth And Your Diet
While your nails may reward time spent at the keyboard by growing faster, they don’t appear to care much one way or the other about what you eat or the dietary supplements you take. You may have heard, for instance, that loading up on gelatin capsules, calcium pills, or certain vitamins will lead to longer, stronger nails.
Or that a nice, hearty serving of seaweed or spinach will give your nails the iron they “need.” But these are myths, pure and simple—just like the myths that attempt to link specific foods with outbreaks of acne. Your nails, remember, are no more alive than the hairs on your head, so the foods and supplements you ingest cannot positively affect them in any measurable way.
Sadly enough, the only known effect your diet can have on the nails and nail growth is to make them weak or deformed, as sometimes happens in cases of severe malnutrition, crash dieting, or binge-purge eating.
But aside from these exceptional situations, it’s almost a certainty that your present diet provides adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals required by the nails to reach their natural potential in terms of both growth and strength. Thus, if we consider only the health of the nails—and ignore the rest of the body—what you eat can hurt, but cannot help, your nails.
Despite its hard, glossy surface, the nail plate does not form a completely impenetrable barrier to the outside world. It is, in reality, a porous structure, capable of absorbing external substances such as water, nail polish pigment, and chemicals from nail cosmetics and household cleansers, to cite just a few examples.
Once these substances find their way below the outer surface of the nail plate, the affected nail can become dry, stressed, and prone to breakage. In some instances, complete nail loss can result, especially when a very adverse reaction occurs or when powerful chemicals penetrate into sensitive areas like the nail folds or cuticle.
Over Washing Our Hands
Water ranks as the substance absorbed in the greatest quantity by the nails, and for the majority of people causes few really big problems. But when exposure to moisture becomes too frequent—as it can for people who, for example, wash their hands several times a day or swim daily—the nails inevitably suffer.
They take on water and expand when wet, then lose moisture and shrink as they dry. Constant repetition of this cycle of expansion and contraction eventually weakens the nails, rendering them very susceptible to breakage. Who is at risk for this type of nail damage?
Basically, anyone who over washes their hands, whether of necessity or because of a compulsion to be ultra-clean. In the necessity category, we may include everyone whose job requires frequent hand washing, such as food service and restaurant workers, waitresses, bartenders, nurses, dental assistants, hairstylists, and so on.
To minimize shrinkage and stress, always rinse your hands thoroughly after washing to remove residual soap, and when possible treat your nails with petroleum jelly or a rich, moisturizing hand lotion while they are still slightly damp. This will help seal in the moisture needed for healthy nails, plus prevent your hands from becoming dry and chapped.
Understanding Nail Structure
Learn about the structure of your nails and what each part does, the nail plate, the nail bed, and the nail matrix