Your fingernails are made up of layers of keratin, which is a protein also found in your skin and hair. Fingernails serve two primary purposes—they act as a protective plate and they increase the sensation in your fingertips. While protection might seem more important than sensation, both functions are equally significant.

Your fingertips have a number of nerve endings that allow you to receive information about the things you touch. And, your nails act as a counterforce to your fingertips—giving you even more sensory input when you touch an object.

If you took a close look at your nails, you’d see six different parts, including the root, nail bed, nail plate, cuticle (also called the eponychium), perionychium and hyponychium. Each part serves a specific function, and if even one stops functioning properly, it can result in unhealthy-looking nails.


The nail plate is your actual fingernail, and it’s made of keratin. Though the keratin is translucent, your nails look pink because of the blood vessels below the nail. The underside of the nail plate has grooves that help to anchor it to the nail bed. The skin that frames your nails on three sides is called “nail folds.”

The nail root is also called the germinal matrix, and it lies beneath the skin and behind the fingernail, extending into the finger itself. The fingernail root produces the bulk of the nail and the nail bed. Unlike skin cells, the nail root does not produce melanin.


The nail bed is the skin under your fingernail. The cuticle, also called the eponychium, fuses your nail plate to the skin of your finger. It overlaps your nail at the base and provides a waterproof barrier. Healthy cuticles are supple and flexible, while unhealthy ones tend to be dry and cracked.

The lunula is the white half-moon shape at the base of your nail, and the periocyhium is the skin that surrounds and lays over your nails on the sides—that’s where you’ll get hangnails and ingrown nails. The hypochium is the area between your nail and your fingertip. It connects the edge of your nail to the skin of your fingertip and provides an additional waterproof barrier.