Ask A Scientist

Why do fingernails grow faster than toenails?

Asked by: Maria Orband
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: David Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Dance, Basketball, Manhunt and Baseball
Career Interest: A lawyer or advertiser

Answer from Rita Bergevin MA, RN, BC

Clinical assistant professor, Binghamton Universit

Research: Board certified in Geriatrics. Interests: Palliative care and oncology, Holistic health. Education: New York University, Masters in Nursing, Kings County Hospital School of Nursing Family: Husband, Patrick Bergevin MD, sons Andrew 19 and Dennis 16

Nails can be an indicator of the overall health of an individual. We often take our nails for granted as we bite them, paint them, file them and use then as tools to pick up specific objects. Nails are a protection to the sensitive tips of fingers and toes. Fingernails are made up of a hardened protein called keratin, which is also found in skin and hair. Your nails grow, on average, about one-tenth of an inch per month. It will take approximately six months for a fingernail to grow from cuticle to tip. Fingernails are made up of six parts:

 

-Nail plate: this is the part you see when you look at the fingers, the most visible part of the nail.

-Nail folds: the skin that frames and supports the nails on three sides.

-Nail bed: the skin found beneath the nail plate.

-Cuticle: the tissue that overlaps the nail plate at the base of the nail.

-Lunula: the whitish half-moon shape found at the base of the nail.

-Matrix: the part of the nail hidden under the cuticle

You might have noticed that nails on the fingers grow faster than nails on the toes. You’re right! Fingernails grow faster on the longest fingers too. It has been found also that nails that are the most exposed and most used grow the fastest; if you’re a right-handed person, nails grow faster than those on the left hand, and vice-versa. Fingernails generally grow faster in young males and particularly in the summer. There isn’t any direct experimental evidence to answer the question “why,” however we might conjecture that the reason has something to do with exposure to the elements and usage.

Last Updated: 9/18/13