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Toenail Anatomy

Toenail Anatomy: Exploring the Structure and Functions of Different Parts

Toenails serve a critical role in the health of our feet. They are are sensory organs that act like a shield, providing a critical layer of protection. The various parts of the toenail comprise toenail anatomy. These parts work together to protect the underlying tissues of the toe and aid in walking and other activities.

Toenails may look like a singular unit, they’re actually pretty complex. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the structure and functions of the different parts of our toenail anatomy, providing a deeper understanding of this often-overlooked aspect of foot health.

Nail plate

The nail plate is the hard part of the nail and is comprised of a tough protective protein called alpha-keratin. Keratin adds strength and durability to the nail. The nail plate grows out from the nail matrix. It is translucent, and its colour can vary from white to yellowish-brown, depending on the thickness and the presence of underlying tissues. The end of the nail plate is part of the nail you trim away when clipping your toenails.

Nail bed

Close-up of toes

The nail bed is the skin under the nail. It nourishes and supports the nail. The nail bed is composed of blood vessels, nerves, and cells called melanocytes, all of which combine to produce the pigment that gives the nail its colour. When the nail bed is damaged, you may notice your toenail appears to change colour. For instance, your nail bed may produce a purple/darkish colour known as a black toenail, which occurs when the nail bed is damaged and pools blood.

Nail matrix

Did you know it takes roughly 18 months for a toenail to grow its entire length? This is thanks to the nail matrix, which helps dictate toenail growth. The nail matrix is the part of the nail bed that produces new nail cells. It is at the base of the nail plate, just beneath the cuticle. The nail matrix contains specialized cells called keratinocytes, which produce the protein that forms the nail plate. 


The lunula is the crescent-shaped white area at the base of the nail plate. It’s the actively-growing component of the nail. The lunula is sometimes called the “half-moon” of the nail due to its curvature and half-ringed shape.


Close-up of toes

The cuticle is the thin skin layer covering the nail plate’s base. It protects new nails from bacteria when they grow from the root, and also helps to keep the nail plate hydrated.

Nail folds

The nail folds are the skin folds surrounding the sides and base of the nail plate. They help to anchor the nail plate in place and provide support and protection to the surrounding tissues. Nail folds direct the nail growth in the correct direction and shape. When the nail folds are damaged, you may experience horizontal grooves across the nail, known as Beau’s lines.

Nail groove

The nail groove separates the nail plate and the nail fold. It helps to direct water and debris away from the nail bed.

Toenail care and health live at Feet First Clinic

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Carolina Charles

Patient Relation Coordinator (She/Her)

If you’ve been to the clinic before, chances are you had the pleasure of meeting Carolina! Carolina’s daily goal is going above and beyond to make sure patients are always completely satisfied. Having worked in the podiatry industry for 22 years, Carolina brings a wealth of knowledge pertaining to client service, insurance policies, and procedures.​ She steers the ship to make sure everything runs smoothly on the daily. Carolina is known for spicing up every outfit with her signature costume jewellery.