The Daily Nail

4 min read

I love to paint my nails and flaunt the pretty artwork on these tiny canvases wherever I go. That got me thinking about the origin of nail art, and the uses of fingernails apart from scratching those itchy mosquito bites. 

Why do we have fingernails, and what do you do with them?

We know that the primary function of our fingernails is to protect our fingertips and the surrounding soft tissue from injuries. Fingernails help in our touch-sensitivity and is a useful tool for relieving that itch *scratch scratch* or clearing your nose of boogers.  

Here are 5 other things you might not know about nails!  Read on!


Fingernails grow at an average of 0.1 millimetres per day. In fact, nails grow faster during the day due to the exposure of sunlight which provides vitamin D – essential for nail growth. Hence, nails with a larger surface area grow faster. If an unfortunate event causes you to lose a fingernail due to injury, it may take up to 6 months for full growth and toenails, up to 1.5 years. Time to sunbathe those nails!


Our primate ancestors have claws, also known as “grooming” claws. Like nails, these are made of keratin. Claws are usually meant for grooming, digging and self-defence. Evolutionary researchers believe that curved claws became impractical when human ancestors began using tools 2.5 million years ago. Both humans and primates have partners for grooming, which defeats the purpose of having claws. The lack of use may have caused the claws to evolve into what we all are familiar with – fingernails.


Did you know that patents for the first nail clipper was filed (pun intended) in 1875?  What did people use to cut their nails before this conventional tool existed? Knives.  It’s like an accident waiting to happen on a weekly basis *gasp*.  The process was described as “paring”, since paring knives were used and terms such as “trim” or “cut” were not used back then.   Of course, some people chose to file their nails with stones or rough surfaces, a less efficient but safer way.


In ancient cultures, nail art was a form of social status display. During the Ming (1386-1644) and Qing (1644 – 1912) Dynasty, men and women grew their nails long and covered them with golden nail guards or polishes made out of egg whites, beewax and other materials. Keeping their nails long was their way of allegedly announcing to the world their social rank and their freedom from performing menial labour.

While ancient Chinese liked to keep their nails long, it is Ayanna Williams from USA, who nailed the current world record of the longest fingernails on a pair of hands (female) with a combined total length of 576.4cm! 


The condition of your fingernails can reveal possible underlying illnesses.  For example, downward curved nails could be a harmless genetic trait. However, if this did not exist before, it could indicate possible heart, liver, lung or inflammatory bowel disease.  So, the next time you notice a severe change in the shape, structure or even colour of your nails, do visit a dermatologist to get it examined. For more information on nail diseases click here and here.

You may be happy to know that nail care routine is not as complicated as skin or hair care.  All you need to do is to maintain good personal hygiene as dirt and bacteria do get trapped under our nails easily.  Simply trim your nails short, keep them dry and clean and don’t forget to moisturise to keep them strong!

Written by Edna Chan
Illustrated by Toh Bee Suan


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