Some of us like a good scratch. And some of us like to pick our noses. Why do we we even have these things?
How would our grip be affected by them? And how not having nails could improve our health? We’re about to do more than just scratch the surface.
Fingernails are one of the reasons why primates are different from other mammals. They’re like the flattened claws you might find on other mammals. On average, your fingernails grow at the rate of 3.47 mm (0.14 in) per month. And your toenails only grow half as fast.
But what if one day your nails stopped growing altogether? How would this change your life?
Your nails are made of three layers of keratin. Keratin cells undergo a form of programmed cell death to create the hard form that make up nails. The three layers start soft and get progressively harder. And together, they create a protective shield.
Human nails have led to a booming industry, nail care products and services. In 2020, the global nail care market was estimated to be worth $2.7 billion. But nail care isn’t the reason we have nails.
Archeologists believe that around 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors developed broader fingertips. It was also around that time when they started picking up stone tools. But it’s still not clear if these two important evolutionary developments are linked.
Claws are good for scratching, climbing and digging holes. But fingernails are critical for being able to do delicate movements. Have you ever thought about how you can separate pages in a book or pick up small items like a coin? It’s because we have nails.
You can grip large things with your hands and pick up small, thin objects too. It’s a perfect balance. It might not seem like nails have much sensation, but underneath that hard shell is an intricate network of nerves.
The evolution of grooming claws has come from thoughts that as our nails got smaller and smaller, we could more easily groom ourselves and each other. And that led to more social bonding. It’s cool to think that even now, getting your nails done is still a form of social bonding which we can trace back millions of years in our evolution.
But if you didn’t have nails, how would it affect your health? Well, it would be good and bad.
One of the reasons you have fingernails is to keep viruses and bacteria from getting into your body. So if you didn’t have nails, you would get sick more often. But that would also mean less dirt or bacteria could get trapped underneath your nails in the first place, which can cause all sorts of infections.
You’d be surprised to learn that fingernails have another health-related use. They work as indicators for certain health conditions. Without them, it would be harder for you to check for sickness immediately.
For instance, peeling nails might signal an iron deficiency. Or horizontal ridges on the nails might indicate kidney disease. I said might. Don’t listen to people on the internet. Go to your doctor to seek medical advice.
If we didn’t have nails, our everyday lives would be very different. Imagine not being able to pick up small objects so easily. Or having to be more careful because you might pick up an infection. And worst of all, you would miss out on the joy of getting your nails done.
- “Nail Separation: Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Treatment”. 2021. Medicinenet.
- “Can a nail grow back if removed?”. 2021. Medicinenet.
- “Why Do We Have Fingernails?”. Bryner, Jeanna. 2021. livescience.com.
- “What Are Nails Made Of? And 18 Other Facts About Your Nails”. 2021. Healthline.
- “Global Nail Care Industry“. 2020. Globenewswire News Room.
- “Why Do Humans Have Fingernails?”. Perry, Kellen. 2021. Ranker.