From the surface, it seems like hair and nails don’t have much in common. But they actually do! Hair and nails are made up of a tough protein, known as keratin. The keratin is the important protective and structural protein that makes our nails and hair strong. Keratin is similar in toughness to chitin, the carbohydrate found in the outer skeleton in arthropods.
You may find it surprising to know that the keratin that is found in your hair and nails is actually dead keratin cells. The living keratin cells are produced deep inside your body and pushed outwards to the nails and hair.
A little bit about Nails
Nails in humans are similar to claws in animals. They cover the tips of our fingers and toes. Both fingernails and toenails grow from the nail bed. As they grow, more keratin cells are added onto the nail bed. Older cells are pushed away from the nail bed thus making the nail grow longer. There are no nerves in our nails. If this was the case, cutting nails could be very painful!
Nails act as protective plates over our fingertips as well as toes. They also help in making us more aware of our environment. This is because the regions under our nails have numerous nerve endings. The nerve endings allow us to register information about the objects we touch.
The Guinness World Records has been tracking the growth of nails since 1955. At that time, the record for the longest fingernails in the world was at 1 foot 10.7 inches long. The current record holder for women is an American woman, with a record of 28 feet (850cm) for all her fingernails on both hands. The longest nail on her right-hand thumb is about 2 feet 11 inches.
The record for men is held by an Indian man, whose fingernails on his left-hand total to about 20 feet 2.25 inches. The longest nail on his left-hand thumb is 4 feet 9 inches. Since humans grow nails at about 3 mm every month, how long do you think it took them to grow such nails?
A little bit about Hair
Hair is a major characteristic in mammals. As a matter of fact, mammals are the only animals with hair. Hair emanates from the epidermis, but originates from the dermis, and actually grows from the hair follicles. New cells grow from the bottom part of the hair. Older cells are pushed off, making the hair grow longer. The cells that make up hair are dead and filled with a protein structure-keratin.
In our bodies, hair grows on every part of the body except on the lips, the palms of our hands and the soles of feet. Hair grows at the rate of 1.25 cm or 0.5 inches every month, or about 15 cm or 6 inches every year.
By the time you are an adult, you’ll have at least 5 million strands of hair growing out of your skin, all over the body. The funny thing is, this is the same for a gorilla, only that the gorilla’s hair is long and thick, while the human hair is small and thin thus making it difficult to see.
Hair, especially those on the head, helps to maintain our body temperature. They act like an air trap creating a warm blanket over the skin. Hair also acts like a filter. Hair inside the nose helps trap unwanted particles in the air before it travels to the lungs. The hair on the eyelids (eyelashes) shields dust particles and sunlight from the eyes. Eyebrows stop sweat as well as rain from getting into the eyes.
The world’s longest hair, according to Guinness World Records, belongs to a Chinese woman Xie Qiuping. Her hair is 18 feet 6 inches (about 5.6 metres). She has been growing her hair for over 45 years since 1973 when she was only 13 years old.
Takeaway: What do Hair and Nails have in common?
- Both hair and nails are made up of a tough protein, known as keratin.
- The keratin makes the hair and nails grow.
- Nails act as a protective plate over the fingers and toes.
- Hair serves many functions including maintaining the body temperature and acting like a filter.
In short, hair and nails have a lot in common. They are there to protect us, and to do this, they need to be strong. That’s why they have keratin to help them.