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Growth rate of human fingernails and toenails in healthy American young adults

Authors

  • S Yaemsiri,

    1. Departments of Epidemiology, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and
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  • N Hou,

    1. Nutrition, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA
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  • MM Slining,

    1. Nutrition, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA
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  • K He

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Epidemiology, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and
    2. Nutrition, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA
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  • Conflict of interest
    Potential conflicts do not exist.

*K HE. E-mail:kahe@unc.edu

Abstract

Background  Human nail clippings are increasingly used in epidemiological studies as biomarkers for assessing diet and environmental exposure to trace elements or other chemical compounds. However, little is known about the growth rate of human nails.

Objective  To estimate the average growth rate of fingernails and toenails and examine factors that may influence nail growth rate.

Methods  Twenty-two healthy American young adults marked their nails close to the proximal nail fold with a provided nail file following a standardized protocol, and recorded the date and the distance from the proximal nail fold to the mark. One to three months later, participants recorded the date and distance from the proximal nail fold to the mark again. Nail growth rate was calculated based on recorded distance and time between the two measurements.

Results  Average fingernail growth rate was faster than that of toenails (3.47 vs. 1.62 mm/month, P < 0.01). There was no significant difference between right and left fingernail/toenail growth rates. The little fingernail grew slower than other fingernails (P < 0.01); the great toenail grew faster than other toenails (P < 0.01). Younger age, male gender, and onychophagia were associated with faster nail growth rate; however, the differences were not statistically significant.

Conclusion  Nail growth rates have increased compared with previous estimates conducted decades ago. Toenail clippings may reflect a long exposure time frame given the relatively slow growth rate.

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