Although surgical treatment of nail conditions can be traced back centuries to the writings of Paul Aegineta (625–690 AC), little is known about the physical laws governing nail growth. Such a poor understanding together with the increasing number of nail salons in the high street should raise legitimate concerns regarding the different procedures applied to nails. An understanding of the physics of nail growth is therefore essential to engage with human medicine and to understand the aetiology of nail conditions. In this context, a theory of nail plate adhesion, including a physical description of nail growth can be used to determine the transverse and longitudinal curvatures of the nail plate that are so important in the physical diagnosis of some nail conditions. As a result physics sheds light on: (a) why/how nails/hooves adhere strongly, yet grow smoothly; (b) why hoof/claw/nail growth rates are similar across species; (c) potential nail damage incurred by poor trimming; (d) the connection between three previously unrelated nail conditions, i.e. spoon-shaped, pincer and ingrown nails and; last but not least, (e) why ingrown nails occur preferentially in the big toes.