Do fingernails keep growing after death?
And not just fingernails but hair, too, according to common belief, proving that not even the grimmest areas of life are immune to trivia. Few of us could ever personally verify this titbit. It isn’t, after all, an experiment you can conduct on your own, and few would have the presence of mind (or lack of heart) to whip out a ruler upon the death of nearest and dearest.
This is one that is best left to the professionals, who declare it to be false. The style-conscious need not fear that they’ll go to the grave looking like the wolfman’s scruffy cousin.
It does sound plausible, though, doesn’t it? Nails and hair are already dead, after all, and it’s no great leap to suppose that it won’t make much difference whether the rest of the body is dead or live.
Nails don’t just happen, though. Neither does hair, as many men can attest. Hair follicles are like tiny production lines, with rapidly proliferating cells at the root end providing the raw material which is compressed, coloured and shaped before poking above the skin.
Whether caused by faulty genes, disturbed hormones, drugs, or death, if the cells in the root stop multiplying there is no raw material for the hair shaft and growth ceases.
Nails are much the same: most of the nail is generated at the cuticle but it is added to right to the end of the fingertip — which is how it manages to continuously slide along while remaining solidly attached. Nail growth is more complicated than it looks, demanding precise orchestration that only occurs in life.
The experts concede that, while hair and nails don’t grow after death, the rest of the body does shrink as it dries out. This can make the hair and nails appear to grow. Teeth can appear longer in the same way and this, along with other aspects of decomposition, may be at the root of the vampire legend.
But, much like a vampire, the idea that nails and hair actually grow after death doesn’t stand the light of day.