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Medical myths: Hair and nails keep growing after you die

Medical myths: Hair and nails keep growing after you die

Know your medical facts from myths? This week myth buster Dr Max Pemberton puts the old wives' tale that your hair and nails continue to grow after you die, to bed.  

What's the truth?

The growth of hair and nails requires the sort of complex hormonal regulation that can, of course, only happen when you're alive. It is, therefore, impossible for them to continue to grow once you're dead. Yet despite being entirely untrue, this myth has been doing the rounds for decades.

In Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front, the narrator imagines that, after a friend's burial, the corpse's nails grow into a corkscrew shape.

The American comedian and chat-show host Johnny Carson once quipped that "for three days after death hair and fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off". While funny, this is not true except about the phone calls.


Where did the myth come from?

hair today gone tomorrow

It does have some basis in a genuine phenomenon.

The dehydration that occurs after death can lead to retraction of the skin—and because this gives the hair and nails greater prominence, it can give the illusion that they've grown.

In reality, the surrounding tissue has just shrivelled.


So there's nothing to worry about?

Let's be honest, there are plenty of things about death more worrying than whether your hair or nails need a trim.


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