The belief that hair and nails continue to grow after death has been prevalent for centuries. This myth likely stems from the observation that the hair and nails of a deceased person may appear longer than when they were alive. The thought of hair and nails growing on a lifeless body can seem pretty eerie, and understandably, this notion has been widely circulated and perpetuated over time.
Checking the Facts on Hair and Nails
Hair and nail growth requires active, living cells. Examining the biological processes contributing to their development is essential to understanding why hair and nails do not grow after death.
The Hair Growth Process
Hair growth occurs through the division of cells in the hair follicle, a structure in the skin. This process requires energy and nutrients, which are supplied by the blood. When a person dies, their heart stops pumping blood, meaning the hair follicles no longer receive the necessary nutrients and oxygen for cell division. Consequently, hair growth ceases. This fact has been confirmed by numerous scientific studies, such as the ones cited by the National Library of Medicine. (How Does Hair Grow).
How Nails Grow
Similarly, nail growth depends on living cells. The matrix, located beneath the skin near the nail’s base, generates new nail cells. As these cells grow and multiply, they push the older cells forward, causing the nail to extend. Like hair follicles, the nail matrix relies on a blood supply to deliver nutrients and oxygen. When a person dies, blood circulation stops, and the nail matrix can no longer function, halting nail growth. You can find further information on nail growth from Very Well Health (How Fingernails and Toenails Grow).
Why the Myth Persists
The belief that hair and nails grow after death may be reinforced by observations made after a person has passed away. The hair and nails of a deceased individual can appear longer than when they were alive. However, this is not due to growth but rather to the dehydration of the skin. As the skin dries out and retracts after death, it exposes more of the hair shaft and nail bed, giving the appearance of longer hair and nails. Various scientific sources have discussed this natural process, including the BBC (Do fingernails and hair really keep growing after death?).