Give Now

A Moment of Science

A Tale Of The Supernatural

Have you ever heard that after people die, their fingernails, hair and teeth continue to grow? Today's program explores the truth behind this supernatural tale.

zombie on a zombie walk

Photo: Scott Beale (Flickr)

Well, this certainly is a morbid thought...

Here’s one for kids and other fans of the grotesque. Have you ever heard that after people die, their fingernails, hair and teeth continue to grow? Today’s program explores the truth behind this supernatural tale.

Dying Cells

Before we die, it’s important to know that individual body cells can die at different times.

Cells in our blood, skin, or gut lining die all the time and are constantly replaced. But when the body’s vital organs fail, and blood no longer carries the oxygen and nutrients necessary for life, all of the body’s cells will soon die of starvation and lack of oxygen–though not exactly at the same time.

Continuing To Grow

Some cells might receive blood for a few minutes after circulation while others have stopped. Or certain cells may be able to survive the lack of oxygen slightly longer than others. But these last cells don’t live more than a few minutes–definitely not long enough to grow.

Physiologically, the hair, nails and teeth don’t grow at all after death. Still, it’s easy to see where this rather gruesome idea came from. After death, the body begins to dry out as water evaporates from the skin. The skin of a corpse shrinks as a result, and the hair, nails and teeth may appear to lengthen as the skin draws back. Drying and shrinking may sound a bit creepy, but they’re normal, natural processes–unlike the wild, unearthly rumors of hair, nails or teeth growing after death.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science