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Discovery Magazine 7/1/2003

Why Do Your Finger-Nails Keep Growing When You’re Dead? How Fast Do Toenails and Fingernails Grow?

by  Digger Doug

Dear Megan and Courtney,

At the base of your nails there is a white area called the lunulathat resembles a half-moon. This lunula is the front edge of a very important part of your nail called the matrix. Most of the matrix, or “root” of your nail, is buried beneath your skin. The matrix is where nail growth occurs. On average, nails grow about 1.5 inches per year. The matrix produces keratin cells that push forward and form the nail plate. Many factors contribute to how fast your nails grow, such as weather, health, age, and a well-balanced diet. But a good blood supply is the key. This may help explain why fingernails often grow much faster than toenails. Nails tend to grow faster in our early years, reaching their peak around the age of 10-14 years old. After that, the nail growth gradually slows down, as we get older. Growth is faster in the summer, during pregnancy, and during sleep. You may have heard that nails continue to grow after a person is dead. Well, this is not true. It does look like they grow, but in reality the nails themselves aren’t growing. Once the matrix dies, the nails can no longer make keratin cells to continue growing. However, when a person dies, his or her skin loses water and begins to shrink. The shrinking skin pulls back away from the nails, making them look longer.

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