Cosmetology for the dead

Dear Matthew Alice:

My co-worker and I are having a friendly discussion. It's my understanding that after a person dies, their hair and nails continue to grow, at least for a short time. My co-worker insists this is impossible. Please help me make him understand how ignorant he is about this scientifically observed fact.

-- Mario, San Diego

Memo to: Mario's Co-worker. From: M. Alice. Re: Arguing with Mario. Dear Co-worker: When Mario tosses around words like "scientifically observed fact," I suggest you ask him to produce the scientists. I also recommend wagering large sums of money on the outcome of any future disputes. A few more "friendly discussions" like this one, and the kids' college tuition worries are over.

Lots of things are going on in a body once we bite it, but none of them would interest a cosmetologist. At first a dead body is a chemical and bacterial fiesta, which actually puffs it out. But then the skin begins to dry and shrink. This may be the source of the old wives tale about hair and nails continuing to grow. When the skin retracts from the hair root and nail bed, more of the nail and hair shaft is exposed, but they actually haven't grown at all. When you consider that under the best metabolic circumstances, scalp hair grows about a half-inch a month and fingernails grow even more slowly, it's not likely a corpse could muster up that much energy.

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