This man has the longest nails in the world, measuring in at 197 cm (78 in). He grew them for over 60 years. Now, luckily for him, it’s only one of his hands. But what if you stopped cutting all of your nails forever? What would happen then?
What would happen if you didn’t clean them? How could this affect the rest of your body? And how long would they get?
On average your nails grow 3.47 mm (0.14 inches) per month. So if you were to do this for a single year, your nails would grow about 40mm (1.6 in). This probably wouldn’t warrant any funny looks, so what would happen if you let them grow for the rest of your life?
But before we get to that, let’s learn a little bit more about what we’re growing. Humans evolved to have nails because it made it easier to pick things up. We could pick bugs off our food or squeeze objects more tightly. Nails are made from the protein keratin. This is also found in your skin and hair.
Except unlike these parts of your body, your nails are tough and hard. As your nails grow out of your nail root, the protein begins to harden and flatten, creating your nail. Normally you cut them about every one to two weeks, but in our case we’re never going to be cutting them again.
As the first year went by, you’d notice it would be harder to grip and hold onto things. You’d try to act as you normally would, but your nails would keep getting in the way.
You’d also have to be careful when using your hands and feet not to break your nails. And not only that, but you’d probably have to go up an extra shoe size because your toe nails would be significantly longer.
And as another year passed, your nails would continue to grow to about 80 mm (3.2 in). Now it would even be more difficult to function. Your only option for footwear would be sandals or flip flops. And on top of that, it would be almost impossible to type on a keyboard, or use your hands for really anything.
If you really wanted to do this, with all your hands and feet, you’d need to dedicate your entire life to it. That is, if you didn’t want them to break. The longer they would get, the more fragile your nails would become.
And as you kept growing them for years and eventually decades, they would continue to get longer and longer. Your hands and feet would become useless. Their only real purpose would be conduits to grow your nails.
And now that your nails are several feet long, not being able to use your hands would be the least of your worries. As your nails have been growing, they’ve also become increasingly more disgusting. Since you didn’t have a spare hand, you’ve been unable to clean them for decades. And with that comes loads of bacteria.
Every time you’ve eaten something, touched something, or gone to the washroom, it’s all been building up. This would lead to bacterial infections at the base of your fingernails. Your fingers would be inflamed and full of pus. If not cleaned properly, the infections would get worse and worse. And ugh, that smell.
Now with you barely being able to move, I think it would be time to cut them off. You’d probably have to use a saw instead of regular nail clippers. And you’d have several feet of dead nails when you were finished. After you clean the pus and infections on your fingers and toes, you’d be good as new. Luckily this what if scenario doesn’t come with any serious consequences, just an incredibly disgusting one.
- “Curious Kids: Why Do We Have Fingernails And Toenails?”. 2019. The Conversation.
- “Nail Hygiene | Handwashing | Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC”. 2020. cdc.gov.
- “Your Nails (For Kids) – Nemours Kidshealth”. 2020. kidshealth.org.
- “How Fingernails Work”. Elizabeth, Forester. Howstuffworks.
- “How Fast Do Nails Grow? Rate By Day, Month, Year, Tips, And More”. 2020. Healthline.
- “What would happen if I never cut my fingernails?”. Laurie, Dove. Howstuffworks.
- “Fungal Nail Infections | Fungal Diseases | CDC”. 2020. cdc.gov.