Mortuary man reveals how he handles nails of the dead

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When you think of laying someone to rest, it can be easy to forget about the importance of their hands.

Some might be wearing wedding bands, others may have their hands by their sides, or folded over their chest.

Granted, a dead person won’t be getting any intricate designs on their nails before they’re buried, but there is a certain level of nail care.

Austin funeral director, Sarah Wambold, spoke to The Order of the Good Death, a death acceptance organisation founded by mortician and YouTuber Caitlin Doughty to reveal more about the process.



And it turns out, the first thing used isn’t nail paint or hand cream it’s “mortuary Jell-O”, which is injected into each finger. It’s basically a tissue filler which you can mould to look more natural.

After this, the skin should be looking a little more ‘alive’, or in Sarah’s words “somehow better than your own.”

If you’re wondering what natural nails look like after death, your imagination is probably quite accurate. According to Sarah, the nails will look “weathered and torn at first, with the nail beds possibly a purplish colour from inadequate fluid distribution during the embalming process.”

Hands play a big part in how a body is presented

Thankfully a mortician will file them all to an even length in one direction – some nails are easier than others, though.

In some cases nails might be lacerated or even torn off completely. If this is the case, acrylic nails are used.

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Nail tips will then need to be packed in chemical-soaked cotton overnight, making the preparation quite a lengthy process.

Next, it’s all about removing the cauterising materials, cleaning the nail bed and applying a clear sealing liquid over the bed.

Sarah explained: “Apply a thin strip of cotton to the nail bed to serve as a base and then cover it with another coat of sealing liquid.”



Some nails may be longer than others and won’t need acrylics, just shaping, cleansing and priming for nail polish.

And when it comes to the colour, Sarah suggests going bold to give the hands ‘life’.

She added: “When picking a colour, Jungle Red. Think about how this looks on your own nails, how it emphasises their misshapes and mocks their stubbiness.

“Apply each layer in perfect, even strokes and notice the intensity of the colour. The bed of the nail meets the finger in such a dramatic way that even you think there is still life in these hands.”



A bold shade might not be for everyone but if someone liked it in life then why not let them go out with a pop of colour?

Next, comes degreasing and cleansing the top of the hands with a bottle of tint to warm the skin by stippling a soft brush.

Finally, Sarah rests the hand in a resting pose and allows them to fall naturally so they’re not stiff or rigid.



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