Tanning after death

As we all know, it takes a while for your skin to redden (if you’re like me) or darken (if you’re lucky) after spending time in the sun. So if I spend two hours in the sun, go inside and immediately die in a freak accident involving a parakeet and an empty crisp packet, will the skin of my corpse still redden or darken?

I know hair and nails continue to grow for a little while after death. Is it the same for tanning?

Your nails don’t continue to grow after you die. That requires cell division and that can’t happen. They are simply one of the last things to decay and the withering of fingers and toes make them look like they grew.

Really? Cite?

Snopes agrees with Shagnasty.

Good enough for me. Interesting.

So does the SDSAB (Hawk, specifically).

So we’re back to the question in the OP. A pretty good one, too.

The reddening of the skin in sunburn is caused by dilation if blood vessels in the skin, with subsequent increase in blood flow to the area. If you already were red when you died, I suppose it is possible that the skin would look darker as the blood pooled in the area; but if you die before the inflammation has started, there will be no reddening of sun-exposed areas post-mortem - especially since the blood loses the bright redness of full oxygenation after death, becoming more of a dark purple. Now, if the parakeet/crisp packet accident resulted in you dying suddenly of massive carbon monoxide poisoning, your blood would remain bright red longer after death…

Tanning requires the synthesis of melanin by living cells; dead cells do not produce new melanin. I suppose that it is possible that the pallor associated with death might accentuate a mild ‘farmer tan’ - making the contrast between already-tanned and non-tanned skin more apparent- but you would not be forming new skin pigment after death.

I can’t believe someone else just asked this! I just downloaded a song by a punk band from Florida from c. 1980 called the X-Conz who asked the question in song as a dark commentary on the Florida geriatric population. And naturally I was wondering the same thing and was about to bring it here…

No cite, but trust me. Nothing grows after death. And Shagnasty is absolutely right about the withering which makes them look longer.

The “lengthening” of fingernails and toenails doesn’t begin to become apparent until the body is in a state of early decomposition. I have examined God knows how many freshly dead bodies and the fingernails and toenails, just like the face, remain exactly as they would look in life, to the point that I can diagnose maladies by abnormalities of the fingernails. (Trace clubbing, subungual hematoma…) But when the guts start to putrefy and the fingers start to mummify, the drying flesh pulls back from the fingernails, exposing more of them, making them look long.

I can see how this got started. When I look at a corpse in early decomposition (or advanced) with some mummification of the digits, I am often startled by the apparent length of the nails, and think something like “wow, those’re really long”. Then I catch myself, and remind myself that they are mummified. The nails wouldn’t have looked that long in life.

You don’t tan after death because, to tan, your melanocytes have to produce melanin and deposit it at the dermal-epidermal junction, or the line between the transparent outer layer of your skin and the opaque underlying layer. (Same layer as where tattoo ink resides, roughly.) Producing melanin requires active synthesis by the nuclei and endoplasmic reticulum of the cell, and only active cells, breathing in oxygen and using up sugar, can synthesize. Once they die, the silence of fallen snow descends over everything. The only changes in the skin from then on will be due to rot.

What she said. :wink: