There is a common saying in my place: If you eat your skin, hair or nails, it will be deposited in the cecal (Vermiform) appendix, and can cause appendicitis. (This is mostly told to children to discuourge them from eating their own.)

Is there any reality in this statement? In the case of hair and nails they are dead cells, but what is the issue with skin? Skin is normally living and the cells are active.

So is there any problem digesting ones own skin?

Do nails, skin and hair must be trapped in Vermiform appendix?

  • $\begingroup$ Hint: Keratin. Usual proteases in our gut cannot digest keratin. $\endgroup$
    Dec 11, 2014 at 13:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is something that Proteinase K can do - hence the name "k". $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Dec 11, 2014 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Most questions in SE are placed "on hold", I think there are straight forward answers exist to this question. Can someone enlighten me, for what reason this question is put on hold ? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 3:52

1 Answer 1


Skin is safe to chew, and digestible. Fingernails are not digestible, so really shouldn't be swallowed if avoidable. In the medical literature, there are at least 225 cases of foreign bodies in the appendix. They include:

  • a metal drill bit that was ingested unintentionally 3 months earlier
  • pins (81 cases)
  • lead shot (81 cases)
  • seeds (34 cases)
  • bones (16 cases)
  • eggshell
  • glass
  • teeth
  • nails (hair causes problems with bezoar formation)
  • a die (dice)
  • the clinical end of a thermometer.

Most (71%) patients were symptomatic, typically with intermittent abdominal pain for months or years. Pins were most likely to elicit symptoms (93% of cases).

So it seems there is some truth to this nugget of folk wisdom.

The above were found over many, many years. Since most cases are asymptomatic, it's likely there are many cases that never come to light, but not remarkably so (lots of appendices are removed and examined every year!).

Foreign Bodies in the Appendix

  • $\begingroup$ What about digestion of skin, WYSIWYG commented that Keratin is indigestible. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Jvrek - please see the first line. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, it's really kept here for years! How do they send the little cameras to the digestive track so they get out? $\endgroup$
    – Probably
    Jan 13, 2016 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ I would have put bezoars in big flashing letters at the top of the answer, as the number 1 reason not to do it... ugh. $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Jan 14, 2016 at 2:51

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