Lee Redmond: Longest fingernails on a pair of hands ever (female)
We at Guinness World Records (GWR) often ask our record holders, guests and colleagues which records they remember reading about during their first experiences of our book, and time and again we get the answer longest fingernails – a title that has now become almost synonymous with us.
In an extensive history of fingernail-growers, record holders don’t get more iconic than Lee Redmond of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, who carefully nurtured her nails for 30 years and achieved the title for longest fingernails on a pair of hands (female) – ever. She held this record from 2008 to 2022, when Diana Armstrong (USA) claimed the title.
At their peak length in 2008, Lee’s talons reached a combined total of 8.65 metres (28 ft 4 in). That’s as long as a school bus!
The longest individual nail was the right thumb, which grew to a staggering 90 cm (2 ft 11 in) long.
How it started
Lee’s record-breaking story began in 1979, when her nails were less than 5 cm (2 in) long.
She decided to stop filing them and challenged herself to see how long they would grow before they started to bend out of shape.
But Lee’s nails never started to twist like other famously long fingernails. Instead, they grew out in huge extended arches, likely as a result of her careful daily manicure procedure.
"There is something quite unique about Lee’s fingernails because they were quite beautiful," commented Guinness World Records Editor-in-Chief, Craig Glenday, during an interview celebrating historic record holders for our 60th anniversary in 2014.
When Lee had gone 19 years without filing her nails, Guinness World Records officially recognised her for having the Longest fingernails on a pair of hands (female), with a total length of 7 m 51.3 cm (24 ft 7.8 in) in 2003.
Living with the world’s longest fingernails
By then, Lee and her fingernails had received worldwide fame and any plans to cut off her claws had been firmly set aside.
"It’s strange how they become part of you," she told us.
Lee spent hours treating her nails with warm olive oil and applied a bottle-and-a-half of nail hardener to each fingernail every single day. She then covered them in a striking gold paint, which many will remember from her iconic Guinness World Records photoshoots.
In a 2007 interview with ABC, Lee said her nails grew an impressive inch-and-a-half every year.
According to Lee’s doctor, if she had been trapped in a bunker during a nuclear strike she could have eaten her nails - because they contained enough nutrients for her to survive for three months.
One thing Lee used her Guinness World Records title holder status for was to give motivational speeches: "One of the greatest things that I have done with them is going around to the junior high schools and talking about self-esteem. I go to self-esteem classes and tell the kids, 'It's OK to be different, as long as you are not hurting anyone.' And because, heaven knows, they need self-esteem."
"I think people are mostly fascinated by longest fingernail records because it is something that the record holder has elected to do and they have chosen to live that lifestyle, unlike title holders such as the shortest man," said Guinness World Records Editor-in-Chief, Craig Glenday.
It’s hard to imagine how someone could get on with their daily life with 2-ft claws hanging from their hands – but Lee was able to make cups of tea, cut her children’s hair, use a mobile phone, do the washing up and even drive.
However, through no fault of her own, this last activity would prove to be the destruction of Lee’s iconic fingernails.
Lee often said that for some reason she felt protected by her fingernails, as if they formed a shield around her. That shield was cracked in 2009.
Lee was a passenger in an SUV which lost control and slammed into the side of another vehicle, that in turn crashed into a third and a fourth car. Lee and her driver were immediately rushed to hospital.
The record holder survived major injuries, but sadly, her fingernails did not endure the accident.
Lee recalled the winding moment she realised that parts of her snapped nails were lying in front of her in the road.
"Losing my fingernails has been the most dramatic thing that's happened in my life. I think it was my grandson that said, 'Grandma, they are like your baby; you've taken care of them for 30 years and lost them in a second'," Lee told us shortly after the crash.
But Lee demonstrated incredible positivity about the incident: "The thing that bothered me with losing the fingernails was that they become your identity and I felt like I'd lost part of that, yet I would always say when people would make comments about my fingernails, 'There's more to me than my fingernails'."
Lee kept some fragments of her talons, but she has no plans to grow them back to their former glory. And that’s quote understandable, as it would mean another 30-year commitment!
A few months before the accident, Lee had joined a Guinness World Records adjudicator in Michigan, USA, to help measure the 9.05-m (29-ft 8-in) nails of Melvin Boothe (USA), the new title holder for Longest nails on a pair of hands ever (male), who has sadly since passed away.
The striking photographs taken that day now stand as a beautiful tribute to two of the world’s most popular record holders.
At 76 years old, Lee is now retired and spends a great deal of time with her family, which now includes a lot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.