Drugs in nails: physiology, pharmacokinetics and forensic toxicology

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2000 Feb;38(2):95-110. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200038020-00001.


In recent years, drug analysis in keratinised matrices, such as hair and nails, has received considerable attention because of several advantages over drug testing methodologies employing body fluids, such as urine or serum. For example, keratinic matrices, such as finger- and toenails, can accumulate drugs during long term exposure. Drugs are incorporated into nails by a double mechanism: (i) deposition into the root of the growing nail via the blood flow in the nail matrix; and (ii) incorporation via the nail bed during growth from the lunula to the beginning of the free margin. Together, these account for a wide retrospective window of drug detection. Nails can provide a good forensic matrix for the detection of drugs of abuse. Indeed, the international literature has reported the use of nail analysis in postmortem detection of drugs of abuse, drug testing in the workplace and drug screening to detect prenatal exposure, even though further studies are needed for correct interpretation of the data obtained. Another application of drug analysis in nails consists of the possibility of detecting the presence of an antimycotic at the site of action during antifungal therapy for patients with onychomycosis. When available, this evidence has permitted drug treatment of a shorter duration and reduced toxicity. However, so far the potential of drug monitoring in nails still lacks harmonisation and validation of analytical methodologies and a better comprehension of the possible correlation between drug concentrations in the matrix and period of exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Nails / chemistry*
  • Nails / physiology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / analysis*
  • Toxicology / methods*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations