Abstract The capabilities of double focusing sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-SMS) for the determination of 71 elements in hair and nails were studied. A microwave-assisted digestion procedure with nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide as well as direct sampling of the nails by laser ablation (LA) have been tested. Examples of spectral interferences are given and different correction procedures are discussed. Method detection limits below ng g −1 were obtained for 39 elements investigated by using high-purity reagents and by taking special care to prevent contamination during preparation. However, these detection limits were insufficient for detection of some platinum group elements in the majority of the samples. The accuracy of the analytical procedure was estimated by analysis of the GBW07601 certified reference material as well as by participation in an interlaboratory comparison program. The reproducibility was assessed from replicate analysis (including sample preparation) and was found to be, as average values for all elements, 9–10% R.S.D. and 18–19% R.S.D. for hair and nails, respectively. Contribution from exogenous deposition was evaluated by analyzing samples before and after washing, as well as by studying spatial element distribution along hair and nails. It was found that even after sample washing, many elements are enriched in the surface of the nail.