Have You Ever Wondered Why Your Fingers And Toes Wrinkle When You Take A Shower?

I do enjoy the occasional long shower. I enjoy the cascading hot water beading on cold skin,  and the clean smelling lather of soap, and most of all, the time I can spend in there doing as I please, uninterrupted.

It was during one of those showers one rainy day in June as a child that it occurred to me that my hands and feet had become crinkly. Then I noticed the same at the beach. And at the pool. And all these years I’d just mindlessly take it as a cue to get out of the bathroom without ever bothering to find out why.

Until yesterday I did bother to find out.

And what I learned is that apparently, the skin found on our fingers, palms, toes, and soles, better known as glabrous skin, has a unique response to water.

wrinkledfingers

While many attribute this to an osmotic process in which water yanks a couple of compounds out of the skin, leaving it pruney. But it may not be just as simple as that.

Wrinkled fingers are a sure sign of an intact nervous system. Surgeons have discovered that if certain nerves to the fingers were cut, the wrinkling response would disappear. So maybe it’s got something to do with human evolution and adaptation?

Scientists belonging to this school of thought often given an example of tyre treads. In dry conditions, smooth tyres can best maintain their grip on the asphalt, but when driving in rain, treads are far safer.

Wrinkled fingers are then, by that comparison, a perfect design to enable a better grip in wet conditions. The inverted pattern of the ridges helps effectively channel water away from the digits. They only appear after about five minutes of constant exposure to water, proving that the response only becomes useful in rainy or dewy conditions.

“The act of pressing a fingertip down on a wet surface squeezes the fluid out from under the finger through the channels, and upon completion of this single pulsatile flow the entire finger’s skin contacts the surface,” write the researchers.

That’s a lot of complicated science words but add to that the fact that incidental contact isn’t enough to result in wrinkling, and the theory makes complete sense.

So maybe it’s true that we wrinkle so we can better hold on in slippery situations?
Ah well, it didn’t stop me from falling down.

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Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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