Good question! I had idly thought of it in the past without looking up
the answer, and now I find myself reassured by the information I've
found. Do read the Important Disclaimer at the bottom of this page and
bear in mind that none of what I have to say is an adequate substitute
for the advice of your doctor. However, I'm pleased to cite a number
of sources on the web that address the question of water-wrinkled skin
and its medical consequences. The consensus is that the wrinkling of
skin through extended soaking in water is not hazardous to your
The most complete article I found on the prune-finger phenomenon is
the following discussion of the underlying scientific mechanism.
"Steering clear of the biology department -- why take chances -- I
contact Dr. Norman Goldstein, a professor of dermatology at the
University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine.
"Goldstein has no trouble fielding this question. He calls the
phenomenon 'super-hydration.' Our skin cells absorb a little bit of
water when we soak too long in the tub, he says. And because the skin
on our palms and the bottoms of our fingers and feet are thicker than
other parts of our skin, they swell more than the rest of us. Because
this swelling layer of skin is connected underneath to tissue that
does not swell, the skin buckles. Hence, wrinkled fingers and toes."
Island Scene: Pondering Prunes
Another page has a slightly different explanation involving a bodily
substance known as sebum, but the general principle is the same.
"The outermost layer of our skin has sebum, which lubricates and
waterproofs our skin. The sebum keeps the water out when we wash our
hands or take a quick shower.
"But when our skin is exposed to water for a longer time?such as in
swimming or washing dishes, the limited amount of sebum gets washed
away. Once the sebum is washed away, water enters the outer layer of
the skin by the process of osmosis."
Indiana University School of Medicine: Pruny Fingers
Another page agrees, and furthermore offers a medical prognosis. This
text was written by a doctor, Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD.
"But staying in water for a long time washes away the sebum. Then, the
water can penetrate the outer layer of your skin. When this outer
layer of skin gets waterlogged, it swells (gets puffy) and wrinkles.
"What should you do if this happens to you? Nothing. It goes away
quickly on its own. You'll have more sebum on your skin in no time."
Kids' Health: Why Does My Skin Get Wrinkly in Water?
Compare this with the "Risk factors for Concern Over Wrinkled Skin"
listed on the Diagnose-Me website: Addictions (Cigarette Smoke
Damage); Environment/Toxicity (Sun Damage/Overexposure);
Diagnose-Me: Concern Over Wrinkled Skin
Another site confirms that potentially harmful and permanent wrinkles
are caused by factors other than soaking in water.
University of California at Davis: Skin Wrinkles
In conclusion, what you have to fear are wrinkles caused by sunshine,
aging, cigarette smoke, and poor diet. The wrinkles caused by
prolonged soaking are temporary and harmless.
If you feel that my answer is incomplete or inaccurate in any way, please
post a clarification request so that I have a chance to meet your needs
before you assign a rating.
water wrinkled skin
wrinkled skin medical condition