Humans are truly amazing creatures. We have the ability to re-grow any lost teeth… Oh wait, those are sharks. At least we can regenerate our limbs if we lose them to injury… Oh no, those are starfish. Well, is there any amazing regeneration ability that humans possess? Oh right, our fingerprints can regenerate, but only if the bottom-most layer of skin is undamaged.
Fingerprints themselves are truly an amazing trait. While still fetuses and swimming around in amniotic fluid, these unique prints are already developed on the tips of our digits. The arches and swirls differ from person to person, thus making fingerprinting an important part of identification.
Fingerprints are also durable and, for the most part, unsusceptible to damage. Certain situations can cause us to lose our fingerprints, such as cuts and scrapes, but even then it’s just a one-week wait before the prints return to their swirly selves.
However, in extreme cases such as second or third degree burns, the skin on the fingertips can become so damaged that the skin can never heal properly ever again. When the dermis becomes damaged, fingerprints can never return to their original shape, and the person who suffered such severe skin trauma will be unidentifiable through fingerprinting. It’s not just burns that can damage the dermis; if you were to cut your finger and peel the skin off all the way down to the dermis, you would inflict enough damage on your fingertips to never regenerate fingerprints ever again.
This article contains a list of situations that can affect fingerprints and whether fingerprints can be regenerated afterwards.
First degree burns
First degree burns only affect the outermost layer of the skin. When the dermis beneath heals, the fingertips will regenerate their original swirl patterns, but even first degree burns can leave a mechanical deformation (blistering and tearing) that can weaken fingerprint features.
Second degree burns
Second degree burns, also known as partial thickness burns, damage the epidermis and parts of the dermis layer underneath. The affected area will become inflamed, blistered, and can be painful to the touch. Second degree burns can be caused by contact with scalding objects, direct contact with flames, sun burn, chemical burns, and even electric shocks. If your fingertips experience second degree burns, there is a higher chance that your digits will not heal properly and your unique fingerprints will be lost.
Third degree burns
Third degree burns, known also as a full thickness burn, is a burn that damages all three skin layers and even bones and muscle. This is the most serious type of burn and will require close monitoring by a professional in order to induce proper, but not perfect, healing. Third degree burns are most commonly caused by chemical spills, electrical shocks, and prolonged exposure to hot liquids or solids. If you have had third degree burns on your fingers, you can kiss your fingerprints goodbye.
Physically scraped off
Fingerprint ridges are extremely susceptible to wear. Heavy work which exposed fingertips, like bricklaying, can cause a person’s fingers and hands to become calloused, hardening the fingertips and deforming the fingerprints. This will render that person unsuitable for fingerprint identification until the skins becomes softer and the fingerprint ridges become more prominent.
Losing fingerprints isn’t just common in bricklayers and other physically-intensive lines of work. In fact, playing instruments can also cause your fingerprint ridges to smoothen out, making fingerprints scans basically useless. However, just like with the aforementioned bricklayers, if you avoid playing your musical instruments (piano, guitar, violin, etc.) for long periods of time, you should expect to re-grow your prints within a week or two.
Born without fingerprints
Some people are born without any distinguishing fingerprints. There are three known genetic conditions which result is a lack of fingerprints: NFJS (Naegeli-Franceschetti-Jadassohn syndrome), Dermatopathia, and Adermatoglyphia. The first two conditions have other serious symptoms such as hyperpigmentation, irregular sweating and hair, teeth and skin anomalies. These diseases are caused by a mutation of the keratin gene which is possibly a cause of cellular self-destruction in the dermis. Adermatoglyphia is a condition where a person experiences no symptoms other than a lack of fingerprints. It is a hereditary condition so it’s possible for whole families to have missing fingerprints.
There is a common misconception that fingerprints can change, and age is a factor which causes them to alter their appearance. However, this is untrue, and the “changes” that appear on fingerprints are caused by a loose skin. The skin is an elastic organ which loses its tightness over the years. In addition, aging isn’t really a contributing factor to losing fingerprints, but the wrinkles on your fingers can cause a diminished appearance when checking the prints.
Many people find it surprising that handling this prickly fruit can reduce the appearance of fingerprints. What many people don’t know about pineapples is that the edible flesh contains a protein-digesting enzyme called Bromelain. This is the reason why an untreated piece of pineapple causes a tingling sensation on the tongue. That sensation is the bromelain enzymes digesting your mouth!
This is the reason why workers in pineapple processing facilities will experience a seemingly unexplainable loss of fingerprints, rendering fingerprint scanning useless. The ridges of the swirly fingerprints are being eaten by the enzyme, leading to less pronounced features and, in extreme cases, complete loss of fingerprints. If these workers wish to rejuvenate their unique prints, they should either use heavy duty gloves while handling the fruit, or take a week-long break from work to recover.
So there you have it, the multiple causes of fingerprint loss. Luckily for humans, only the most extreme, worst cases can cause permanent damage to our digits and loss of fingerprints. Most of the time, people will find their fingerprints return to their normal shape after long resting periods. In the end, losing fingerprints is not a big deal since there are other forms of identifying someone, and even fingerprints can sometimes lead to false positives in forensics labs.