Has the same thing ever happened to you? Have you ever gotten wrinkly fingers and toes when you've been in the water a long time? And have you ever wondered why that happens? Why do some parts of your skin get wrinkly, while other parts stay smooth?
Although you cannot see them, your skin is covered with special oils. These oils lubricate and protect your skin. They also act like a raincoat, making your skin a bit waterproof. This is why water rolls off your hands when you wash them before dinner.
So what’s really happening when your fingers and toes shrivel up? When you take a quick shower, you’re not in the water long enough to wash all the oils off your body. On the other hand, if you settle into a nice long bubble bath, eventually the water temporarily washes away the oils. Once the oil is gone, the water begins to absorb its way into the outer layer of your skin.
You may notice that different parts of your body act differently in the water. While your toes and fingertips wrinkle quite easily, you’ve probably never experienced waterlogged arms or a wrinkly tummy. This is because the outer layer of skin on your hands and feet — called the epidermis — is different than the skin on the rest of your body.
The thicker layer of skin on your hands and feet contains more dead skin cells than other parts of your body. These dead skin cells soak up water like an efficient sponge, while thinner skin on the rest of your body is less affected.
When you have wrinkly bath fingers, your fingertips are actually waterlogged, which means they are completely saturated with water. As the epidermis begins to swell, it pulls on live skin layers beneath. Unlike the dead surface layer, deeper layers are firmly attached to fibers in your skin and do not swell. The swelling of outer layers and pulling in of deeper layers is what causes the appearance of wrinkles after you’ve spent some time in the tub.
The good news is that wrinkled fingers and toes are a painless, temporary situation. If you don’t like feeling prune-y, you can wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or cleaning your fish aquarium, but we don’t recommend skipping a shower or bath!