Can You Lose Your Fingerprints?

Did you know that in some cases you can actually lose your fingerprints?  Yesterday I had the opportunity to discuss the issue on Gretchen Carlson's show, The Real Story along with Fox and Friends host and tech guru Clayton Morris.  As our world becomes more and more high tech, losing your fingerprints can be a big problem.  

To understand how you can lose your fingerprints, it helps to know how fingerprints are actually created. 

The anatomy of a fingerprint

Fingerprints are simply the ridges you see when you look at the ends of your fingers.  Scientifically speaking, these ridges are called friction ridges.  Each ridge contains tiny pores that are connected to sweat glands beneath the skin. When you touch a glass, table or window and see a fingerprint left behind you see this mark because of sweat and oils released from these pores.  

Each fingerprint is unique.  There is just a 1 in 64 billion chance you could share a fingerprint with another individual meaning it is essentially impossible.  Because each fingerprint is unique, we use them for biometrics, a science using people's physical characteristics to identify them.  Scientists look at the arrangement, shape, size and number of lines to distinguish one fingerprint from the other.  Fingerprints are inexpensive to analyze, easily accessible and they usually don't change as people age making them excellent identification tools.  

Can you lose your fingerprints?

Shockingly, in some cases you can actually lose your fingerprints.  Most minor scratches, scrapes and burns won't alter the appearance of your prints.  Your fingerprints develop in deeper layers of the skin.  Small projections in these deeper skin layers called papillae form the actual pattern for your fingerprints. When superficially damaged skin regrows after an injury it reforms over the papillae in its original pattern.  

While most people maintain their fingerprints throughout their entire lives, there are 4 ways you can lose your fingerprints.

  1. Severe Burns or Injury- Severe burns or injuries that damage the papillae in the deeper layers of skin can completely obliterate the fingerprint pattern. However, in these cases the scars forming over the injured area become unique identifiers themselves.
  2. Medications- Some medications, namely chemotherapy medications can cause you to lose your fingerprints.  These medications may cause severe peeling of the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet in some patients.  This peeling can be so severe it affects deeper layers of skin permanently destroying the fingerprint pattern. 
  3. Profession- Individuals working in some professions have been known to lose their fingerprints.  This is most commonly seen among manual laborers like brick layers who deal with rough, heavy materials on a daily basis.  Over time, these materials wear away the ridges of the fingers that make up a fingerprint.  Secretaries have also been known to lose their fingerprints from the constant handling of paper. 
  4. Age- The elasticity of our skin naturally decreases as we age.  With this decrease in elasticity, ridges in fingerprints become wider and the spaces between these ridges narrower.  While a fingerprint still exists, this can make the fingerprints of elderly individuals hard to capture with fingerprint technology. 

Can you be born without fingerprints?

In a few rare cases, you can even be born without fingerprints.  One condition called adermatoglyphia can cause people to be born without fingerprints and almost no other health consequences.  The condition is also known as "immigration delay disease" because lack of fingerprints makes it difficult to cross international boarders.  Adermatoglyphia has been documented in just 4 extended families worldwide.

Another condition, Naegeli Syndrome, also causes some people to be born without fingerprints.  Individuals with this syndrome have sweat glad abnormalities.  Not only do they lack fingerprints, but they also suffer from heat intolerance due to decreased ability to sweat.

What if you lose your fingerprints? 

As Fox News host Gretchen Carlson discovered, losing your fingerprints can be quite inconvenient.  Loss of fingerprints can cause problems crossing international boarders and even logging on to certain computer systems.  Fortunately, fingerprint technology is improving to look beyond just the outer layers of skin.  Individuals without fingerprints can still be identified using other methods like retinal scans, voice fingerprints and DNA sequencing. 

In case you missed it, check out my fingerprint segment on Fox News.