Science Questions

Why do your fingers wrinkle in the Bath?

Sun, 16th Mar 2008

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Cambridge Science Festival Highlights


Gobi asked:

Why do your fingers wrinkle when exposed to high amounts of water?


This is because of osmosis.  What happens is that water will move into your cells.  That makes sense of how skin swells up but it doesnít necessarily make sense that your skinís wrinkly.  You'll notice when you have a bath you donít get wrinkles all over.  You get wrinkles on the soles of your feet, on your hands: especially your fingers.

This is because you have a layer of protective keratin.  Keratinís a kind of tough stuff, itís what claws and nails and so on are made of.  This means that the skin here is much thicker than elsewhere on your body, and this thick layer is made of dead, keratinised cells.  This takes up more water than the thinner skin elsewhere, and so swells up, and goes wrinkly.



In 2013 UK scientists discovered that fingers go wrinkly in water to improve our grip on wet or submerged object. They also showed that it is in fact constricting blood vessels, not osmosis, that drives this change.


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