Pretty much everyone’s noticed that after a long relaxing bath or a refreshing swim in the pool, your fingers and toes get all wrinkly and look like an old prune. Have you ever wondered why this happens? We decided to investigate the real reason for this — and the answer turned out to be far more interesting than we ever expected!
For decades, scientists believed that this reaction was caused by the epidermis — the outer layer of the skin — absorbing the water surrounding it. The outer skin layer is tightly attached to the layer underneath, which is unable to expand. It was believed that the outer skin layer therefore increased in area by wrinkling to compensate.
However, in 1935 a group of scientists who were conducting laboratory tests discovered that this reaction didn’t occur when there was a damaged nerve in the fingers or toes. They came to the conclusion that the wrinkles were just a reaction of the body’s autonomic nervous system.
In fact, neurologists suggest that the appearance of wrinkles may have an evolutionary function: they can help your fingers and toes grip wet surfaces. In 2013, a series of experiments was conducted in this regard. The participants had to pick up both wet and dry objects. The volunteers attempted the task either when their fingers were dry, or when they were wet and wrinkled. The participants picked up the wet items 12% faster with wrinkled fingers.
So it appears that your skin becomes wrinkly in order to function like the treads on your car tires, allowing more of your skin to be in contact with a surface and thereby giving you a better grip.
So next time you get wrinkled fingers and toes, just remember that it’s just another sign of how amazing your body really is!
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