You’ve been playing in the pool for almost an hour now, practicing your best underwater somersaults. Now it’s time to get out, and as you look at your hands, it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s the attack of the wrinkly fingered monster!
Don’t get frightened or run for cover under your towel yet. After spending lots of time in the water, it’s totally normal for fingers (and sometimes toes) to wrinkle.
Even though you can’t see it, your skin is covered with its own special oil called sebum. Sebum is found on the outermost layer of skin. Sebum lubricates and protects your skin. It also makes your skin a bit waterproof. That’s why getting caught in the rain, hopping in the shower after a game, or washing your hands before dinner won’t leave your skin soggy. Sebum is there to keep the water out.
But what happens when you spend a long time in the water? Well, there’s only a particular amount of sebum on your skin at a time. Once the sebum is washed away, the water can make its way into the outer layer of skin. The water does this by osmosis. This is when water actually moves from one thing into another, from a place where there is more water to a place where there is less water. There is more water in the pool than there is in your body, so it naturally moves to the place where there is less water – you!
Although your fingers may look shriveled like raisins, they aren’t really shriveled – they’re actually waterlogged! The extra water in your fingers causes the skin to swell in some places but not others, and that’s what causes the wrinkles.
It isn’t just pool water that washes away the sebum. Sitting in the bathtub for a long soak can also wash away the sebum and leave a kid with soggy skin. Washing dishes for a long time, scrubbing and rinsing your puppy, cleaning the gravel in your aquarium – anything that keeps your hands in water long enough will give you wrinkly fingers.
What should you do if you come out of the pool looking like a raisin? Not a thing! Having wrinkly skin after a swim or bath doesn’t mean there is anything wrong, and it goes away by itself quickly. You’ll have more sebum on your skin in no time. If you really can’t stand the raisin look and will be doing something around the house that keeps your hands in water, you can wear rubber gloves to keep the sebum from being washed away.