Why Does Your Skin Wrinkle When You get Out of a Shower or Bathtub?

From Issue: Discovery 10/1/2001

Dear Grace,

After spending about half an hour soaking in a nice, hot bathtub you look down at your hands and feet and realize that you have been attacked by a case of “raisin skin.” Especially the tips of your fingers and toes have shriveled up like prunes. What happened to your skin to make it wrinkle?

Your skin is composed of two layers. The outer layer is called the epidermis, and the lower level is the dermis. The epidermis produces an oily substance called sebum. You can see this substance when you touch a window or mirror and your “oily” fingerprint is left there. One job sebum performs is to keep water out of your skin- a job it does very well. However, after long periods of time in a swimming pool, shower, or bathtub, much of the sebum is washed off and your epidermis starts to absorb water. As it does so, it swells, but since the epidermis is “tied down” to your dermis in certain spots, it expands more where it is not tied down, and this causes your skin to wrinkle. The difference between your skin and a raisin is that raisins wrinkle because they shrink, but your skin wrinkles because it is getting bigger.

But don’t worry. Once you get out of the pool or tub, the water that your skin absorbed will evaporate, your skin will return to its usual size, and your body will produce more sebum. Your fingers and toes will be back to normal in no time. Isn’t your body amazing? Always remember to thank God for giving you such a well-designed body.


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