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Prune Skin: Why Does Our Skin Get Wrinkly In Water?

We may be, oh, millions of years into evolution, but science has finally figured out why fingers and toes look like raisins after a long shower — and why it's actually useful. So why do we get prune skin?

A recent study by Newcastle University in the U.K. found that wrinkly fingers are meant to help people grip wet objects, and this is something our ancestors may have done during wet conditions, according to LiveScience.com.

As anyone who loves a hot tub knows, when hands and feet are soaked in water for a prolonged period of time, wrinkles form on finger and toe tips that often resemble prunes or raisins. The study added that scientists once thought these pruney tips were the outcome of outer skin absorbing and swelling with water, but as it turns out, our nervous system was controlling this function by constricting blood vessels under our skin.

"Our results are clear experimental evidence for the hypothesis that water-induced wrinkles improve the handling of submerged or wet objects. It does not, however, show how this is accomplished. One possibility is that the wrinkles channel the evacuation of water from between the finger pad and the object (from the experiment)," according to the study.

Another study in 2011 found similar results between pruney fingers and primates, and concluded that macaque monkeys, for example, had wrinkly fingers after being in water, according to Discovery News, further indicating a biological purpose for the phenomenon.

For the study, Newcastle University asked 20 participants to pick up wet marbles and small weights of several sizes. Volunteers were told to perform each task with normal, dry and wet fingers. People with pruney fingers picked up items in 12 per cent less time than those with unwrinkled fingers.

But it makes us wonder: Why don't we have grip-like fingers all the time? Just imagine how easy it would be to pick up coffee mugs and cellphones.

"The most likely explanation is that there must be a cost to wrinkled fingers that out-weighs its benefits under dry conditions," experts said in the study.

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