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Medically Approved

What can cause pruney fingers?

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VasoconstrictionDehydrationThyroid disordersDiabetesRaynaud’s phenomenonEczemaLymphedemaSummary
Pruney fingers can occur if your hands have been in water for a while. It can cause your blood vessels to constrict under the skin, leading to a wrinkled appearance resembling a prune.
Medically reviewed by Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Written by Anisha Mansuri
Updated on February 1, 2024

When your hands or feet are in water for a long time, your skin may start to become wrinkled or pruned.

For the most part, pruning skin isn’t something to worry about. Your skin will typically return to its usual state after a short while.

However, if your fingers or toes prune without being in the water, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional. Pruning skin may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition

Several reasons your skin may prune include:

Vasoconstriction

A person's hand submerged in water to depict the cause of pruney fingers.
Vladimir Tsarkov/Stocksy United

Healthcare professionals used to think that your skin wrinkled or pruned after getting wet because it was absorbing water.

However, we now know that this isn’t the case. Instead, pruning is caused by a process called vasoconstriction.

Vasoconstriction happens when the blood vessels under your skin contract. This causes the skin to look wrinkly and resemble a prune.

There is no concrete evidence to explain why this happens. However, an older 2013 study suggests that you’re better able to grip wet objects, like a slippery bar of soap, when your fingers are wrinkled.

Dehydration

Dehydration can occur when you haven’t had enough water. This can cause your skin to lose its flexibility and look wrinkled.

Older adults are at an increased risk for dehydration, which is why their skin may be more likely to appear wrinkly.

Besides pruning, other symptoms of dehydration include:

It can be beneficial to drink plenty of water and consume electrolytes to treat or prevent dehydration. This can be especially helpful if it’s hot outside or you’ve been doing any sort of physical activity.

Thyroid disorders

Thyroid disorders can also cause pruney fingers. This is because the thyroid plays a role in your body’s temperature and metabolism.

If your body temperature is lower than usual, your blood vessels will likely contract to make sure you don’t lose any more heat.

Thyroid disorders have other symptoms besides dry, wrinkly skin. These depend on the type of thyroid disorder and can include:

  • fatigue (low energy)
  • thinning or brittle hair
  • unexplained weight changes
  • cold or heat sensitivity

You can generally manage thyroid disorders with medications such as methimazole (Northyx) and propylthiouracil (Propycil).

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Diabetes

Diabetes can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, which can damage sweat glands. This can then result in dry and wrinkly fingers.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • type 1
  • type 2
  • gestational

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, your treatment options may involve monitoring blood sugar levels, eating a balanced diet, or taking insulin and other medications.

Raynaud’s phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a rare condition that affects the blood supply sent to the fingers and toes. In response to cold or stress, it causes blood vessels to constrict and makes skin appear wrinkly.

Besides pruney skin, other symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon include:

  • pale or blue skin
  • feeling cold
  • numbness
  • a throbbing or prickly sensation after blood returns to fingers or toes

People in cold climates and those with a family history of Raynaud’s phenomenon are at a higher risk of developing the condition.

Raynaud’s phenomenon is generally treatable with calcium channel blocker medication, such as nifedipine (Procardia) and stress management.

Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that causes inflammation, itchiness, and dry, cracked skin.

It can lead to the skin developing a wrinkled appearance. It can start as early as infancy and can affect people through adulthood.

You can usually manage eczema with:

  • prescribed medications, such as:
  • at-home skin care, such as petroleum jelly and moisturizers for sensitive skin
  • lifestyle measures, such as avoiding harsh skin cleansers, drinking plenty of water, and wearing gloves in cold weather

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition that can result in swelling in your arms and legs.

Lymph fluid building up in the body causes it. People diagnosed with lymphedema are often also undergoing treatment for cancer, such as breast cancer.

As well as causing the skin to wrinkle, lymphedema can cause symptoms such as:

  • gradual swelling in the arms and legs
  • skin tightness
  • tingling sensations
  • a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • thick-looking skin

Lymphedema can be treated with:

Summary

Almost everyone will experience pruney fingers due to exposure to water at some point in their life. Usually, it’s not a cause for concern, and the wrinkles will go away after a short time.

But if you experience pruney-looking fingers or skin without any water or moisture, then consider speaking with a doctor. They can help you figure out what’s causing the pruning and how to treat it.

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