What to Know About Pruney Fingers

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 22, 2023
4 min read

Maybe you're someone who enjoys spending so much time in the sea, a swimming pool, or even a bathtub that you turn pruney. Why not? You deserve some fun.  But if you notice your fingers are wrinkly when they're dry, you may be looking at a health problem.

The most common cause of pruney fingers is time spent in the water. When your hands soak for a while, your skin wrinkles like a prune. ‌

Scientists used to think that water moved into the outer layers of your skin and caused it to swell. The swelling made a larger surface area, which caused the skin to later wrinkle. 

Now we know that pruney fingers are caused by shrinking blood vessels. When you soak in water, your nervous system sends a message to your blood vessels to shrink. Your body responds by sending blood away from the area, and the loss of blood volume makes your vessels thinner. The skin folds in over them, and this causes wrinkles.

It’s not fully clear why this happens, but scientists believe this process evolved so you can have a better grip when your hands are wet.

Getting pruney is usually harmless, especially if it happens while you’re in the water. But some health conditions can cause pruney fingers even when your hands are dry.

Raynaud’s disease. This affects your blood circulation to your fingers and toes. When you get cold, Raynaud’s causes your blood vessels to shrink and blood to flow away from your fingertips. This causes skin to wrinkle and fingertips to turn white, red, or blue. 

Dehydration. You become dehydrated when your body loses more water than you take in. One thing your body uses water for is to keep your skin healthy. When you lose too much water, your skin can start to feel less elastic and become wrinkled. This is called skin turgor.

You can test this by gently pinching your skin and pulling upward as if to form a tent. If it’s slow to snap back into place, you may be dehydrated.

Thyroid disease. Your thyroid gland plays key roles for lots of activities in your body, including digesting food and your body temperature. Not enough thyroid hormone can make your body work slowly. You might have low energy, low blood pressure, and poor circulation. An underactive thyroid can also cause fine wrinkles on your skin, rashes, and cool, pale, and dry skin.

Lymphedema. This disease causes a buildup of lymph, a fluid in your body tissue, which leads to swelling. The buildup can damage tissues under your skin. As lymphedema advances, your skin can tighten, have a leathery feel, and become wrinkly.

Wrinkly skin syndrome. This genetic disease causes wrinkling or sagging skin, poor skin elasticity, and delayed closure of the fontanelle, or soft spot on a baby’s head. It also causes growth problems, joint problems, and intellectual disability. People who have wrinkly skin syndrome have excessive wrinkly skin on their hands, fingers, and other places.

Lupus. This is a disease where your immune system attacks your tissues and cells. This can cause problems with your joints, kidneys, tendons, and skin. Some people who have lupus also have Raynaud’s disease.‌

Scleroderma. This is a disease where your immune system attacks the tissues under your skin, in your organs and blood vessels. It causes scarring and skin and tissue thickening. People who have scleroderma also often have Raynaud’s.

The treatment depends on the cause. If you’ve been in the water, your fingers will return to normal shortly. You can apply a lotion to your hands to ease some of the dryness.

Other health conditions that cause pruney fingers each need different treatments. These can include:

  • Treating thyroid disease with thyroid hormone pills
  • Easing dehydration by drinking more water
  • Using compression bandages and exercise to treat lymphedema
  • Taking immune-suppressing medications for lupus or scleroderma

If you notice you have pruney fingers and haven't had them in water, take note of your other symptoms. If you also have the following signs of dehydration, you should go to a hospital right away:‌

  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • No peeing all day
  • Weak pulse
  • Fast pulse
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness 

You should see a doctor if you have skin problems and you:

  • Are tired a lot
  • Feel cold, especially in your hands and feet
  • Have sore joints
  • Are gaining weight

Your doctor can help you treat these and any other conditions that might be changing your skin.