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Question: It is likely that we all have unique fingerprints, but do our fingerprints change as we get older? for example, will our fingerprints be different from when we are a child to an adult?

Asked by itchymist to Anna, Craig, Richard, Shane, Sue on 16 Jun 2011.

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  • Photo: Sue CarneySue Carney answered on 16 Jun 2011:

    Hi itchymist.

    This is definitely a question for Richard. He’s our fingerprint expert. From what I know, I’d say it is extremely likely that we all have unique fingerprints – even identical twins do. As to the rest of the question, I really don’t know. I suspect that any injuries to the fingers might cause a permanent change in the fingerprint, but I’m not sure if fingerprints change with age.

    Richard was taking part in webchats this morning by mobile from the train! He’s very dedicated. I’m sure that when he has chance he’ll be able to give a more comprehensive answer.

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  • Photo: Anna WilliamsAnna Williams answered on 16 Jun 2011:

    Hi itchymist,
    This is one for Richard, but I do know that as you age, you can damage your fingerprints, and get scars that change how they look. I think some criminals even try to shave off their fingerprints (DO NOT TRY IT) to try and fool forensic scientists and CSIs. Richard will be able to tell you more!

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  • Photo: Shane Pennington-CooperShane Pennington-Cooper answered on 16 Jun 2011:

    Hello Itchymist,

    You are correct in saying that fingerprints are unique this is why they are used so much in criminal cases. Fingerprints will change was we get older if we damage our skin enough, the fingerprint will always be the same however the epidermal and dermal layer of the skin will show the permanent scars, however these unique scars can be just as identifiable as the fingerprint itself. For example how many people have a scar in the shape of an S on their hand. As Anna said criminals can go to silly lengths such as burning their skin with acid or even grafting fake skin over their fingertips.

    Richard is your best man for this question though he is Mr Fingerprint.

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  • Photo: Richard CaseRichard Case answered on 16 Jun 2011:

    Hi itchymist,

    We definitely all have unique fingerprints, but there are ways that your fingerprints can change.

    The answer you are taught to say is that “your fingerprints are formed before you were born and stay the same throughout your life until after you die and decomposition sets in”… This isn’t strictly true… and heres why:

    * Your fingerprints will change in size as you grow
    * Your fingerprints can appear more rough or smooth depending on your job
    * Your fingerprints can become scarred if you cut them

    The amazing thing is that damaged skin can reproduce cells to form the fingerprints exactly as they were before they were damaged…. unless the cut has damaged the inner layer of skin (known as the dermis)… then you get a permanent scar… but as the scar is permanent, it can be used to identify you.

    Some people have gone to extraordinairy lengths to avoid identification:

    ACID – They have put their fingers in acid. This is a temporary measure, as the skin will repair itself.
    SKIN GRAFTS – One person had skin from their chest removed and placed over the tips of the fingers… this worked, but its not only your fingerprints that can identify you… its the skin that covers the whole of your hands and feet, so he was still identifiable.

    Finally, there was a recent BBC documentary that followed the story of a hand transplant…. I cannot see anyone going to such long lengths to get theirs hands replaced by someone elses…. but as its possible, I have to mention it

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