By Douglas P. Lyle

Many criminals attempt to damage, alter, or remove their fingerprints to avoid identification or connection to prints found at a crime scene. From John Dillinger to more “common” criminals, these efforts are usually unsuccessful. Still, if, after leaving prints at a scene, the perpetrator successfully alters or damages his prints, the fingerprint examiner may not be able to make a reliable match.

But do some people actually “lose” their fingerprints? Do they disappear?

It seems that this does rarely happen. Certain activities, diseases, chemicals, drugs, and genetic disorders can flatten the friction ridges to such an extent that no print pattern is discernable. Bricklayers can literally “wear down” their finger pad ridges to the point that no pattern is evident. Even secretaries and file clerks who handle paper all day can have the same thing occur. Typists and piano players can suffer similar alterations.

Diseases that severely affect the skin can also obliterate the ridge pattern. These would include scleroderma, psoriasis, and eczema, to name a few.

Hairstylists, dry cleaning workers, and those who work with lime (calcium oxide) are often continually and repeatedly exposed to chemicals that can “dissolve” the upper layers of the skin and thus flatten the ridges.

Drugs, particularly those used in cancer treatment, can eradicate prints. Chemotherapeutic agents such as capecitabine (Xeloda) would be an example. With prolonged use, the finger-pad skin can become inflamed, swollen, and damaged to the point that ultimately ridge detail disappears. The medical term for this is Hand-Foot Syndrome.

Those who suffer from a rare genetic disorder called adermatoglyphia are born without friction ridges and thus have no fingerprints.