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Here's where it gets interesting; I don't mean erase them from an object, I mean from your fingers directly. Some people claim there is a way to do it, some people claim it's impossible.

I have a friend (no, really, she exists, I swear) who is attempting to write a novel, and for once, someone turned to a skeptic in an attempt to get the science right.

She's been apparently scouring sites like this in an attempt to find a plausible method, presumably because there aren't many places to go for hard facts on this topic.

Of course, there's very little (I couldn't find any) scientific study published on this topic, and many proposed solutions to the problem seem to be quite painful, bloody, and ultimately futile.

It's also probably safe to assume the people offering advice via message boards on this particular topic are at best speculating, haven't actually had any practical or relevent experience, and are most likely basing claims on exaggerated or fictional accounts rather than demonstrable evidence.(Interestingly, I kept running across stories involving John Dillinger attempting this which may or may not be true). However, without the data, there's obviously no way for me to say for sure.

Even though none of them sound like advice I would be willing to take, nor do they come from credible sources, some suggestions so far have been...

  • Cut them off - (not your fingers, just your fingerprints) Apparently this does not work that well, is obviously painful and could possibly make fingerprints more distinctive according to some.
  • Using a corrosive substance - Does not seem to yield acceptable results, as much like cutting them off, they will regrow.
  • Burning them off - This has received some questionable support, but many seem to think they will grow back.
  • Rubbing them off - some claim this smooths them out, and is certainly not as gory but they quickly return to normal.
  • Surgical removal - I ran across some unverifiable claims about this method.
  • And at least one strange method involving a pineapple which only attempts to alter them, not remove them entirely.

I keep thinking that there's something I'm missing here.

  • Have any of those methods ever been proven to be successful?

  • Has anyone ever successfully had his/her fingerprints erased successfully by any method?

  • Is there a scientifically valid way to do it, even if it's extremely improbable?

Or is this all just spy-movie stuff with no hard science behind it?

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WHY would one want to do it if wearing cellophane or other plastic film taped/glued to fingertips gets the exact same effect with no dramatics? –  DVK May 23 '11 at 23:59
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@DVK, Why not gloves, and skip the hassle of applying tape to yourself? (Actually, when I was a kid, I heard of people having their fingerprints picked up through latex gloves. As an adult, that sounds awfully like a story a cop might invent to persuade someone to confess.) –  Oddthinking May 24 '11 at 0:02
    
@DVK @Odd before I posted this I realized, the why is sort of immaterial, it's the how which seems more interesting (and more appropriate here). Although personally, I imagine something more like having to get fingerprinted at a police station or scanned at an airport or something, where they won't exactly let you wear gloves. I know, that opens a whole can of worms. –  Monkey Tuesday May 24 '11 at 0:13
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Anecdotal: Recently in Germany new ID-cards were introduced with fingerprints. To prevent fingerprints being taken, different techniques were discussed. One is to use superglue, but it will only work temporary and last for some days or weeks. [Link in german language] (computerwoche.de/security/1883805) –  user unknown May 24 '11 at 4:45
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@Monkey, I imagine that turning up at a police station without any fingerprints is likely to attract even more attention! –  Benjol May 24 '11 at 5:25
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5 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Fingerprints Source


CNN article from 2010: Fingerprint mutilation on the rise, but it's practically pointless

According to Stephen G. Fischer Jr., a spokesman for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services, methods of fingerprint mutilation can vary depending on the circumstance and the criminal.

"It can go from people chewing on fingers, using a knife, burning acid or cigarettes. Or if you have a career criminal or someone who is a little more affluent, they might go to a surgeon."

While no hard data on fingerprint mutilations exist, Fischer says the FBI's forensics examiners have noticed the uptick over the last few years, though the reason is unclear.

But advancements in forensics technology have made fingerprint mutilation increasingly difficult to pull off, as even severely damaged fingers will provide investigators with clues.

"We can identify prints that we couldn't 10 or 15 years ago. Basically, they're going through all this pain and expense for no reason."



From Scientific American:

A Singaporean cancer patient was detained by U.S. customs because his cancer treatment had made his fingerprints disappear.

As it turns out, the drug, capecitabine (brand name, Xeloda) had given him a moderate case of something known as hand–foot syndrome (aka chemotherapy-induced acral erythema).


What are some other ways that fingerprints can disappear?

  • bricklayers — who wear down ridges on their prints handling heavy, rough materials frequently

  • people who work with lime [calcium oxide] - because it's really basic and dissolves the top layers of the skin. The fingerprints tend to grow back over time.

  • surprisingly, secretaries - because they deal with paper all day. The constant handling of paper tends to wear down the ridge detail.

  • also, the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.


But Forensics expert Edward Richards notes:
"... your skin replaces at a fairly good rate, so unless you've done permanent damage to the tissue, it will regenerate."



From National Geographic - Born Without Fingerprints:

Two rare and related diseases leave their sufferers with no fingerprints:

One case of DPR is Flight attendant Cheryl Maynard.

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Quite interesting. Thanks alot. –  Monkey Tuesday May 24 '11 at 18:11
    
It would be interesting to see how much would the no permanent fingerprint problem make identification difficult (any studies in that area?). Back in the days when my grandmother was medical student, they brought a dead fingerprintless guy in the morgue. At the time, there weren't extensive centralized fingerprint databases in my country, but they identified him because he had no fingerprints. It turned out that the list of people who had natural fingerprints was extremely short at the time. –  AndrejaKo May 24 '11 at 20:14
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(Warning: conspiracy mode activated.) Could it be possible that the FBI statement (through CNN) is deliberate misinformation in order to lower the number of fingerprint mutilation and ease forensic efforts? –  ChrisR Sep 26 '13 at 15:14
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@ChrisR Non-zero possibility, certainly, but I'd call it highly unlikely. While the CSI shows are painful to watch if you're into science at all, the fact that forensic science has made massive strides over the past few decades isn't really disputed. –  Shadur Nov 23 '13 at 14:23
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This is largely anecdotal, but it is certainly possible to temporarily obscure one's fingerprints by simply coating one's fingerprints using glue, or a similar liquid adhesive.

I've had this happen to me while working with cyanoacrylate adhesives, more commonly known as superglue. Basically, the adhesive forms a film over the fingertip, and fills the grooves, then cures. The end result is a smooth surface on your fingertip.

Wikipedia says:

Some rock climbers use cyanoacrylate to repair damage to the skin on their fingertips.[8][9] Similarly, stringed-instrument players can form protective finger caps (in addition to calluses) with cyanoacrylates.

Additionally,

Thin CA glue also has application in woodworking. It can be used as a fast drying, glossy finish.

Which is exactly what happens if you get it on your skin.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on why you are trying to obscure your fingertips), getting CA glue on your skin is not permanent. It simply flakes off along with the outer layer of skin, as your epidermis naturally replaces itself.

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+1. Cheapest way, no pain and it's temporary! –  Alex Mar 19 at 12:56
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According to a 2012 Cracked article, Robert Phillips succeeded with a skin graft.

Phillips simply convinced a doctor to graft skin from his abdomen and surgically sew it where his fingerprints were. Just like that, Phillips went down in history as the only known successful case of someone permanently blanking out their fingerprints.

However, that didn't help him.

Fingerprints are generally attached to something else that leaves impressions on whatever it touches. That, of course, being a hand. While police found no fingerprint evidence, what they did find were several prominent palm prints with anatomically incorrect blanks where the fingerprints should be. This would end up being vitally important a few weeks later when Phillips was arrested. Shockingly, it seems that a person with no fingerprints sticks out like a non-fingerprinted sore thumb when it comes time to book people into jail. It's not like there are millions of fingerprintless people walking around out there. It was pretty much just Phillips. So his printless fingers were just as damning as a matching set of prints would have been.

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I'm not entirely sure i'd count cracked as a great source; it might be better to link directly to the original encyclopedia of crime reference. –  matt_black Nov 23 '13 at 13:40
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Burning the skin with fire, which is extremely painful, would probably do it -- just look at various people throughout the world who are victims of serious fires who have permanently altered skin to see the devastating results.

I've also heard stories over the years of criminals using chemicals (I don't know which ones, but I'm assuming there are likely a few to choose from) to wipe out their finger prints. Perhaps a chemical burn can achieve a similar effect as a fire burn, but with more specific control over what areas of skin get effected (and possibly also avoiding additional internal damage by heat from a flame).

The reasons people don't do this is because it's painful, damaging, and a person without finger prints will automatically be suspect of being a criminal by pretty much everyone working in law enforcement and related careers.

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No evidence or references to back this up. I'm sure some degree of burns would probably do the job, but it would be good to quantify it (3rd degree? 2nd degree? ect.) –  Ardesco May 24 '11 at 10:09
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All claims must be appropriately referenced meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5/… –  Monkey Tuesday May 25 '11 at 3:23
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Asking for evidence of skin violation by fire is just bureaucratic chicanery. –  user unknown Aug 8 '11 at 0:09
    
Pinging you for references. –  Sklivvz Jan 22 '13 at 21:20
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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Here is an article (LANG=DE), talking about the dependency of fingerprints from a single gene, cited in the American Journal of Human Genetics, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.07.004. They don't talk about manipulation of fingerprints, but of the mutation, they observed in whole families (there are only 4 families known, with multiple people affected from the deviation), which they investigated further, to find out, that a single modification is responsible, to make the fingerprint vanish. (But from the beginning - not modifying a living person or adult).

Fingerprints are available after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and don't change significantly later.

Whether it will be possible, to provoke this in near future, isn't discussed.

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