It’s rare for someone in the wider community to have no fingerprints. But, in our ectodermal dysplasias community, it’s not rare at all.

Do you have a hard time gripping a pen? Can swiping on your phone be frustrating? You are not alone.

People affected by many types of ectodermal dysplasias share your challenges. Kat has Witkop syndrome and says touch ID on Apple products has never worked for her.  

In our new library article, Rylee Moody, an MD candidate at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, explains what adermatoglyphia is. That’s the medical term for “an absence of skin ridges and furrows.” They may also be called dermatoglyphys.

She says, “On the fingertips, these markings are known to be a unique identifier (commonly known as fingerprints), but absence of this textural change can also involve the toes, palms, and the soles.”

Moody cites some of the challenges you can face if your fingerprints are needed to authenticate your identity. It’s often called “immigration delay disease.” She talks about how to overcome the challenge by getting a medical certification letter from your healthcare provider.

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No Fingerprints Makes Identification Procedures Difficult

Patti, who has an unknown type of ectodermal dysplasia, says she always has difficulty with fingerprinting.

It has always been challenging to get good prints for me,” Patti said. “Most people can put lotion on their hands and the print will be clearer. With my skin – not so much.”

Erlinda has fewer fingers and no fingerprints, both of which have caused a problem when she’s been fingerprinted.

“I have ectrodactyly-ectodermal dysplasia-clefting (EEC) syndrome and have three fingers on each hand which makes it difficult as well,” Erlinda said. “The scanner and ink method can’t pick up my fingerprints properly. I have to go back several times to get an adequate print each time I need to get fingerprinted.”

Lack of Fingerprints Create Roadblocks

A woman who is bald and wearing black glasses wears a navy shirt with an NFED logo on the left chest.

Virginia, who is affected by ankyloblepharon-ectodermal defects-cleft lip and/or palate (AEC) syndrome, recounts all the ways a lack of dermal ridges has been problematic.

“As an individual affected by AEC, I do not have discernable fingerprints. Not having fingerprints may not seem like a big deal, but it has presented a few unique challenges. 

Virginia’s skin on her fingertips is smooth and she lacks dermal ridges.

The first challenge was when I discovered you need fingerprints for a nursing license. I was fingerprinted locally several times before having to travel to the state capital, twice. Each time, I explained that I am affected by a rare disorder that affects the dermal ridges and supplied a letter from my doctor. In the end, it took five or six attempts and a federal background check to secure my nursing license.

A few years later, the pharmacy at the hospital where I worked decided to switch the medication storage systems over to fingerprint password access only. I explained, several times, that I don’t have fingerprints and it would present a problem with medication passes during my nursing shifts. The pharmacist insisted it would work. It was unfortunate for him that the fact that it didn’t, in fact, was proven during a weekend night shift. 

Another challenge presented when my husband and I started our adoption journey. My not having fingerprints disqualified us from international adoption. While we were initially devastated that we were disqualified from international adoption, we’re confident our domestic adoptions led to exactly who was supposed to complete our family. 

Nowadays, nearly every tech device tries to convince me to switch to fingerprint password protection. I just chuckle and think, if only it were that easy.” 

A Doctor’s Note Worked

Tayon Gunkle had a similar problem to Virginia when she tried to get her nursing license.

“When I was trying to get my Certified Nurse Assistant (CAN) license transferred to Washington, I had to keep redoing my fingerprints for months,” Tayon said. “Finally, I fought the state on it and got them to run a background check without them by supplying a doctor’s note with my diagnosis and explanation as to why my fingerprints are not readable.”

Getting a Grip is Tough

A woman with blonde  hair and wearing glasses is standing in front of a store.
Jill knows firsthand how frustrating it can be to have adermatoglyphia on your fingertips.

Jill, who is affected by hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (HED), has faced many issues because of those missing dermal ridges.

“Growing up, I was aware that I had difficulty hanging on to ringing bars (also known as monkey bars) or catching a basketball. Later at the grocery store, I had problems separating the plastic bags.  

When I had to start getting a fingerprint clearance card to teach, the first time I submitted it, they were rejected as unreadable. I resubmitted with two extra cards and finally got cleared.

Six years later, I sent three sets of prints and a letter of explanation. I got renewed after a manual FBI search. I finally got an identifier number on a set and thought renewing would be easy the next time. Wrong. 

This past fall, I had to submit everything online with Department of Public Safety in Arizona. I never heard back and several weeks later, I contacted them about the hold up. They said they couldn’t read them. I was surprised they didn’t have this on file. I had to get a doctor’s letter and resubmit. The process took about 10 weeks.  

My son also had issues in the lunch room at school when he needed to use a thumb print to eat. They had to manually put his number in. ABC News did a story called Medical Mystery: No Fingerprints in 2007 which featured Caleb.

We both have issues swiping technology sometimes. I worry about fingerprints being the way to shop and bank.”

Tell Us Your Story

According to the Dr. Moody’s article, there are medical conditions other than ectodermal dysplasias which can also cause someone to not have fingerprints. Or, a person may have a gene that causes them to have the isolated symptom.

But, if you are affected by an ectodermal dysplasia, that’s likely the reason why you don’t have fingerprints or why you may have broken swirls like Lynne Thomas and her brother who both are affected by HED.

What issues have you faced because you don’t have fingerprints? Tell us in the comments below and share what you did to solve the problem.

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