Dermatitis can cause fingerprint verification failures: study

December 31, 2012 - 

Excessively dry hands can make adults four times more likely to fail fingerprint verification tests, according to a new study conducted in Malaysia, Reuters reports.

“Because of the emerging use of biometrics in daily living, I think hand dermatitis is an upcoming problem,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Lee Lee Chew Kek, a dermatologist at UCSI University in Kuala Lumpur said. “This can have effects on the economy, jobs and security.”

Cracked or swollen skin – symptoms of dermatitis — can disrupt the unique crevice pattern comprising a person’s fingerprint, and according to an earlier study from Denmark, an estimated 15 percent of people worldwide will suffer from hand dermatitis.

Lee told Reuters Health she provides hospital verification for patients who cannot have biometric data encoded into a computer chip on their Malaysian national identity card, called MyKad, due to unreadable fingerprints.

This particular Malaysian research study focused on 100 patients with dermatitis affecting either thumb as well as 100 participants with healthy fingers as a basis for comparison. Each patient had three attempts with each thumb to get an accurate match with a fingerprint scanner that processed the images and linked them to MyKad data.

In the end, twenty-seven of the 100 dermatitis patients failed verification test compared to only two from the comparison group.

“Dermatitis is one of the many factors which can certainly affect fingerprint image quality,” Steve Fischer, spokesman of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division told Reuters Health in an email.

According to Fischer, disruptions do happen in the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which maintains more than 70 million print records. The FBI processes an average of 160,000 fingerprints each day with approximately three percent rejected to poor image quality.

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Adam Vrankulj is an editor for His background consists of online news writing, editing and content marketing. Adam has written for, BlogTO and was the editor and curator for the nextMEDIA and CIX Source publications. He has a degree in journalism and is passionate about science, technology and social innovation. Contact Adam, or follow him at @adamvrankulj