Fingerprints can be altered through chemical means, extreme temperature or physical alterations, such as plastic surgery. Harsh acids and bases are able to remove the epidermis of the fingers, although the fingerprints can return entirely intact once the epidermis grows back.
Extreme swelling can compromise fingerprints as well, but they return to their prior state once the swelling subsides. The skin on the fingers is thicker than on most other parts of the body, meaning that it is more difficult to penetrate and alter permanently. Human fingerprints begin to develop around the fourth month in the womb. They naturally stay intact until decomposition sets in following death. In senior citizens, the elasticity of the skin decreases, often making fingerprint retrieval more difficult. This, however, does not change the actual print.