Skin care for climbers

Skin care for climbers

As climbers we’ve all had those days when the send has been denied by problems with the skin of your fingers. Whether you’re scaling towering rock faces, conquering indoor climbing walls, or embarking on multi-day bouldering trips, your skin is subjected to a unique set of demands. 

After an intensive training program and fallowing a vigorous skin care routine for years, I was once again stunned on how easily my skin gave up after multiple tries on a tough outside boulder problem yesterday. I have already been climbing routes and bouldering outside for several months this year and thought that I had solved these problems for this season. 

As I am sure I am not the only one I wanted to get together with my team and write an in-depth article on the best practices of skin care for climbers. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore why skincare is essential for climbers and provide valuable tips and insights to help you maintain healthy and protected skin on your climbing adventures.

Understanding the Impact of Climbing on Your Skin:

Climbing exposes your skin to a range of external factors that can have a significant impact on its health. From exposure to harsh sun rays and extreme weather conditions to friction, abrasions, and contact with rough surfaces, your skin bears the brunt of the climbing experience. These factors can lead to dryness, chapping, calluses, blisters, cuts, and even long-term damage if not properly addressed. The skin care of climbers can be divided into three different things: finger skin care, protection from the elements and caring for small cuts and abrasions. 

Finger and hand skin: The skin of the fingers is the main point of contact with the rock and therefore suffers from overuse and sharp holds etc. Also sliding hands on gritty surfaces often reduce the skin or a calloused  part of the hand can rip off, especially when swinging from a dynamic move. 

Protection from the elements: As outdoor climbers we are often exposed to direct sunlight and also often to very cold environments depending on the type of climbing we do. Applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing is important to avoid burns from either the sun or from the cold. 

Caring for small cuts and abrasions: Have you ever fallen on a slab climb and grazed your shin against a box or rock feature? Have you jammed your hand into a crack repeatedly? These kinds of things cause cuts and abrasions to a climbers skin and proper healing makes it faster to get back on the rock. 

Skin care before climbing

Cleanse your skin: Start by cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser to remove dirt, oil, and any residues. This will help create a clean canvas for optimal product absorption and minimize the risk of clogged pores.

Moisturize: Hydrated skin is essential for maintaining its elasticity and preventing dryness and cracking, especially in dry or cold environments. Apply a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer to your skin, focusing on areas prone to dryness such as your hands, fingers, and any exposed skin.

Nail trimming: Keep your nails trimmed to prevent them from catching on holds or causing discomfort during climbs. Trim them straight across and file any rough edges to ensure a smooth surface.

File your skin: A climbers skin gets tougher and forms callouses which makes it more durable, that is to a point where the hardened part is ripped off into a flapper. To avoid this you need to use a file or sandpaper to smoothen and flatten the hardened skin. 

Sunscreen application: If you’ll be climbing outdoors, protect your skin from harmful UV rays by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF. Ensure you cover all exposed areas, including your face, neck, and hands. Remember that it can be difficult to reapply sunscreen throughout your climbing session without suffering from oily fingers .

Protect your lips: Don’t forget to protect your lips from sunburn and dryness by applying a lip balm with SPF. Look for a moisturizing formula that provides sun protection to keep your lips hydrated and shielded from UV rays. A mountaineer once told me that he and his climbing partner got sunburn at the insides of their mouths as they were breathing heavily on a glacier and the UV rays bounced of the icy surface to the roofs of their mouths.   

Clothing considerations: Choose lightweight and breathable clothing that offers protection from the sun and potential abrasions. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics to help keep your skin dry and comfortable during physical exertion.

During the climbing

Use of chalk

Apply chalk strategically: Apply chalk to your hands, focusing on your fingertips and palms, before attempting a climb. This helps absorb moisture and improve grip on holds. However, avoid excessive chalk usage, as it can build up and cause dryness or irritation.
Experiment with different types of chalk: There are various types of chalk available, such as loose chalk, chalk balls, or liquid chalk. Experiment with different forms to find the one that works best for your skin and provides optimal grip.
Reapply as needed: During longer climbing sessions or when sweat begins to affect your grip, reapply chalk as necessary to maintain dryness and maximize friction.

Protect vulnerable areas

If you have sensitive or easily irritated skin, consider protecting vulnerable areas with tape or crack gloves. These can provide an additional layer of protection against friction, abrasions, or potential injuries.
Pay attention to any existing cuts, blisters, or calluses. Protect them with suitable dressings, such as adhesive bandages or climbing tape, to prevent further irritation or infection.

Listen to your skin!

Pay attention to any signs of discomfort, redness, or irritation during climbing. If you experience excessive dryness, cracking, or other skin issues, consider calling it a day or focusing on routes/moves that are not causing the irritation or wounds. Sometimes taking longer breaks between climbs to allow your skin to recover a little bit can be enough.

Skin care after climbing

Cleanse your skin: Wash your hands and any exposed skin with a gentle cleanser to remove dirt, chalk, and sweat. This helps prevent pore clogging and removes any potential irritants.

Moisturize: After cleansing, apply a moisturizer to replenish hydration and restore the skin’s moisture barrier. Look for a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer that absorbs quickly. Pay extra attention to areas that may have become dry or irritated during climbing, such as fingertips, palms, and any existing cuts or calluses.

Address cuts and blisters: If you have any cuts, blisters, or abrasions from climbing, clean them gently with mild soap and water. Apply an antiseptic ointment and cover them with sterile dressings to promote healing and prevent infection.

Nail and cuticle care: Trim and file your nails as needed to maintain their length and prevent snags or discomfort during future climbs. Apply a nourishing cuticle oil or cream to keep your cuticles moisturized and healthy.

Stretch and massage: Give your hands and forearms some post-climbing care by gently stretching and massaging them. This can help relieve tension, improve circulation, and reduce muscle soreness.

Hydrate: Drink plenty of water to hydrate your body from the inside out. Staying properly hydrated supports overall skin health and aids in recovery.

Rest and recovery: Allow your skin and body to rest after climbing. Taking breaks between climbing sessions and having rest days in your schedule will give your skin time to recover and regenerate.

Assess and treat any skin issues: Take the time to evaluate your skin for any specific issues that may have arisen during climbing, such as excessive dryness, redness, or inflammation. If necessary, consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional for appropriate treatments or advice.

The different kinds of skin types:

Different skin types on our fingers can have varying implications for grip, friction, and overall climbing performance. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the different skin types and provide insights and tips to help you effectively care for your fingers based on their specific needs.

Dry Skin:
Dry skin on climber’s fingers can lead to issues such as cracking, peeling, and reduced flexibility. It may be exacerbated by the frequent exposure to chalk and abrasive surfaces during climbing. as someone who does ice climbing and goes outside during very cold temperatures I have noticed the drying effect of cold as well. To combat dryness, climbers with this skin type should focus on regular moisturization using emollient-rich hand creams or balms. Applying moisturizer before and after climbing sessions can help restore and maintain the skin’s hydration levels, preventing discomfort and promoting healthy skin.

Oily Skin:
Climbers with naturally oily skin on their fingers may find that it provides some advantages in terms of grip and friction. However, excessive oiliness can also lead to difficulties in maintaining a secure grip and increased sweat production during climbs. To manage oily skin, climbers can use gentle cleansers to remove excess oil and avoid heavy moisturizers that can further contribute to greasiness. Additionally, using chalk or specialized grip-enhancing products can help improve grip for climbers with oily skin.

Sweaty tips:

Sweaty fingertips can create a slippery surface, reducing friction and compromising grip. This can make it harder to hold onto holds and increase the risk of slipping off during climbs. Additionally, excessive moisture can soften the skin, increasing the likelihood of developing blisters or experiencing discomfort during long climbing sessions. Understanding the challenges associated with sweaty fingertips is the first step in finding solutions to manage this issue.

The cure for sweaty tips: Antihydral is a specialized antiperspirant cream that contains active ingredients designed to reduce sweat production. Originally developed for medical purposes, it has gained popularity among climbers for its ability to control excessive sweating on the fingertips and palms. The cream works by blocking the sweat glands, resulting in a reduction in moisture and improved grip during climbs.

Sensitive Skin:
Sensitive skin on climber’s fingers can be prone to irritation, redness, and even allergic reactions. Exposure to harsh climbing conditions, such as rough rock surfaces or certain types of climbing equipment, can exacerbate these issues. Climbers with sensitive skin should choose climbing gear and chalk that are hypoallergenic and free from irritating substances. It’s also important to moisturize and protect the skin with fragrance-free and gentle products, as well as practicing proper hand care techniques to minimize potential irritants.

Normal Skin:
Climbers with normal skin on their fingers have the advantage of having well-balanced and healthy skin. However, maintaining this balance is still essential to ensure optimal climbing performance. Regular moisturization, using chalk or grip-enhancing products as needed, and practicing proper hand care hygiene can help climbers with normal skin maintain the health and functionality of their fingertips.

The Benefits of Proper Skincare for Climbers:

Investing time and effort into your skincare routine yields numerous benefits. Proper hydration and moisturization can prevent dryness and cracking, maintaining the skin’s elasticity and flexibility. Regular exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover, keeping your skin healthy and rejuvenated. Additionally, using sunscreen and protective clothing minimizes the risk of sunburn and long-term sun damage, including skin cancer.

Enhancing Performance and Well-being Through Skincare Practices:

By prioritizing your skin’s health, you enhance your overall climbing performance and well-being. Healthy skin allows for a more secure grip, improving your ability to hold onto challenging surfaces. It also reduces the risk of painful skin conditions such as blisters and calluses, enabling you to climb longer and with greater comfort. Moreover, the psychological benefits of having healthy and cared-for skin can boost confidence and focus, leading to better climbing outcomes.

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