If you consider yourself a rock climber, you’re no doubt familiar with the never-ending challenge of keeping your hands in top shape while also tackling those particularly difficult walls and routes. Fear no more! With this guide, you can crush it all day on the walls without worrying about perpetually cracked hands, sunburn and painful blisters. Learn how to care for and prevent dry skin, cracked hands, blisters, sun damage and other skin conditions that commonly plague rock climbers.
If you’ve ever spent time around rock climbers, you’ve probably heard them talking about their hands and skin. Rock climbers obsess over every callous, blister or dry spot on their hands and feet – and for good reason. One injury can mean missing out on a whole season, and keeping hands in top shape is particularly critical to a successful climbing venture. Fortunately, a proper skin care routine makes for a happy rock climber. With these five steps, you can create a skin care arsenal that will prepare you to tackle any problem like a pro.
- Make hydration a habit. As a rock climber, you undoubtedly spend a good deal of time with your hands covered in climbing chalk and rubbing up against harsh and abrasive surfaces, both of which can be extremely drying to the skin of your hands and arms. Without proper care, this can lead to a dry skin disaster. To prevent dryness and chafing, keep your skin hydrated as much as possible with a nourishing formula. Opt for a product like Barielle Intensive Hand Treatment Cream, which is specially formulated for very dry skin. Or, if you prefer a non-cream moisturizer, try a salve or balm like Jurlique Love Balm, which can heal the dry outer layer of skin without interfering with hard-earned toughness in the deeper layers. To help make hydration a habit, keep travel-sized bottles of moisturizer with you. For severely dehydrated or chapped skin, stow Bliss High Intensity 24 Heaven Healing Body Balm Travel Size in your backpack.
- Prep your skin for the outdoors. Climbing outdoors is incredibly rewarding but also poses challenges to the skin, including sun exposure and rougher climbing surfaces that can lead to blisters and dryness. Combat damage by wearing protective clothing that shields skin from UV rays and hard rock surfaces, and come prepared to wear plenty of sport sunscreen. Choose a formula like PCA SKIN Active Broad Spectrum SPF 45 – Water Resistant that’s designed to not sweat off while you’re braving the elements. As accomplished climber Chris Sharma tells the New York Times T Magazine, “You definitely lose track of how much sun you are taking” while climbing, especially if you climb near water. A solid sun care product like Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block Face Stick, SPF 50 is ideal, so you can reapply without greasing up your hands and making them slippery on the rocks.
- Be strict about your after care regimen. After climbing, be sure to thoroughly wash all the dirt and chalk off your skin as soon as possible, using a gentle moisturizing cleanser like Skin Authority Moisturizing Cream Cleanser. Chalk that you use on your hands, especially liquid chalk, is extremely drying. This is great for keeping your hands dry and “grippy” on the rocks while you’re climbing, but this drying effect takes its toll on the skin if you climb frequently. The only surefire way to combat chronic dryness is to wash your hands and follow with a rich, extra strength moisturizer. For a natural option, try ARCONA Green Tea Lotion, which also offers antioxidant benefits. If your hands are especially tough after a day of climbing, the women at the rock climbing blog Crux Crush recommend applying a salve before bed to treat cracked skin and split tips.
- Focus on prevention and healing. Just as it’s important for runners to be mindful of their feet, rock climbers have to be extra attentive to their hands. It may seem counterintuitive to keep your hands soft and mostly callous-free when you rock climb, but a split in a thick callous can be painful and heal more slowly than a split in skin that’s well cared for. It’s never a bad idea to invest in an all-purpose healing cream. Products like Jack Black Industrial Strength Hand Healer have vitamin E and moisturizers that can speed the healing of dry skin and keep your hands healthy and soft in the process. Use climbing tape when necessary to make climbing more comfortable on broken or worn skin. However, if you’re nursing an injury or a wound that needs time to heal, it’s better to take time away from climbing and let your skin recuperate.
- Treat injuries with the right TLC. Flappers, cracks and blisters are three words that evoke terror in any rock climber. They can mean difficult and painful climbing for the rest of the season if you’re not careful. No matter how well you tend to your skin, sometimes rough conditions and unavoidable circumstances can lead to a skin injury. Here’s how to treat three common hand conditions:
- Cracks can be shallow or deep. Your best route to recovery is to lather on some healing hand balm like 100% Pure Organic Healing Balm and wrap up your hands. This will speed up the healing process and make the most of your precious down time.
- Blisters can be a never-ending battle in rock climbing. Whether you’re training in the gym or outdoors, blisters can afflict both the hands and feet, especially if you’re breaking in new shoes. Terry Ziegler, EdD, ATC, of Sports MD, recommends draining the blister if it’s filled with fluid and covering it with a bandage and some antibiotic ointment like Neosporin. If the blister has broken open, she cautions against removing any excess skin, which serves to cover and protect the open and raw nerves beneath the surface. Blisters, like any other climbing injury, need to be carefully tended and monitored for infection and healing.
- Flappers are notorious among climbers. This condition occurs when a flap of skin tears away from the hand, most commonly on the finger pads. Experts at UK Climbing recommend washing the area thoroughly, to reduce the risk of infection, and keep it covered with gauze. You can apply a healing ointment such as Aveeno Skin Relief Healing Ointment. Give yourself ample time to recover so that you don’t aggravate the injury.
Whether you’re an avid rock climber or just getting started, knowing the ins and outs of skincare is a must. So, stock up on the skin care essentials and be prepared for anything. If you keep these simple tips in mind, your skin will be healthy, hydrated and ready to overcome any obstacle that appears in your way.
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