Skincare For Climbers, Part 3/4: While Climbing

Bishop California
Climbing is tough on our skin. Most climbers simply focus on keeping their hands dry during the climb but there’s so much more to skincare for climbers than just dealing with the sweat. There’s so much more you can do in a climbing session besides dipping into your chalk bag for the umptienth time. True, you need to keep your skin dry, but you also need to make sure you don’t wear it out too fast & make sure your damaged skin recovers quickly.

In this article we’ll lead with the main things all climbers can do to improv their skincare game during the climbing session. We’ll then follow up with some specific tips for the four skin types we have defined at the beginning of this series of articles. If you haven’t read the first part in this series, stop here & read that article first. It’s essential you understand the basic knowledge to follow along.

The biggest mistake we see climbers make is over-chalking. Chalking up has become a habit. We’ve seen it all! Climbers chalk up when they don’t need to: while resting & even before warming up. We see climbers apply chalk to the holds directly. Chalk belongs on your fingers, in a thin layer, never too much. Too much chalk actually reduces friction, acting like a lubricant between fingers and rock. Too much chalk will dry out your hands, reducing the strength of your finger skin, making you more prone to cuts & scrapes. Use chalk powder in moderation.

The second biggest mistake we see climbers make is simply not paying attention to their skin while climbing. Climbing is exciting and it’s so easy to get carried away, repeating the same move over and over until no skin is left on your bloody stumps. A little moderation will help you make your sessions last longer. Don’t waste precious skin on shitty problems! The secret here is one that will also help your climb: the art of observation.

Observe. Climbing is all about awareness and problem solving. You’re constantly trying to make small improvements to your climbing. Use some of that power of observation to pay attention to your skin. Does your skin stay smooth and even during the session? Or does it bunch up? Do you have small flakes peeling off? One good way to force yourself to pay attention to your skin is to maintain your calluses in-between attempts on a boulder.

Be Precise. Precise, slow moves will help you climb better and will help you save your skin. Poorly slapped dynos can turn your skin in a bleeding mess in a split-second. Avoid futzing around on the holds even on static moves, find a good finger position and hold it. Precision will help you save skin.

Skip Moves. If working a project with moves that are particularly hard on the skin, see which moves you can skip while you are working out the sequence. Just work the cruxes where you are having trouble & skip the rest to save some skin for the actual attempt.

Dose Your Attempts. Every attempt will cost you skin and if your skin is prone to breaking you will want to minimise your attempts. Rest more. Climb smart. Stop early to climb another day.

Now that we’ve got you actually paying attention to your skin while climbing, here are some specific tips for each skin type.

Non-Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. If you’re one of many climbers who are lucky enough to have relatively dry skin that doesn’t sweat a lot, here’s an idea for you: don’t use chalk. Yep. We called it. In many many situations chalk is just not necessary. Give it a try some day! However, since you have dry skin it’s extra important to pay attention to your skin since you’re more likely to develop skin tears. Not using chalk will actually help with this. If you don’t really need the chalk for dealing with the sweat, using less chalk will help you avoid developing excessively dry & weak skin while climbing.

Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. The simplest way to deal with the oil on your skin is to apply a good layer of liquid chalk at the beginning of your session. The alcohol in the liquid chalk will remove the oily layer from your fingers in no time. Some climbers even wash their hands with pure alcohol to get the same effect without the chalk. If you’re going to use chalk we really recommend liquid chalk for oily skin types, especially for bouldering.

Non-Oily, Sweaty Skin. For sweaty skin we recommend using liquid chalk as a base layer & topping up with a little extra chalk powder as needed. You’re going to need that little extra, especially on longer climbs. Sweaty skin is also a good candidate to apply a base layer of crystal chalk before you start to climb. This works best if you apply a first layer about 20 minutes before you start climbing and then re-apply a couple of times during your session. Crystal Chalk works slightly differently than normal liquid chalk: it tends to last longer, but also takes some time to get started. Pre-applying is the name of the game here! Since you have dry skin, make sure you pay extra attention to how your skin is holding up during the session and stop early if you have to.

Oily, Sweaty Skin. You’ll want to take out the full arsenal of weapons! Pre-apply a layer of Crystal Chalk, use liquid chalk or wash your hand in alcohol to get rid of the oil. Chalk up with a little extra chalk powder. Do whatever it takes to keep your hands dry!

Photo by Tommy Lisbin