Skincare For Climbers, Part 4/4: After Climbing
The aftermath of a climbing sessions oftentimes is grim: bleeding fingertips, flappers or just skin covered in small nicks & scratches. Lots of climbers barely take care of those minor skin injuries & let them fester into an infected mess that keeps them away from the rock. It doesn’t have to be this way!
In this series of articles we cover the basics of skincare for climbers. All you need to know to take care of your fingers before, during & after climbing. In this last instalment we look at after-climb skincare. Before you read on you should check out article one in this series, “The Knowledge”. If you haven’t done that, go ahead, check that out & come back.
We’ll lead with a couple of general after-climb skincare tips that any climber should be aware of and follow up with specific advice for each of the 4 skin types.
Wash Your Hands. The first thing you should do after you session is washing your hands. We see lots of climbers walking around at the crag after climbing with chalked-up hands or sipping from one of those nice draft beers at the gym without first washing their hands. After climbing your skin will be dried out, weak & covered with all kinds of germs ready to infect those tiny little cuts. If there’s just one thing you do to take care of your skin after climbing, washing your hands should be it. Any kind of soap will do but if you are outdoors either choose a biodegradable soap or bring a couple of baby wipes.
Disinfect Small Cuts. Tiny pieces of broken skin may not seem big deal but if you don’t disinfect them they tend to slow down skin recovery. After climbing your first goal should be to get your skin clean and disinfected. Don’t over-do it though, give your skin’s natural oils and helpful bacteria a chance to re-grow. We’ve learned from COVID that for many of us disinfecting our hands all days leads to dry skin prone to rashes and other discomforts. Disinfect your cuts once & then don’t touch ‘em, give them a chance to recover naturally.
Fix flappers & blisters. Flappers & blisters take some extra care. These tend to take a long time to heal and will keep you from climbing at your max for days, if not weeks. A good routine for flappers is to clean out the wound, disinfect it & then cover the flapper to keep it moist. If possible, don’t cut off the excess flap of skin, this will help with keeping the moisture in. After a couple of days, once you can touch the exposed skin without feeling pain, you can cut off the excess skin. The key to flapper recovery is proper moisture management. You want to keep the flapper clean and well-moisturised. After cleaning out the wound you can stuff in some beeswax and cover up the area with some climbing tape. As the wound heals you will want to keep moisturising it with either beeswax or another moisturiser, taking care to keep the wound clean. For blisters you really want to avoid puncturing it if you can. Avoid pressure on that area and unlike flappers leave blisters uncovered for faster healing.
Maintain Your Callus. Immediately after climbing is a good time to do a quick callus tune-up. File off excess bits of skin & use nail clippers until your finger skin is smooth again. Doing this each time after you climb will go a long way towards preventing flappers in the first place.
Moisturise. We think almost all climbers will benefit from moisturising at least once in the climbing cycle and the best time to moisturise is immediately after climbing. After the climb your hands will be a dried out mess and no matter what your skin type is, you’ll want to apply a quick layer of moisturiser immediately after climbing. It’s best to go for a non-greasy water-based moisturised immediately after climbing because the beeswax-based ones tend to be grease. Keep those for overnight skincare unless you want to grease up your phone and other belongings.
Overnight Care. One of the best things you can do for your skin is to apply a good, greasy, moisturiser overnight. Beeswax-based balms work wonders but because they are so greasy climbers tend to under-use them. Putting on a good layer of beeswax before going to bed is one of the best ways to let your skin recover fast. If you have open wound like flappers you may even find that stuffing the wound with beeswax then covering it up overnight works miracles.
Non-Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. You will want to pay extra attention to your skin after climbing. Dry skin is more prone to unwanted breakage and infection, so you’ll need make sure you immediately clean out any cuts and generously apply a moisturiser after climbing. Since you have dry skin you may even benefit from applying beeswax immediately after climbing. On your skin-type the wax should stop being greasy to the touch relatively quickly after applying it. For everyday use make sure you have plenty of normal water-based moisturiser at hand.
Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. Even though you have oily skin you may benefit from applying one layer of moisturiser after climbing, just once. If you’e been reading along with this series of articles you will probably have learned the importance of removing your layer of oily sebum form your skin with alcohol or liquid chalk to improve friction during climbing. This is why you need to moisturise a bit after the climb: to compensate for the layer you just removed. Avoid the beeswax-based moisturisers for daily use, since your skin will very quickly start producing beneficial oils naturally so you don’t need those greasy moisturisers as much as climbers with naturally dry skin.
Non-Oily, Sweaty Skin. You will probably end up with the most dried out skin of all the skin types immediately after climbing. You will have used a lot of chalk and this tends to make the dryness even worse. Take extra care of small cuts and re-hydrate frequently. In everyday life you will probably feel like you need to hydrate less than people with less sweaty skin but this may be a mistake. Even though sweaty is easily mistaken for healthy, oily skin, sweat does not do much to help with the repairing of your skin. You will find that your skin recovers faster if you moisturise frequently.
Oily, Sweaty Skin. Since your skin is producing plenty of healthy natural oils that help in skin recovery you may not need to do a whole lot more than rehydrate the first 24h after climbing. You will want to choose water-based moisturisers over wax-based ones.
This was the last article in our series of skincare for climbers. Thanks for following along & happy climbing!
Photo by Mike Kotsch