Crazy Shit Climbers Do: Ethanol

Even before COVID hit some of the more experienced climbers knew there was something interesting about high-purity alcohol. Not the kind for drinking, that is, as Homer Simpsons said “The source of and solutions to all problems”.

In our case we’re talking ethanol. Pure Isopropyl alcohol above 70% does something more than just kill all nasties on your skin. It’s also an effective way to remove the natural fatty layer of our skin. Our skin naturally produces a layer of beneficial oils on our skin to help us keep our skin supple and strong.

This layer, the sebum, is variable among people. Some have oily skin, some have dry skin. For those who have oily skin that little layer of grease can actually decrease friction. Chalk will remove some of the oil from your skin but if you want to completely remove all traces of oil, bring on the alcohol.

Alcohol is used as a household cleaner to remove grease and oil stains, so it makes sense that it would work pretty well on our skin too. You want to make sure you use proper disinfecting alcohol and not the household cleaning kind. That will just irritate your skin.

Of course if you use liquid chalk as a base layer you can skip the whole ethanol washing step. Liquid chalk contains enough alcohol to also remove that layer of sebum besides keeping your finger skin dry while you climb.

If you don’t want to go all-in with the alcohol but still would like to remove some of the oil then simply washing your hands with old-fashioned soap. Washing your hands before and after climbing is actually something we recommend. Before climbing to make sure you start with clean hand and after climbing because you want to wash off the chalk as quickly as possible to avoid excessively dry skin. The go-to after-climb skincare routine is: wash hands & moisturise!

Image by Monstera

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