Climbing and Hyperhidrosis

Sweaty monkey in a Japanese Onsen

Some people sweat like a greasy monkey in a sauna. The monkey part is good for climbing but not the sweaty part. Excessive sweating can be a serious burden to your climbing ability. Absorbing sweat is the reason climbers started to use magnesium carbonate but for an unlucky, few chalk seems to have little or no effect. About 5% of the population is plagued by uncontrolled sweating that can be classified as a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. As in hyper “too much” hydrosis “sweating”. The purpose of sweat is to regulate body temperature, and hyperhidrosis is defined as a condition characterized by abnormally increased sweating, in excess of that required for regulation of body temperature.

Hyperhidrosis is interesting for climbers to understand because if you suffer from it, you can apply some of the medically recommended remedies for your own use. Even if you don’t suffer from hyperhidrosis, it’s interesting to know the weapons available against sweat which tends to decrease friction on the holds. There are a couple of solutions available for people who suffer from hyperhidrosis.

A first solution is a therapy called Iontophoresis or electrocution of your fingers. Yes, you read that right! Running a low-voltage current through your fingers a couple times a week can discourage your sweat glands from acting up and has been used medically for decades in treating hyperhidrosis patients. Both professional and DIY solutions are available and some climbers swear by this technique. It’s a little cumbersome and takes serious dedication to use long-term but it seems to work. We won’t get into the details here but lots of information is available on this technique.

A second solution is application of a heavy antiperspirant cream. Antiperspirants work by clogging up your sweat glands, typically with an aluminium-based product and can essentially be thought of as strong deodorants. While deodorants work by masking the smell of sweat, an antiperspirant works by preventing sweat in the first place. Spraying classical deodorant isn’t going to do anything for your climbing. If you want to use this class of product, look for true antiperspirants against excessive sweating. They are available in all kinds of forms from roll-on to disposable towels.

A third category of products are based on Methenamine. This is the active ingredients in the (in)famous Anhydral cream. Anhydral was originally only available in Germany and when used correctly, it works great. It has been described as “skin doping for climbers” but a word of caution is needed: it may work too well. It’s very easy to dry out your skin far too much with this product, causing painful tears and cuts. It’s best used overnight every couple of days.

We have outlined the three main weapons against over-sweating but I’d like to finish with a word of caution. Remember that only 5% of the population suffers from excessive sweating so you are actually not all that likely to have to resort to this strong methods.

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