Skin Care For Climbers, Part 2/4: Before The Climb
This series is meant as a no-nonsense guide to climbing skincare for average climbers. It’s meant to be practical, actionable & is written for climbers like you and me. The focus is slightly more on bouldering and indoor climbing but the general principles apply to all types of rock climbing.
In this article we’ll cover what you need to know to make the most of your skin even before your climbing session has started. But before you read on, make sure you have read the first article in this series. Make sure you grok “The Knowledge”.
Before we head into specific advice for specific skin types I want to get a couple of common mistakes climbers make out of the way.
Mistake 1: Focus on building callus. Climbing exerts unique forces on your finger skin. Very few sports concentrate so much force on such a small surface area of skin. For beginning climbers this results in lots of cuts, scrapes & a level of discomfort that can be discouraging. You see, if you spend most of your day starting at screens, your skin will not be optimised for climbing. Many beginners leap to the wrong conclusion that they need to build up callus, fast! Wrong! The simplest way to build up the right callus is to simply climb a lot on the types of surfaces you are projecting. Your finger skin will adapt by itself.
Mistake 2: Focus on dry skin. While it’s true that dry skin is a must-have on most climbs, you do not want to focus on maintaining dry skin in-between climbing sessions. Quite the opposite is true, actually. You want to build strong, supple & elastic skin. For most climbers moisturising is the name of the game in-between climbing sessions. Your goal should be to build smooth, flexible, well-moisturised skin the lasts a long time & is optimised for the types of climbing surfaces your fingers will touch. Here are some tips to build exactly that kind of skin!
Build Smooth Skin. Smooth skin is important because uneven skin tends to catch on the rock and may cause flappers and other small scrapes. You get smooth skin by regularly sanding down any unwanted callus in-between climbing sessions.
Build Strong Skin. Your skin will naturally adapt to the surfaces you climb on, building up callus as needed. You can help your skin regenerate after each climb by using a moisturising cream that is specifically formulated for climbing. Unlike mainstream moisturisers they contain ingredients like Tocopherol that help rebuild skin faster.
Make it last longer. The secret to strong skin that lasts longer is hydration. You want to make sure your skin remains supple & well-hydrated in-between climbing sessions. When you do get a little scrape or cut make sure you keep it clean. Your secret weapon for overnight healing of cuts & scrapes is beeswax. Unlike a regular non-greasy moisturiser beeswax works wonders overnight because the wax keeps all the moisture inside your finger skin, healing it from the inside.
Optimal Skin. To ensure that your skin is ready for the project you’ve been working on you want to make sure you spend a lot of time climbing on the same kind of surfaces as your project. Your skin will naturally adapt if you expose it to the right kind of rock, even at lower grades. Indoor bouldering skin tends to be a bit waxy while skin from climbing on coarse granite tend to be thick and leathery. Your skin knows best, let it adapt naturally to the kind of climbing you are projecting.
The tips above applied to all skin types. Generally speaking the big take-away is that you will want to focus on moisturising between climbing sessions. The kind of moisturiser and how much you need depends on your skin type. Below we give a couple more specific tips for each skin type.
Non-Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. For this skin type it is extra important to keep moisturising all day long in-between climbing sessions with a regular non-greasy moisturiser. You will also benefit from more regular sanding of your calluses. Non-oily skin is high-maintenance skin. You’re lucky not to have sweaty skin which makes skin maintenance while climbing a whole lot easier, but the comes at a trade-off: you’ll need to pay extra attention to your skin in-between climbing sessions. You will benefit from both moisturising during the day and applying a beeswax-based balm at night.
Oily, Non-Sweaty Skin. For oily skin types it is important not to moisturise too much in-between climbing sessions. If you do, make sure you stop a couple of hours before climbing. And if you suffer from really oily skin consider washing your hands with alcohol before climbing. You will want to make sure not to over-used greasy moisturisers like beeswax. While they will help you recover faster overnight too, they tend to be a little on the greasy side for oily skin types. Probably better to stick to regular moisturiser.
Non-Oily, Sweaty Skin. You will want to follow a normal skincare routine, with a standard moisturiser between climbing sessions but for you it might pay off to look at some of the products available to people suffering from hyperhidrosis. Pharmacies sell creams which help reduce the sweating. Some of these contain aluminium chlorohydrates, the active ingredient in deodorant, which tends to discolour clothing, so take care!
Oily & Sweaty Skin. If you want to use a moisturiser you should pick one that is mainly water-based and lay off the beeswax-based products. The truth is you don’t need to moisturise too much. For your sweaty skin you can consider some of the more extreme treatments like Iontophoresis or using Methenamine-based products. I’ll let you do your own research on these since they come with some drawbacks that you need to be aware of!
In our next article we’ll look at what you can do after the climb to keep your mitts ready to rock.
Photo by Balkan Campers