Monday, July 2, 2012

Misplaced Muscle - Skin Care Pt. I

Kreg Dobzinski
By Kreg Dobzinski

The strongest, most fit, smartest, climber in the whole entire world in perfect conditions on a problem absolutely within this alpha-climber's genetically superior abilities can be shut down by one simple thing: skin. Yeah, you know that one minor organ that covers your entire body simultaneously regulating your temperature and keeping rain from filling us up like a balloon?

Our focus will be the particular area of epidermis layering our hands and for most of us consistent skin quality is a mysterious and elusive state of being . Sometimes you may go a week or two with nothing much happening other than the normal cuticle cracks or pinched edges of callus, but then there are those periods of time where your hands spontaneously start flaking or are so glassy and over-polished that you can't seem to find friction - not to mention when your skin is actually pulled away and flaps in the breeze. Now, I just may have done some research and also may have uncovered a few products that might aid fellow climbers, but I have been climbing a lot lately and my fingertips are just so sore and tender and every keystroke is like a needle under my nails... yet I think I can muscle through it to help you kids out.

Skin is a complicated issue, so I will splitting this up into two installments: Prevention and treatment.

As always, the most surefire way to making your skin happy is to treat it right. Whereas some pro-climbers go to extreme lengths to protect their hands like obsessively wearing gloves when there is the slightest chance that unwanted hydration will reach their skin, I believe there are some more diligent and less obtrusive ways to go about it. So what condition should your skin be in for optimal performance? Unfortunately, there is no simple extreme (dry and brittle or moisturized and tear-prone) to obtain and then maintain. Instead, skin maintenance requires a balance between over-moisturized and over-callused through various methods and/or products.

First off, one thing all the articles I have consulted have agreed on is sanding and trimming the callus build-up that usually happens on the edges of finger-tips or at the joints of pads. Although you may have worked hard for those little yellow kernels of compacted skin, the edges of holds also love the easy to bite into hardened skin-ledges and you may find yourself with a deep pink gouge where your callus accomplishment used to be. To accomplish this buffing of your digits, I have used a nail file, an emery board, or even fine grit sandpaper from the hardware shop.

When reducing the callus, be careful not to overdo it on the first go. Find the areas of largest build-up and focus on them first. After your initial shaving of skin, clean your hands and wait a few minutes for any irritation to subside and then delicately find the skinny stragglers. For the flakes of skin or getting rid of baby-flappers, I would recommend some extremely sharp, short bladed scissors or high quality cuticle clippers - not a pair of dulled nail clippers that are 3 to 7 years old depending on which you can find in the medicine cabinet.

Next, we will delve into a few of the various salves and creams aimed at helping your skin stay together. Now, the only product of this type I have personally used is Joshua Tree Climbing Salve. They state that their the all natural mineral oils and herbs that construct this lemony goop promote healing of the hands without actually softening the callus build-up. It is a lofty statement, but I think it is warranted from my experience. Really, the only time I remember to apply it is on the dreaded rest day at the end of of the evening before sleep. Still, in only one or two applications per week there has been a positive difference. One of the keys to utilizing this salve is to apply it specifically to the most stressed area of skin such as the fingertips and cuticle edges, while avoiding the tender inner joints and majority of the less abused palm. Pay attention when you are filing down your calluses and you will get a good idea where to focus. There are many other ointments and moisturizers marketed to climbers, and I have no doubt some of them work just as well - if not better. Usually a little bit goes a long way, so it may be most beneficial to try small amounts of different brands between your fellow climbers.

Lastly, there is a product rumored to be used by Daniel Woods, Beth Rodden and Andrew Bisharat but let me preface this by saying it is not available in the U.S. and I have not personally ever used nor endorse it - but it is called Antihydral. It is a German skin dehydrator that is usually for the treatment of excessive sweating on the hands and feet. On the climbing website, Andrew Bisharat offers up a review of the substance and how to apply it:

You apply a very small amount of Antihydral to your hands before going to bed, either the night before a climbing day, or over a series of two or three nights beforehand. The solution leaves a white residue; wash it off the next morning. Two or three treatments of Antihydral will leave your skin feeling drier and harder for days.

The important part he stresses is moderation in its use. It would seem easy to get a little crazy and totally crack out your skin. A cycling of between moisturizing agent and dehydration seems to be optimal for performance and skin longevity.

Stay tuned for next week when I will go into how to treat and heal a wound in your skin - so don't get hurt until then.
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