As a young climber, I used to think it was a “badge of honor” to have post-climbing chalky hands. In the climber town of Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve lived since the early 1990s, you’d go to the grocery store on the way back from the rocks, and the checkout person might look down at your white-stained hands and ask, “Been up climbing today?”
“Why yes I have!” you might say, proud that someone had guessed your secret identity—and then, if they were a climber too, you’d start talking beta.
I’ve since figured out that it’s a bad idea to leave your hands chalky until you get home, especially if you have skin that’s prone to dryness, slickness, or glassiness—if your palms don’t sweat a lot. Chalk, of course, is a drying agent, and leaving it on any longer than needed can lead to bad skin, cracking, and splitting. In fact, good skin care should begin immediately after you finish climbing, even if you’re out at the rock and don’t have access to a sink, soap, and towel. Here’s how:
1) Clean Your Hands: If there’s a water source or snow patch nearby, use the moisture to clean your hands, rubbing them together vigorously and interlacing your fingers at the webbing until all the chalk is gone—until the water runs off them clear. Snow has the additional value of cooling abraded skin and calming joint inflammation, and I’ll often hold a snowball in each hand on the hike out and let the water melt.
If there isn’t a water source nearby, save a little extra in your water bottle; take a big drink and hold it in your mouth, then purse your lips and squirt a steady stream of water onto your hands while you rub them together. Repeat as necessary until the water coming off your hands is no longer white.
2) Take Care of Abrasions/Split/Callus/Etc.: Now that your hands are clean, deal with skin irregularities before further climbing or day-to-day use makes the wounds worse. I carry nail clippers and an oversized emory board in my climbing pack. Use the nail clippers to snip away callus ridges at your joint creases or flaps at the edges of any gobies or flappers. Then use the emory board to file down these problem spots until they’re flush with the rest of your skin—this keeps the wounds from getting deeper.
3) Get Some Moisture Back in to Your Hands: It’s time to start healing from your climbing session by restoring moisture to your skin, so it can grow back as quickly as possible.
For a standard climbing session that hasn’t left you too banged up, Salves Everything is the ticket, with all-natural ingredients like aloe, arnica, chaparral, and radish root that remoisturize skin. If you went super-hard, especially out at the boulders or on a technical face climb with small holds, and your fingers feel creaky or are screaming at you, try Salves Everything CBD Recover, which has 100 mg of CBD for inflammation reduction and pain relief, in addition to the skin- and joint-soothing plant ingredients willow bark, ginger root, and arnica.