I work in healthcare, and I also rock climb. Both communities treat skin injuries very seriously, and for good reason. I thought I would share a few thoughts and tips that I have discovered, which I hope might help some of you reduce or eliminate your incidence of skin tears.
Skin tears are actually a fairly serious injury. They certainly affect your training, but there are issues of infection (spreading and receiving) that are of even greater concern. Some rock climbing gyms have even had issues with MRSA in their facilities stemming from compromised skin. If you are not familiar with super-bugs/drug-resistant infections, spend a little time on WebMD and you will quickly see how serious maintaining in-tact healthy skin can really be.
There are a few simple steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of a skin-tear and keep the skin on your hands in overall better health. They center on keeping your skin clean and moisturized.
There is nothing more important that keeping your skin pliable (moisturized). There are probably a lot of you that are experiencing tears more frequently now that we are in the winter months. This has to do with the cold/dry outdoor air, forced-air heating in homes, etc. Think of your skin like leather; if you keep it soft and flexible, it is very durable. If you let it dry and start to crack, it tears easily, and heals slowly.
Infection and disease are a concern for anyone. But frequent hand washing can really impact the health of your skin. For your health and the health of those around you, keeping your hands clean is very important. There are a few tips that can help you ensure that you keep your hands clean without unnecessarily damaging your skin:
- If your hands are visibly dirty, wash them with luke-warm water and a mild soap (try to avoid hot water as it strips oils from the skin and can really leave your hands dried out).
- If your hands are not visibly dirty try using an instant-hand sanitizer. Try to find one that has moisturizers in it as the active ingredient (alcohol) is very drying to skin.
- After washing, or using a hand sanitizer, always try to use a moisturizer to add moisture back to your skin, and replace the natural oils that you have removed. It is a good idea to find something that you like using and something that you can keep in a bag/purse/desk/car where it is readily available. If you can find products that have glycerin listed in the first few ingredients, even better. Some other effective ingredients include shea butter, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, and vitamin E. Since moisturizers help trap in moisture, it is best if you leave your hands a little damp after washing, but ensure that you have rinsed all of the soap off as soap can be an irritant if left on the skin.
Some additional tips for keeping your skin healthy:
- In the evening consider using a heavier moisturizer. Since you typically use your hands less while you sleep, you can afford to put on a heavier cream that will penetrate your top layers of skin while you sleep. Look for something thicker and heavier than your daytime moisturizer.
- Try to keep calluses to a minimum. They are essentially unstable layers of dead skin that will adhere to the underlying “healthy layers” and create a large opening in the skin when they do tear. Some people use pumice stones, some use calluse shavers, and some just use a skin exfoliating wash (basically a granular liquid scrub). All are good to manage calluses, just make sure you use them after or during a shower, when the calluses are softened, and don’t overuse them as they also can be harsh on the skin. If you are really consistent with your moisturizing, calluses will present less of an issue, as the skin will naturally slough more effectively rather than building up heavy, rough, layers of dead skin.
- Ensure that you wash chalk off of your hand completely. Chalk is an exceptional drying agent for the skin. The purpose of chalk is to ensure that your hands stay dry. Do not leave chalk residue on your hands, as it will only cause more cracking and slower healing. Once you have washed off all of the chalk, make sure you put a moisturizer on as soon as possible.
- If you do tear, treat the wound as quickly as possible. Make sure that you wash all chalk out of the wound. Clean the wound well and try to use a good antibiotic ointment (Neosporin) and keep it covered as much as possible. The ointment will help quicken healing and keep the tear moisturized.
I hope this is helpful and allows all of you to train harder and more often, while avoiding injury.