Antihydral Skin Drying Question

Posted: 01-04-2012


Recently I have been hearing about this antihydral ointment that some climbers use on their fingertips to dry them out and create good, strong calluses. Have you used this stuff before? I am sure this is not a new thing in the climbing world but it seems that a lot of good climbers out there swear by this stuff and it is a great “trade secret” . just wanted your opinion if this works or if it will just fuck up my fingers. Thanks man! Hope you all are doing well!

Dan Isaac
Albuquerque, NM


I love how you are always seeking the performance enhancing edge. Such was the way of the Soviet sports programs of the cold war. Antihydral creams can be helpful short term. Long term they can contribute to compromising the integrity of the skin. A certain amount of moisture is necessary for the skin to remain supple so that it does not split, peel or slide off of holds. It is also necessary to recover from the superficial tissue damage of the abrasion, pitting, tearing, etc encountered through rock climbing. Too much callus causes cracking.

Many chalks profess to actually dry the skin in addition to neutralizing moisture. This is the problem that many people experience with certain types of commercially produced powdered chalks that are “proprietary blends” fortified with an antihydral agent. Although these chalks can be highly effective, they can also serve to compromise your skin depending upon the natural Ph level of your body (determined by genetic factors, diet and hydration). When I have over utilized such substances on a regular basis it has lead to peeling, scaling and especially splitting in between the creases of my pads which has lead to a long series of frustrating efforts to restore the structural integrity of my skin. This is especially pervasive in a high elevation, dry climate encountered in the Western US. I had far fewer skin related issues when I was living in Europe. Our region is particularly hard on the skin.

The real issue is the toughness of the skin and the degree to which you sweat. Personally, I do not naturally have thick skin nor do I inherently sweat very heavily unless my skin is worn thin from a high volume of climbing or as a result of climbing on very abrasive surfaces. My strategy is to maintain tough, but thin and supple skin. This helps prevent excess sweating which can also be a function of the sweat glands being closer to the surface due to worn down layers of superficial dermis.

Note: Dehydration of the dermis resulting from poor habits such as drinking excessive alcohol, smoking and laziness actually helps most climbers sweat less. However, this can lead to other health, performance and sports injury complications – especially soft tissue damage.

My advice would be to first address the type of chalk that yields the best result for the least damage. There are some types of chalk additives and drying compounds for the skin that are not antihydral. These substances dry on a superficial level but do not compromise the ability for your skin to recover. I find that hemp oil offers the right balance for my skin – yielding toughness and suppleness to avoid splitting. Using a hand cream at night helps restore tissue hydration so the depleted tissue can repair itself. Danny Andrada claims that fresh raw garlic smeared directly onto the skin before going to bed helps speed skin recovery. He definitely pushed this technique on me while we were training and traveling to comps together. I don’t know how well it works, but certainly smells good and helps the immune system – not to speak of the sex drive!

You could also test an antihydral cream in very limited dosage with a few days between using the product. The prudent way of testing an antihydral cream would be to use it on a non-climbing day so that if you are hyper sensitive to the compound you avoid obliterating your skin in a single day of climbing. I would also be inclined to cycle the use of such products, only utilizing them when absolutely necessary, not every time you climb.