Skin Care for River Rats

river ratCon­stant expo­sure to water is tough on your skin. The wet and dry cycles even­tu­al­ly lead to rough skin and painful cracks that refuse to heal with­out treat­ment. Cracks are most com­mon on the hands and feet and in extreme cas­es, are debil­i­tat­ing enough to have a seri­ous impact on your abil­i­ty to hike, grip oar han­dles and per­form dai­ly func­tions on the water.

I had a bad case of cracked hands while guid­ing fish­ing trips in Patag­o­nia and could not find any mois­tur­iz­er to help for a few weeks. The cracks along the creas­es of my fin­gers would catch lines, mak­ing it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to tie knots and main­tain rea­son­able dex­ter­i­ty. Luck­i­ly, heal­ing and main­tain­ing your skin is sim­ple if you are pre­pared. Prob­lems typ­i­cal­ly devel­op on the longer trips when you for­get to pack any ointment.

Crack Pre­ven­tion
Some­times, you sim­ply can­not pre­vent cracks. Espe­cial­ly if you guide or spend con­sec­u­tive weeks and months in and out of the water. Catch­ing them ear­ly and apply­ing mois­tur­iz­er will pre­vent fur­ther open­ing and pain. Sim­ple skin lotion will help, but a triple antibi­ot­ic oint­ment or Vase­line is bet­ter at coat­ing the wound and pro­mot­ing quick healing.

Wear­ing sun gloves will pro­tect your hands on the water. Feet are more dif­fi­cult as san­dals are the footwear of choice dur­ing warmer months when cracked skin is a prob­lem. Do your best to keep your feet dry for a few days while mois­tur­iz­ing sev­er­al times each day. This might require oar­ing a raft into shore and mak­ing a jump to keep your feet dry. If things get bad enough, a pair of muck boots will keep you dry with­out hin­der­ing take­offs and landings.

Heal­ing Severe Cases
Severe dry­ness and crack­ing is painful and will not heal with­out some seri­ous help. Rest is obvi­ous­ly the best method but tak­ing a break is not fea­si­ble mid-trip or mid-sea­son for pro­fes­sion­als. Apply a lib­er­al amount of oint­ment and wear cot­ton gloves or socks to bed. It’s a bit awk­ward but speeds up the process and makes your days much easier.

Also avoid clean­ing prod­ucts and any chem­i­cal prod­ucts. Han­dling gaso­line or diesel is a major issue as well. Wear latex gloves if you work with any chem­i­cal prod­ucts. If a crack is being stub­born but you need to main­tain dex­ter­i­ty and stay active, cov­er it with ath­let­ic tape dur­ing the day to avoid abra­sions and con­tact with moisture.

Stock Your First Aid Kit
A poor­ly stocked first aid kit will leave you short sup­plied in the field. Ath­let­ic tape, triple antibi­ot­ic oint­ment and Vase­line or any basic mois­tur­iz­er is all you need to treat dry skin in the field. Bag balm is anoth­er great mois­tur­iz­er to con­sid­er. Keep every­thing in a dry bag that is eas­i­ly acces­si­ble. Start apply­ing mois­tur­iz­er to your heels, fin­gers and com­mon crack points as soon as any issue is noticed. Doing so will save you a the agony of deal­ing with extreme cracks.