Why Climbing Chalk Can Be Bad for Your Health with Scientific Proof


Chalk is one of the most crucial elements for successful rock climbing. Since this activity is highly intensive and leads to the secretion of oils and sweat onto the skin’s surface, chalk helps to dry out these substances for improved friction and a better grip. However, there have been concerns about chalk’s safety to a person’s health, with some people being worried about adverse effects. In this article, we’re going to discuss rock climbing chalk and how safe it is for you.

So, is climbing chalk bad for you? The answer to this question depends mainly on the amounts you use. If you use this element moderately and inhale only small amounts, it may not affect your health. But if you use it in large quantities and inhale lots of chalk dust, your health may be affected negatively, especially people with respiratory issues such as asthma. Please note that the adverse health effects may not come directly from chalk itself, but from other contaminants in the surrounding. As the chalk dust moves around, it may pick bacteria and other contaminants which can be dangerous when inhaled into the body. The inhalation of smaller particles of chalk is also worse for your body.

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Scientific Studies Explaining Why Climbing Chalk Could Be Bad for Your Health

The effects of Magnesia Alba “chalk dust” on air quality

This study by researchers from Old Dominion University sought to understand any potential health risks of particulate matter in Magnesia Alba chalk dust. The particulate matter in this type of chalk dust can have adverse effects on air quality, particularly in enclosed areas like climbing gyms. The study was conducted on climbing walls at Old Dominion University (ODU) and Appalachian State University (ASU), and each space was equipped with particulate matter monitors.

Data were analyzed at the end of the study, and ODU showed good to moderate particulate matter amounts. However, the amounts at ASU were dangerously unhealthy. The study concluded that since climbing gyms at ASU and other places experience a lot of traffic, air quality assessment is vital to ensure everyone stays healthy and avoids lung or respiratory issues.

The size distributions of indoor aerosol in a gym

This study conducted at Spain’s the University of León sought to evaluate the distribution of aerosol sizes under different gym conditions (with and without magnesia alba) and how far differently-sized particles are deposited into the respiratory system. Tests on size distributions were conducted before any activity inside the gym, activities without magnesium alba use, activities with magnesium alba use, various cleaning processes, and outdoors.

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After the study, the researchers found that the amount of activity in the gym and magnesium alba use were major influencing factors on air quality and size distributions. The study also found out that smaller sized particles travelled further into the respiratory tract, which is more harmful.

Dust exposure in indoor climbing facilities

The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of ventilation on particulate matter concentration. The methods of study involved putting air cleaners in different places in the offices and gym. Measurements in the gym were taken when the AC system was off, and particulate matter concentration was found to be very high. As the number of people increased in the gym, the concentration also increased. However, when researchers improved ventilation by turning all the ACs, the particulate matter concentration was significantly lower.

In very polluted environments, chalk dust can cause respiratory issues such as irritation and coughing as well as pulmonary problems. Therefore, this study concluded that it’s important to turn the ventilation system when climbing gyms are open and if the number of people is high. This helps to reduce pollution and particulate matter concentration.

Other Reasons Why Chalk May be Bad for You

Is climbing chalk bad for your lungs? We’ve already mentioned that inhaling too much chalk dust contaminated with bacteria and other contaminants is bad for your respiratory health. However, there is another factor that determines chalk dust’s riskiness – drying agents. Especially for people with lung issues, inhaling chalk dust with lots of drying agents can cause dehydration on the lung surfaces and lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Chalk dust inhalation isn’t the only risk; this substance can also affect your skin negatively. When used constantly and excessively, it can cause skin over-drying and cracking. That’s why experts recommend washing your hands thoroughly after rock climbing to get rid of any lingering chalk amounts. After washing your hands, you should apply a suitable moisturizer to rehydrate the skin, reduce the chances of cracking, and keep it looking healthy. I’ve written a very detailed article giving you 10 tips on how to care for your hands after you’ve been climbing which you can read about here.

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What Can You Do to Keep Yourself Safe?

While chalk dust is potentially risky, there are things you can do to protect yourself and others. Here are some of them:

  • Use chalk sparingly – Strike the right balance between lesser and excessive use. One, the more chalk you use, the higher the chances of creating chalk dust which you can inhale. Two, excessive chalk usage can lead to skin overdrying and cracking. Third, more chalk doesn’t necessarily mean better friction. Over-chalking can reduce friction and make you slip off holds easily.
  • Don’t climb in small, busy gyms that are polluted with chalk – Small, busy gyms will often have poor ventilation, which means more concentration of chalk dust. Avoid climbing in these places. Small and busy can also mean more concentration of other contaminants like dust and skin rafts which may be carried by chalk dust into your breathing system.
  • Wear a facemask – Since small amounts of chalk dust are unavoidable, you can protect yourself using a face mask. Particularly now that we’re facing the coronavirus pandemic, using a facemask can help you hit two birds with one stone: COVID-19 and chalk dust.
  • Ask your gym to buy a chalk filtration system – If the rock climbing near you is always busy and has lots of people using chalk, suggest a chalk eater to the owner. This equipment works wonders to remove chalk dust particles from any space and thus contributing to a healthier environment for both athletes and coaches. This appliance has other benefits such as helping extend the life of your AC unit and reducing cleaning expenses and time.
  • Use a neti pot for sinus irrigation – If you’re highly allergic and always get clogged nasal passages after inhaling things like chalk dust, WebMD suggests using a neti pot for sinus irrigation. This tool thins mucus in the nasal passages so that you can flush it out easily.
  • Climb outdoors more than indoors – The exteriors have better air quality compared to the interiors. Chalk dust is also easily absorbed by the surrounding, reducing the amount you inhale. Therefore, consider taking most of your climbing adventures outdoors.
  • Don’t trim your nose hairs – This one is on a serious note; if you’re a rock climber who uses chalk often, trimming nose hairs should be a no-no. Nose hairs trap chalk dust and dirt particles and prevent them from entering your nasal cavity. Now imagine trimming your nose hairs – there won’t be any hindrance for contaminated dust particles to pass through your respiratory tract and into your lungs, where they can cause negative health effects.
  • People with lung conditions should think twice – Chalk dust inhalation can spell trouble for people with lung problems. It can cause irritation on the airways leading to wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. If you really want to get into rock climbing, you should invest in ways to ensure you don’t inhale anything that may irritate your breathing passageways.
  • Use climbing chalks without drying agents – Some chalk products have lots of drying agents which can lead to over-dried skin. Research well to ensure your chosen product has no drying agents. An excellent option is the Unicorn Dust Fine Chalk from FrictionLabs.
  • Use liquid chalkliquid chalk reduces dust exposure in indoor climbing gyms and is therefore a fantastic alternative to dry chalk.
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How to Apply Chalk on Your Hands Effectively

One mistake many people make when applying chalk powder is grabbing a handful of the product and sprinkling it over their hands. If you have a habit of doing that, that’s one of the reasons why your chalk gets depleted faster. Sprinkling chalk on your hands carelessly can also create a lot of dust, which may be unfriendly for other people in the gym. Remember you’re not the only one training and some people here may be allergic to the dust. Create a suitable environment for them.

How should you apply climbing chalk to your hands? Pinch a small amount of chalk between your fingers and thumb. Rub it onto your palm and fingertips. Rub the chalked palm against the other palm to create a nice coating. Don’t forget to do it gently to avoid creating unnecessary dust. If during the process you accidentally spill a lot of chalk powder on the floor, inform the gym assistant or clean it up yourself.

Conclusion

If you’ve been wondering whether climbing chalk is bad for you, I hope this article has given you enough information. The general rule of the thumb is using it in moderate amounts – the more excessive the use, the higher the chances of mixing with other contaminants in the environment and coming back into your body through inhalation. Using chalk sparingly also makes you save for your next rock climbing adventure(s).

Paul

I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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