skin care and saltwater

My friends and I just finished a great 5 day course on Vancouver Island. All of us noticed tender red swollen fingertips and cuticles after the exposure to saltwater, repeated immersion, and damp sweaty gloves. Afterward, much dry cracked skin followed for some.

Our group from central Canada normally paddle in fresh water and have never encountered this. Can someone with experience explain this, how to prevent and treat?

To me, it sounds similar to dishwasher’s hands or nurses, both of whom have damp fingers from gloves.


My wife and I paddle almost daily
during the four winter months in salt water in the Florida Keys, and we use Palmer’s Cocoa Butter formula with vitamin E.

I rub it on the first thing in the morning and then again in the evening.

It works for us.

jack L

And rinse out the gloves
When in Maine, we have just walked into the shower with dry suit and most of our neoprene on after a paddle. And cream as Jack advised. The big trick is to stop the salt water from becoming a 24 friend for your skin.

Though you may not be aware of it,
you may be subjecting your fingers to more vasodilation due to cold water while paddling in the ocean.

Yes, freshwater is cold too, but if you’re not in freshwater that produces roughly the same amount of cold dousing, it may not matter.

Gloves and mitts help, but also keeping your entire self warm enough that your body is willing to expend warm blood on the fingers.

I have tended to develop Raynauds in my late advancing middle age, and also psoriasis on fingers and palms. Skin thickening and cracking. Poor circulation aggravates it.

You may well find bad things in the ocean, but make sure your core stays warm enough.

Did not happen to me

– Last Updated: Apr-17-14 1:50 PM EST –

I paddled for a month in AK and did not experience what you describe. Possibly the fact that I usually rinsed off in a nearby stream prevented the problem. After the first few days of the trip I had noticed that, without rinsing, my sprayskirt and paddle-float became heavy from perpetually-damp salt saturation, and they began to STINK. Thus began the ritual of rinsing at each camp, whenever possible.

However, I did not wear gloves at all; the nylon-and-fleece-pogies I brought got used once, at most. I suspect your skin irritation was a reaction to the damp, warm interior of your gloves. Sort of like athlete's foot, or the beginnings thereof.

gloves not consistent
Pikabike, some had gloves, others not, all had the symptoms.

perhaps osmosis?
which is the transport of water across a semi-permeable membrane, which always flows across the membrane from the lower salt concentration to the higher salt concentration. If true, then skin is loosing moisture and thereby cracking.

Does not happend to me …

I spend a lot of time each week in seawater. Not an issue for me.

Supposedly sea water is about 3.5% salinity and your blood is ~0.9% salinity. I have no idea what the moisture in the skin is but it’s probably close to 0.9% so osmosis may be taking place. My observation is that you get puffy fingers quicker in fresh water. We came from the seas and our bodies are pretty tolerant of sea water (just don’t drink it). I can roll with no issues in seawater, but fresh water whitewater paddling kills my sinuses and eyes…

I get cracked cuticles in winter time when around dry forced air heating.

Anhydrous Lanolin…
…works well for me on any cracked/dry/skin, especially on the hands. I keep a small 35mm film container of it in my boat gear bag, and apply it to the fingertips and cuticles if there’s any irritation. You can get it thru the pharmacist - lanolin was extensively used as the base incompounding salves and ointments in the old days, and most still keep a jar or two on hand… and oh, yeah - it’s the bees’ knees for clearing up diaper rash…lol…

Andy has it right. It’s a matter of
fact for many people that the constant exposure to the salt water and the hypertonic state results in cracking of the skin and the bloodiness of the cuticle. The only solution I have found is what others said, rinsing at the end of the day and moisturizing. Gloves may or may not help, probably depends on the persons physiology. It’s just part of the experience but don’t ignore it because it can become painful.