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Protection, Prevention and Plasters – The Peculiar World of Blisters ~ by Robert

Protection, Prevention and Plasters – The Peculiar World of Blisters

Sometimes it’s those small irritations … Working outdoors has its penalties; we’ve dealt with midges and ticks, but what about blisters?  What’s your favourite remedy? 

Prevention of blisters

Blisters on the feet

The blisters many people find most awkward are those caused by walking boots.  These are friction blisters.  Wearing well-fitting and broken-in footwear with clean socks can reduce friction.   

In hot conditions, it is a good idea to change socks frequently if you have sweaty feet, or to get hold of socks that can handle moisture.  These are often available from sports shops. 

Even with these precautions, the major preventative is to remember to break boots in before wearing them for any length of time.   If you start to feel a “hot” area, or even before you feel one, taping over the foot can help. 

If you use plasters, moleskin or tapes (preferably with a high coefficient of friction – CoF) they should be applied daily, but you can obtain special friction management patches that will last longer.  All available from good chemists. 

Blisters on the hands

It’s not just blisters on feet that are a problem – working with tools makes blisters on hands all too common, and these can be particularly painful and inconvenient.  Using the same principle of friction reduction, one of the simplest but best methods is to wear gloves.   As a short-term measure, talcum powder or another lubricant can be used inside the glove, but be careful of using it as a long-term measure as it absorbs moisture. If you want a really long-term measure, how about some hand toughening up?  I can highly recommend fives, a form of handball, guaranteed to develop your feathery hands into biological steel.   

Blistered Skin

Blisters are not solely caused by friction.  Working outdoors, particularly in spring and summer, especially if you are outside all day, or for several days consecutively, can lead to sunburn, blisters and flaking especially on the face.  Fortunately, the obvious solution of sunscreen is a simple one, but one that even the most hardened veteran woodland campaigner has been known to forget.   


The first thing to remember when treating any blister, no matter where it is, is to stop the irritation.  After that, they may be inconvenient, but they will always heal naturally.  For the record, new skin grows beneath the blister, the body reabsorbs the fluid within it and the skin on top dries and peels off.   

However, there are methods to help the healing process along.  A dressing can be placed over the blister, an emollient keeps it soft while it is raw, and soaking in warm water is a good way to ease pain. 

The actual breaking of the blister, on the other hand, should be allowed to run its natural course, because that is the best possible guard against infection.   If blisters do become infected, and sometimes there is little you can do if the blister splits, it may require a course of antibiotics. 

A useful tip is tincture of benzoin.  You can use it before applying tape to the skin (as above) as an adherent and in the long term for toughening skin.  If you have developed a blister and you want to prevent further abrasion, loss of skin or infection, try draining the fluid from the blister while injecting an equal amount of the tincture.   

Treatment of sunburn is, as with the prevention, fairly simple.  The natural process will ultimately take its course, but help is at hand in the form of moisturiser and after-sun lotion.   

One exception to the rule of letting your body heal itself is with blood blisters.  These can be excruciatingly sore and often turn septic if nothing is done.  The best move is to go for popping, which is worth it in the long term … honestly.   I hope these are a few useful pointers should you ever encounter a blister on your woody travels.  Got any other tips?  Let us know below.    

Posted in: Practical Guides, Woodland Activities ~ On: 28 August, 2009

6 comments so far

10 September, 2009

Ah good point. Thanks I’ll try that one.

3 September, 2009

I guess building up the work slowly is good too. Don’t suddenly spend all day working on something and creating tons of blisters. Skin will toughen up slowly if given the chance!

1 September, 2009

Interesting. Thanks for tip on surgical spirit, Tracy. I’m planning to do some wood-work soon, and I always get blisters…I take it the summer would be a good time, because the burst blisters would dry out quicker?

Gill Barron
30 August, 2009

Surgical spirit or meths work excellently for hardening skin. Start a few days before any foreseeable big work bash, and wipe your palms many times a day with a cloth dipped in spirits. A pocket kit in a small jamjar makes this easy to do. The spirit must evaporate naturally – wave your hands around. Do it out of doors as the fumes can make you go a bit waffy. By the way, the free and traditional skin-hardening substance, particularly for the skin under a working horse’s collar area, is wee.

29 August, 2009

Great article!
I heard that surgical spirit helped with toughening up skin (might not be true). I also find that leaving a blister that has burst in the air (rather than covered up) helps it to dry out and heal faster. Wet weepy wounds under plasters seem to take longer.
I totally agree about the blood blisters too. I once tried not to pop it, and it was so painful! Got better the minute I drained off the blood ;-)

the mother
28 August, 2009

Blisters? Never realised that fives had yet another use – as well as fun, bathroom entertainment, keeping fit, social, enjoyable competition, tactical skills….well, well.

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