protect your skin from the dust

cracked playa surface of the black rock desert
dry cracked playa, black rock desert

This has may be in the survival guide but it's something that can do with some repeating:


-You'll come knowing you need to stay hydrated,
-You'll come knowing you need protection from the sun..
-Many people come not knowing that they may need to be protected from the dust.

Know that not everyone has skin that reacts negatively to this dust. But you wont know until you get there. It is better to be prepared in the eventuality you are one of those people impacted by this.

You might think to yourself: "I am a kick ass beefy strong construction worker, and I work with cinderblocks all day, I will be fine!!" or you might think "I am a dainty person who needs my collection of moisturizers, balms and salves.. and I'm doomed to have a horrible burning man!" DON'T Both of these people could be wrong!! Again.. not everyone has skin that reacts badly to the dust.

If you are one of the unlucky ones: you'll need to protect yourself.

According to the BLM (the federal agency that manages the playa where burning man happens):
The pH of the playa sediments is basic, ranging from 9.97 to 10.21
(source pdf : can be found here )

This puts the dust on the playa among friends such as: Milk of magnesia, Ammonia, Borax, Great Salt Lake (utah), Baking Soda

You might have no problems with that stuff in the short term.. but how about living in it for 7 days.. or 10? (or more!)

Ok, I get it.. this might be yuckie.. Now.. what's the problem

-It is a (mild) Chemical Burn
-It can be painful and really put a damper on your fun
-It most often impacts feet, with people wearing open toed shoes, sandals, or no shoes at all.
-It also impacts the hands, specifically the cuticles.
-It may also impact: knees, elbows (some peoples bottoms/butts have been made sore by it)
-It isn't an emergency (unless it becomes infected or severely impairs your ability to do stuff)

As it is described in some fancy pants medical stuff:

"Burns are invariably deeper than first appearance suggests" "alkalis are capable of deep penetration, and can cause severe pain" .. "[a] mechanism by which these alkali injuries are caused is [...] extraction of water from cells [which] causes desiccation"

(In lay-mans terms: it dries the bejesus out of your skin, in feet it can cause cracking of the little folds in your feet, leading to pain, and bleeding.. in hands it can cause pain and bleeding at the cuticles around fingernails leading to a really annoying day.)

dusty wind blown playa in the black rock desert
wind blown dust on the playa surface
OK that doesn't sound so great.. How do I avoid it, or fix it?

-Avoid Exposure to the dust! (wear gloves when making camp or handling dusty stuff, wear socks and closed-toe shoes)
-Clean your skin! (thoroughly rinse and clean the dust off problem areas multiple times a day, I carry a small spray bottle for this)
-Hydrate your skin! (moisturizer/lotion! I bring a 10-12 ounce bottle and use all of it each year just for my hands)
-Counteract the reaction (a vinegar solution works: 1 part white vinegar 3 parts water, some people use lime juice (not me!))

(many people soak their feet in a foot bath each night.. it feels good, i often soak my hands in a hand bath each night, it feels good.. the tingling feeling tells ya its working!)

That's great.. but I didn't listen to any of this..This hurts real bad and I dont feel well, now what?

-Go to one of the three medical stations, they help people with "playa foot" (or playa hand) related problems every year.
-You'll find them in the 3 o'Clock Plaza, the 9 o'clock plaza and just outside of Center Camp.
-Don't be embarrassed or afraid to get help, don't feel like this is too inconsequential .. if it's really messing with you, they are there to help

Have a fun burning man! Remember, maybe wont need any of this stuff, but perhaps your neighbor will!