Athletes often insert a number of superstitious rituals into their everyday routine. One of the more bizarre rituals came to light in the past decade thanks to former Major League Baseball Moises Alou, who admitted to urinating on his hands to toughen his skin and eliminate calluses. While Alou is retired, the ritual continues in many baseball circles. Is there a chemical in urine that enhances the protective nature of the epidermis and eliminates callouses or is this practice merely grounded in superstition?
Blisters, Calluses, and Urine
Retired Major League Baseball player Moises Alou praised the practice of personal urination to benefit and toughen the skin on his hands. Alou likely obtained a number of calluses and friction blisters due to his profession and its requirement to wear a leather glove and toss a baseball for several hours a day.
These friction blisters often form when the stratum lucidum tears, a thin layer that makes up a part of the epidermis. Though blisters are annoying and can hurt a great deal, they are a defensive mechanism for the body. The fluid filled sac acts as your body's own bubble wrap, protecting the damaged skin below. Calluses protect the skin as well, with these tough patches of skin arising in areas of consistent contact.
Urine is typically sterile unless the individual is ill. The waste product is 95% water, with the only major chemical present being urea, a nitrogen metabolite that needs to be eliminated by the body.
Use of Urine Components in Lotion
Several hand creams and lotions are available over the counter and by prescription contain urea as an active component. Thankfully, the urea is synthesized in a lab and not collected from dried samples of urine.
The urea in these lotions actually softens the skin by dissolving the the intercellular matrix of the cells in the upper layers of the skin, allowing the skin cells to be shed.
Theoretically, if one urinated on their hands consistently, they could rid their hands of calluses already present. One could not, however, prevent the future buildup of calluses by micturating on appendages.
Prescription strength urea-containing lotions are used to treat psorias and eczema, as well as keratin abnormalities that lead to a buildup of the thick, upper layer of skin known as the stratum corneum.
Is Alou Right?
Moises thought urinating on his hands made them tougher, but, in fact, the practice should make them considerably softer. Moises Alou isn't the only Major League Baseball player to fall for the urine remedy, as Kerry Wood admitted to urinating on persistent blisters on his throwing hand.
If Moises sought relief from blisters, however, urinating on the bumps could give mixed responses. Blisters are extremely pressure sensitive, and a rupture of the blister opens up the body to possible infection. While urine is sterile within the body, it is open to contamination after it meets the urethra and exits the body.
So, urinating on your hands could eliminate callouses, but all in all, you are better off using lotion. Sure, it's more expensive than urine, but your hands will likely smell better.
In the meantime, think twice before giving a high five to a baseball player.
Top image by sochacki.info/CC. Additional image by Mikael Häggström/CC.