The number and variety of products marketed to pole dancers and other aerialists to help them stay attached to their apparatus of choice is dizzying, and becoming more so every year. Are they all more or less the same? What’s in them? Why should I choose one over another? This post is my attempt to answer those questions, based on my own experience as a dancer and a fair bit of reading and experimentation done in an attempt to figure out how these things work.


Before we get too deep into this rabbit hole, I should mention a couple of preliminaries.

Firstly, for anyone who’s just started pole or aerials, looking for a grip aid and wondering which one to get: it probably doesn’t matter. I’d suggest starting with whichever one your studio recommends or sells, or else whatever your friends are using. Unless you know you have specific requirements (like very dry skin or very sweaty palms), or your current grip isn’t working for you, you don’t need to worry too much about the specifics.

I should also note that the purpose of this guide isn’t to list or compare different grip products; when I do mention a specific brand, it is for illustrative purposes only and not an endorsement. There are many great product comparisons out there, but I’ll be sticking to the principles behind the types of grips and what they do.

Still curious? Let’s get into it.

What is a grip aid?

For our purposes, a grip aid is any substance which is applied to either you or your pole (or hoop, bar, trapeze, et cetera - I’ll be talking about poles because I’m a pole dancer and that’s what I know, but most of the content will apply to other apparati as well) for the purpose of making it easier for you to stay attached. Generally, this means making either you or the pole stickier - whether by coating your hands with something extra-tacky, or absorbing the sweat from your hands before it forms a slippery middle layer, or by any other means. We’ll look at several of these mechanisms in turn, loosely grouped by active ingredient and starting with the most popular.

What grip aids are made of

Silica-based (e.g., Dry Hands)

Silicon dioxide, commonly known as silica, forms the basis for more grip products than I can name (and I can name a lot). You may know silica in its more common crystalline form (as sand, glass, or computer chips); precipitated silica is the non-crystalline form. It has several advantages, including not causing horrible lung diseases when inhaled.

Silica does two things which make it invaluable as a grip aid: it helps you stick, and it keeps you dry. It helps you stick by forming a layer of very fine particles on top of your skin; these particles have a high surface area and adhere to both skin and pole when they’re in contact, increasing the coefficient of friction and lowering the amoung of force you need to apply to hold yourself up. It keeps you dry by acting as a dessicant - it attracts water, forming bonds with the water molecules and making it harder for them to form a slippery layer on top of your skin. On top of that, it dissolves easily in alcohol, which means it’s a breeze to clean up.

Grip aids using silica as the primary active ingredient represent most of the grip products currently on the market; a few examples are Dry Hands, Girlie Grip and Hold Tight Grip.

When to use silica-based grips

Silica is in most of the popular grip aids for pole dancers, for good reason - it’s easy to use, easy to clean, and effective for most dancers. It’s a solid choice for a go-to everyday grip aid, and usually a good first choice if you don’t know what works for you.

How to use silica-based grips

The “tacky”-type grip aids which form a friction-increasing layer on the skin are generally best applied immediately before use. They typically come as a liquid or a thin gel, usually in the form of an alcohol-based solution. Apply sparingly to hands, body, or pole, wait a few seconds for the carrier to evaporate, and you’re good to go.

The right amount to use is generally the smallest amount of liquid that will completely cover the relevant area. If silica-based grips are applied too liberally, they tend to leave a loose, powdery residue which can’t adhere to the skin or pole surface because it’s already covered in silica. This tends to be less of an issue with silica-based grips as it is with grips containing chalk, and is generally a sign that you’re applying too much and/or too frequently.

Cleaning up

Silica-based grips can leave a tacky residue on the pole; this is usually not an issue, but in large quantities occasionally builds up to form a powdery layer which can affect grip. Silica residue on any smooth surface will easily wipe off any smooth surface with alcohol and a cloth.

Glycerin-based (e.g., Dew Point)

Moisturisers get a bad rap among pole dancers; it’s not uncommon for new students to be told to avoid moisturising at all on the day of their class. This is for good reason: most moisturiser products contain emollients, ingredients which form a barrier layer between the skin and the outside world, and which are generally very slippery. But dry skin is also very slippery, and this can cause major grip issues; even dancers without dryness-prone skin types will often have trouble gripping in dry winter air. This problem is compounded by the alcohol used to clean poles, as well as the alcohol in most grip aids, which dries out the skin even further.

This is where glycerin comes in. It’s used in everything from commercial moisturisers to baked goods for its ability to keep things moist; and, as long as it’s applied in a thin layer, it’s absorbed by the skin rather than staying on the surface making things slip. Pure glycerin is a thick liquid, about the consistency of olive oil; this makes it difficult to apply on its own, and so it’s usually diluted with water. The amount of water used can vary; people with very dry skin will often do best with a higher glycerin:water ratio, while dancers in highly humid environments tend to prefer a more dilute mix. Four parts water to one part glycerin would be fairly typical, and is a good place to start while you work out what best suits your skin.

When to use glycerin

Glycerin isn’t really a general-purpose grip aid, but it solves one problem very well - dry skin is slippery skin. But too much hydration isn’t good for grip either, as sweaty dancers are very aware; applying glycerin to skin that’s already moist won’t help and might hurt. How much help your skin needs to avoid drying out will depend on everything from your personal skin type to the weather, and a lot of dancers find they benefit most from glycerin-based grips in the winter. If you’re unsure, try running a finger over your usual grip areas when you get to the pole studio (but before warming up) - if they feel dry to you, that’s a good sign you could benefit from some glycerin.

How to use glycerin

There are two different ways to use glycerin-based grip aids; both are equally effective, and they can also be employed in combination. Both involve applying glycerin to the skin - glycerin should never be applied to the pole.

Firstly, glycerin can be applied directly to the skin shortly before a performance or practice session. This is similar to how the typical “tacky” grip aids are applied, but be mindful that even a little too much glycerin can make you slippery - many dancers avoid getting it on their hands altogether. Commercial glycerin-based grip aids tend to come in a spray bottle, which makes it a lot easier to apply in a thin layer without needing to rub it in. 1

Glycerin can also be used like a normal moisturiser, applied after a bath or shower in place of whatever you’d normally use on your body and legs if you didn’t have a pole class to go to. Due to the lack of an emmolient/barrier layer, glycerin may not last as long as your regular moisturiser; if this is an issue for you, consider applying more frequently in dry weather.

Cleaning up

Glycerin generally won’t leave any noticeable residue on the pole; when applied correctly, it should leave the skin moist but not wet, meaning it won’t wipe off onto the pole on contact. However, glycerin is very slippery (one of its main commercial applications is as a lubricant), so stay vigilant

  • if your pole does end up with a glycerin coat, or even a smear, you’re reasonably likely to find yourself unexpectedly en-route to the floor. This can happen when applied too thickly and not rubbed in or wiped off, for example, or even resulting from a badly-aimed spray bottle in the studio. If you think you may have glycerin on your pole, fear not - all it needs is an alcohol spray-bath and a wipe-down with a clean cloth. Don’t be tempted to skip the alcohol - even dilute glycerin is thick and sticky enough that a dry cloth will likely just smear it further around the pole.

Beeswax-based (e.g., iTac)

Have you ever been struggling to learn a new trick, just keep sliding no matter what you do, and wished you could just glue yourself to the pole? Not permanently of course - with something that’s sticky enough to keep you in place while you’re learning where everything goes, but not so sticky you can’t get down. I hope that’s not just me. Anyway, you can!

Beeswax-based grips have the major disadvantage that beeswax is not particularly soluble in alcohol (which is the pole-cleaner of choice pretty much everywhere). They are also very tacky, which counts as another major disadvantage when it comes to cleaning up after a class or performance. This has been enough of an issue that many studio owners ban these products entirely, which has drastically limited their popularity. And yet, beeswax remains a valuable tool for many dancers, especially among those who train at home; it will often provide significantly more tack than anything else in common use, which can make a big difference when it comes to being able to confidently practice a new trick.

When to use beeswax-based grips

Beeswax-based grips are not a common choice for everyday grip aid, for a few reasons - it’s messy, it’s frequently banned, and it can be tacky enough to prevent sliding on the pole even when that’s the goal2. But it will help you grip when nothing else will, and can be a valuable addition to your grip arsenal for days when you just can’t stick no matter what.

How to use beeswax-based grips

Apply beeswax-based grips immediately before use. They typically come as a thick paste; apply sparingly to hands and other grip surfaces and wait a minute to allow to dry. They can also be applied directly to the pole.

Cleaning up

In spite of its reputation, beeswax will dissolve readily in many organic solvents, including acetone; acetone can make a suitable alternative to alcohol for dancers who do want to use these grips (as long as they’re careful around their nails). Cleanup is more effort than with most other grips, even using acetone; there’s a reason it’s on the “banned” list in so many studios (it’s quite often the only thing on the lists, in fact).

Rosin-based grips (e.g., Dancing Dust “Dusty Powder”)

Rosin is a translucent yellow-red substance made from tree sap (generally pine, more on this later). It’s a useful grip aid on its own, and has been used in powdered form by athletes and dancers for almost as long as there have been athletes and daners.

Rosin is notable for its “stick-slip” effect - it gives a very firm grip on surfaces at rest (static friction or “stiction”), but allows moving surfaces to slide against each other with relative ease (kinetic friction). It’s been used for centuries by ballet dancers, providing traction on polished wooden dance floors for powerful leaps and spins while also allowing for smooth gliding motions.

When to use rosin-based grips

Rosin makes for a very effective general-purpose grip aid, and while it doesn’t have silica’s popularity as an active ingredient, it’s a solid choice for everyday use. It doesn’t have silica’s drying properties, but on the other hand most people find it lends a bit of extra tack.

How to use rosin-based grips

Rosin and rosin-based grips come as both powdery, yellow-red solids and in liquid form. Both types are best applied immediately before use. If using the dry form, spraying with a little bit of alcohol after applying can help the rosin spread more effectively for maximum grip (and you may find it helps to add a little more alcohol after a while if you find it’s becoming less effective).

Cleaning up

Rosin tends to cause fewer issues with slippery powder buildup than silica. It can leave a sticky residue on the pole that won’t come off with water, but dissolves easily in alcohol.

Magnesium carbonate (gym chalk, climbing chalk)

Magnesium carbonate is another substance with a long history of helping people hold on to stuff - rock climbers, gymnasts, and weightlifters rely on it almost exclusively, as the main ingredient in gym chalk and climbing chalk, and it’s also commonly employed by acrobats and aerialists of all kinds. Magnesium carbonate is a very effective drying agent. Unlike silica, it’s not particularly tacky on its own, but it can stay effective through a fair amount of sweat, while a lot of dancers find it pretty easy to sweat through silica on a humid day.

When to use magnesium carbonate

For pole dancing (as opposed to gymnastics or rock climbing) the primary benefit of magnesium carbonate is its drying effect. If you’re one of those lucky dancers who don’t sweat enough to affect your grip then gym chalk probably won’t do much for you. On the other hand, if you frequently find yourself a slippery mess on hot or humid days, it might be just what you need.

How to use magnesium carbonate

Unlike antihydrals, magnesium carbonate won’t stop you sweating, so there’s no need to apply it in advance - apply a thin layer to problem areas once you’ve warmed up, and reapply as needed if you start sweating through. It’s usually a good idea to wipe down your pole whenever you reapply to avoid residue building up to slippery levels.

It’s common to use gym chalk in addition to another (usually “tacky”-type, e.g., silica-based) grip aid; if you’re doing this, apply the other grip aid first and then use chalk on top as needed.

Gym chalk comes in both dry/powdered form (with consistency options from fine to extra-chunky) and in a liquid base. The liquid form can be less messy to apply, but the powdered form can be used immediately without waiting for the carrier to evaporate; use whichever you prefer.

Cleaning up

Grip aids containing magnesium carbonate will often leave a loose, powdery residue on the pole, which can build up over time and lead to slipping; like most dry powders, once it’s thick enough it starts to act as a lubricant. Silica has this problem as well, but not to the same extent; silica-based grips only tend to form a lubricant layer when applied in excess, but grips containing magnesium carbonate often do so during regular use, especially when large amounts are needed to control heavy sweating. Dancers who rely on gym chalk may find they need to wipe down their poles frequently during practice; fortunately, it cleans up fairly easily. Unlike silica, spraying with alcohol won’t dissolve it, but it does not adhere strongly to the pole and wiping down with a microfibre cloth will generally take care of it.

Topical antiperspirants (antihydrals)

Drying agents like gym chalk work to absorb sweat from the skin, preventing it from forming a slippery liquid layer on top of important gripping surfaces. Antiperspirants go a step further and act to prevent the skin from sweating in the first place. Topical antiperspirants (also called antihydrals) are applied directly to the affected skin area, and temporarily reduce or eliminate that patch of skin’s ability to perspire. There are other kinds of antiperspirants out there, and even some more creative approaches to keeping dry, but in keeping with our working definition of grip aid above I won’t say any more about them here; the more general topic of sweat management for slippery dancers deserves (at minimum) its own article.

Topical antiperspirants are commonplace even among non-athletes, of course, in particular as an ingredient of most deodorants. These antiperspirants are relatively mild, often just containing a gentle astringent, though formulations vary and there are exceptions. The antihydrals marketed to athletes and performers are most commonly of the “soft-solid” type, containing aluminium salts which form solid “plugs” in the sweat ducts.

When to use antihydrals

If you’re sweating enough that it’s causing grip problems that silica and magnesium carbonate can’t solve, it might be worth trying an antihydral in the mix. This is especially true if your profuse sweating is confined to a small area of the body (e.g., you have very sweaty hands). Note that if it’s significant enough, excessive sweating (especially localised sweating) could represent hyperhidrosis, which is a medical condition requiring medical treatment - if you suspect this might apply to you, talk to your doctor.

How to use antihydrals

Aluminium-based antihydrals are most effective if applied in advance; sweating can actually interfere with the antihydral’s ability to block the sweat ducts. The usual recommendation is to apply them at night just before bed.

Cleaning up

Generally, antihydrals shouldn’t require any cleanup. If used in excess, they can leave a fine white powdery residue on the skin as they dry; this can just be wiped off.

Others (hairspray, shaving cream, ???)

This is by no means an exhaustive treatment of grip aids - if I don’t mention something here, it’s because I either haven’t heard of it or don’t know enough about it to write anything useful. I’ll be adding to this guide as I learn more, so feel free to let me know if there’s a grip type you’d like to see covered.

Combinations and layers

Sometimes there just isn’t a single substance that has everything you want in a grip aid, and that’s fine. Frequently commercial grip aid products will combine multiple of the ingredients I’ve talked about above, but don’t be afraid to experiment with combining and layering them yourself either.

A few examples of popular combinations:

  • Silica and glycerin: for dry skin and some tack. Glycerin should go on first.

  • Beeswax and magnesium carbonate: for very sweaty people who need to be maximally grippy. The beeswax should go on first, and magnesium carbonate applied on top as needed.

  • Silica and rosin: for extra everyday tack. They should be applied at the same time, preferably in the same mixture.

Cleaning the pole

While not strictly a grip aid, the subject of pole-cleaning deserves a mention. Poles get grimy pretty fast, collecting everything from sweat and dead skin to grip aid residue and occasional traces of blood and tears; all of these can interfere with grip. I’ve added notes on cleanup where appropriate to the sections on grip aids above, but a few general points bear keeping in mind.

How to clean your pole

Most studios use some kind of alcohol in a spray bottle as a pole cleaner; this will handily take care of the usual buildup of skin oils and sweat, in addition to most grip aid residue (with some exceptions). Pretty much any alcohol is fine for this purpose; it’s common to use denatured ethanol (methylated spirits/wood spirit) because it’s the cheapest, but isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is effective as well and normally doesn’t smell quite as bad. Spraying down the pole directly and then wiping dry is a common technique, but has the disadvantage of filling the air with alcohol droplets; a slightly slower but less messy method involves wetting a cloth and then rubbing down the pole.

When to clean your pole

It probably doesn’t need saying, but sweat, skin oils and grip residue can all build up to form a slippery layer that can make the difference between sticking a move and slipping out of it. How quickly this buildup happens will vary, but cleaning your pole regularly is worth making a habit - a good rule of thumb is to wipe down your pole every time you apply grip.


That’s all for now folks, but check back soon; I’ll be updating this guide as I learn more, and I have a lot left to learn. I’d love to hear any questions or suggestions, including any other pole topics you’d like to read about.

  1. Regular spraybottles can struggle with the thicker glycerin preparations; spray bottles designed for “misting” thick liquids are ideal, such as the “oil mister bottles” sold by kitchen/homewares stores for use in cooking. 

  2. In physics terms, beeswax is very effective at increasing both static friction and dynamic friction (unlike e.g., pine resin, which primarily increases static friction).