Windburn is not sunburn in the winter. It feels similar as in it makes the skin red, dry and irritated. Any exposed skin can get windburn. This happens in the cold temperature with low humidity. It robs the skin of its natural oils making it start peeling. The blood vessels in the skin's outer layer start dilating making the skin appear red. The skin then becomes sensitive to any product. Skiers and winter runners suffer this condition if not adequately protected.
Preventing and treating windburn
Cover your skin before exposing to cold winds. Wear a hat and sunglasses. Apply thick moisturizer to exposed skin every few hours.
If your skin is already sore with windburn, wash it with lukewarm water and apply a healing moisturizer. Coconut oil also works well. Keep yourself well hydrated and stay in humidified room if possible. Stay clear of harsh exfoliators on the skin. Allow the peeling to heal the skin and resist the urge to pick at it.
Aloe Vera Gel, cucumber, potato slices or oatmeal are excellent home remedies to soothe windburned skin. You can also apply Vitamin E oil or a paste of cornstarch or baking soda.
Windburn Vs Sunburn
Sunburn and Windburn may appear alike and often occur together but are not same. It often becomes difficult to be able to distinguish.
Windburn occurs due to depletion of natural oils from the outer layer of the skin. It does not result in long-term skin damage. It is similar to 'irritant dermatitis'. Preventive measures include covering the skin and keeping it well moisturized.
Sunburn occurs due to harmful UV rays of the sun causing damage to the skin cells resulting in discoloration and age spots. Prolonged sun exposure and sunburn can lead to skin cancer.
If you cannot prevent exposing yourself to sun, the next best thing is to protect your skin with adequate sunscreen. It is a myth that sunscreen needs to be used only in summer. The winter sun too can wreak havoc on the skin and adequate skin protection is required. Sunscreens come as lotions, creams, gels, sprays and oils. A good sunscreen is effective against UVA and UVB rays. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is critical when selecting a sunscreen lotion. The SPF is indicative of the amount of exposure that your skin can handle from UVB rays before it turns red. A SPF of at least 15 is recommended for all skin types. Fair or light skinned people are generally more sensitive to the sun. Such skin will not tan but will get sunburn easily. They need to go in for a sunscreen with SPF 25.
Olive toned skin or skin of Mediterranean or Asian or Arab origin tans easily and needs SPF 15. Dark skinned people too would need sunscreen. Ideally, sunscreen must be applied at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. A generous amount of sunscreen must be applied to all parts of the body that will be exposed to the sun.
Cold burn or Frostbite occurs when the skin is in touch with an extremely cold body. Extreme cold can cause damage to the skin and underlying tissues. For example, if there is a prolonged contact of the skin with moderately cold body like snow or very cold bodies like dry ice, liquid helium or liquid nitrogen for a brief period, cold burns or ice burns will occur. Here heat is transferred from the skin and organs to the cold body that is in contact. In other kinds of burns, the body that causes the burn is hotter and heat is transferred to the skin or the organ.
Symptoms of frostbite include pins and needles sensation and then numbness in the area. Initially there may be throbbing or aching. The affected part seems to become insensate. In severe frostbite, when the tissue starts to freeze, the skin at that area may appear white and numb. In areas affected by frost burn, abnormal accumulation of blood takes place. In addition to accumulation of body fluids, a blood clot may form thereby preventing blood circulation around the area resulting in tissue decay. Mottled and violaceous tissue is noticed. Normal functioning of the body is disturbed because of cooling of the internal organs, which will lead to a critical condition called hypothermia. Cooling of the brain or heart is very dangerous.
If hypothermia is noticed, treating it should be the priority. Blisters are noticed when there is very severe frostbite. Blisters are the result of expansion of the surrounding layers of the skin and the release of serous fluid or plasma.
The accumulated plasma in the blister is intended to prevent further damage and also to help in the healing process. To avoid infection from the blister, it is important that it is not punctured as it would expose the raw skin for further infection. The serous fluid will be reabsorbed by the skin usually after 24 hours if there is no infection.
Severe frostbite may also damage tendons, muscles, nerves and bones. Gangrene is inevitable in the case of very severe frostbite. Frostbite may affect any part of the body.
The most vulnerable parts are hands, feet, nose and ears. Recovery may be significant when the skin and underlying body tissues are injured and it may be permanent if there is injury to the blood vessels. If gangrene follows, the affected part may have to be amputated. When warming up of the affected part begins, the patient will experience intense pain. There will be tingling or burning sensation in the affected area also.
People taking beta-blockers that decrease blood flow to the skin and those who suffer Peripheral Vascular Disease are at risk when exposed to cold for a prolonged period. Any person who is exposed to extreme cold for a long period is susceptible to frostbite. Diabetes, peripheral neuropathy or Raynaud's phenomenon are some conditions that may have increased risk of cold burns. Smoking and windy weather when the rate of heat loss from the skin is more will hinder the healing process. Cold burns at the work place are common. People who work in factories where they may come in contact with metal surfaces that are at extremely cold temperatures are prone to cold burns. When the skin is moist, they may receive almost instantaneous cold burns.
Prevention of freeze burns
Extreme cold, wet clothes, high winds and poor circulation are some of the factors that can contribute to freeze burns. Tight boots or clothing and conditions like cramped positions, some medications, smoking or alcohol can cause frostbite. Wearing appropriate clothing in winter when the temperature goes below normal and will help. Winter clothes like mittens, layered clothing that is wind-proof and water resistant gives good protection.
First Aid for cold burns
It is essential that the ice burn treatment is correctly done as soon as possible.
Frostnip is the least severe form of cold injury that occurs after the distal extremities are exposed to prolonged period of cold but non-freezing temperatures. Vasoconstriction is felt. Frostnip is a precursor to frostbite and does not involve the same levels of tissue destruction. The affected area appears pale.
Immersion foot is a condition where there is severe tissue injury due to prolonged and persistent exposure to wet conditions, cold or hot. It results in tissue edema and inflammation. This is often seen in homeless persons who are exposed to the elements. The extremities appear swollen and erythematous (skin turning red often manifested in patches). Bad odor is often noticed as also tissue sloughing.
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Bibliography / Reference
Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: December 8, 2023