Is Your Red Skin Really Windburn?
Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is common practice in the summer, but surprisingly, it is just as important during the chilly winter months. Cloudy and cool weather isn’t typically associated with burned skin, but regardless of the temperature, unprotected skin is still at risk for sun damage at any time of the year.
That being said, the sun isn’t the only element you have to protect your skin from. To add insult to irritation, your skin is also in danger of getting red and scaly thanks to cold temps and blustery winds. This condition is called windburn, and though it is different than sunburn, it deserves and requires the same level of protection.
Thankfully, windburned skin is easily prevented, so if the cold triggers your skin, never fear. Ahead, we go over the skinny on what windburn is, how to prevent it, and what it takes to treat it.
What Is a Windburn?
Windburn is a form of skin damage caused by prolonged exposure to harsh, cold winds. As the wind whips against your skin (typically your face), it takes the skin’s moisture along with it, leaving behind a compromised barrier. Unlike sunburn, windburn only damages the surface of the skin, however, windburn can be exacerbated by excessive sun exposure.
The two conditions are different, but their symptoms are pretty similar. The result is skin that feels dry and burned, itchy, and looks red. It is not uncommon and occurs while spending time in the harsh cold and windy air.
Spending time outside with your skin unprotected in cold, windy weather damages the top layer of your skin, stripping it of its natural moisture and leaving it red, raw, and irritated. Because the skin barrier is damaged, moisture escapes the skin, drying it out and making it more susceptible to further irritation. The wind alone can dilate the blood vessels and exposure to cold wind can alter the skin’s pH balance.
Unsurprisingly, the longer your skin is exposed to windy and cold conditions the worse the symptoms.
How to Prevent Windburn
The bad news: windburn is frustrating. The good news: it is easily preventable. Here's how to protect your skin from cold temps to get ahead of a windburn:
Keep Your Skin Hydrated
Windburn occurs when moisture is stripped from the face. In order to prevent it, make sure to hydrate before heading out. Try slathering a thick ointment like rich face cream or Aquaphor on the driest parts of your face (i.e. the cheeks). Also, consider eliminating the harsher elements of your skincare routine (gritty cleansers or acids) during cold snaps.
Finally, before you go to bed, plug in a humidifier and turn it up. Adding moisture to the air prevents your skin from feeling stripped and pampers your skin barrier.
Apply Sun Protection
Windburn and sunburn are not the same conditions, but like sunburns, windburns can be prevented by wearing SPF outside. Look for a multi-tasking formula that hydrates as well as shields skin from the sun for a double layer of protection.
Our faces are more susceptible to windburn because they are typically the most exposed area to the cold. To keep this area safe, try bundling up by wearing a jacket that zips up to cover your mouth or face masks for added protection.
How to Treat a Windburn
No skincare routine is perfect. If the cold air caught you slipping, no worries. Windburn is treatable and thankfully, does not take that long to heal. Read on for tips on how to remedy windburn.
Use a Gentle Skincare Routine
Windburn compromises your skin barrier, so it is paramount to avoid any skincare products that may damage your barrier further. Try using mild cleansers, gentle moisturizers, and of course, slugging to lock everything in (though you may want to avoid petroleum jelly). Finally only wash your face with lukewarm water, as steamy suds can strip your skin even further.
A cooling compress can also come in handy after a nasty burn. Make one yourself with a wet washcloth or use refrigerate a facial tool.
Skip Outdoor Activities
After harmful exposure, it’s best to lay low. Try staying indoors as much as possible and avoiding outdoor activities like running or skiing. This could worsen your condition and lead to more severe burning.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
To relieve some of the symptoms of windburn, like swelling and pain, over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen come in handy.
While a windburn is definitely not fun, it's incredibly common during the winter and, fortunately, not difficult to treat. If you find yourself with raw, red, irritated skin after spending significant time outdoors in the winter months (say, skiing or running in the cold), then it's likely that you're dealing with a windburn. Keep calm, avoid the cold weather until your skin calms down, and stick to a gentle skincare routine with plenty of moisturizers and occlusives (like Vaseline as long as your skin isn’t overly dry or you have eczema/psoriasis) to support your skin while it heals.
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