I’ve had my fair amount of windburn and frost-related irritation living as a fair-skinned blonde in New York City. Unlike sunburn, windburn is actually caused by prolonged exposure to frigid cold temperatures and low humidity. The result is the perfect storm of depleted natural oils in the skin, along with dehydration and inflammation.
“Windburn has two important components: wind dries out the outer layer of the skin, causing it flake and shed,” says Dr. Margo Weishar. “When you lose this outer protective layer (called the stratum corneum), you are also losing some of your natural sun protection, leaving your skin more prone to burning from UV rays, which can be intense even on a sunny day in the Winter. UV exposure is increased at high altitude (skiing) and in snowy conditions (reflection).”
Wind also increases the effects of cold temperature on the skin and can lead to frostnip or frostbite, causing lasting problems of burning and itching upon cold exposure in the future.
“Cold weather combined with low humidity puts a strain on our outer skin layer,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research Department of Dermatology at the The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “While our skin can compensate to accommodate changes in weather to some degree, extreme cold combined with the stress of wind on the skin may lead to skin barrier disruption.”
The best way to treat windburn is to just not get windburn in the first place, so aside from avoiding direct exposure to high winds, cold, and frost, here’s what you can do.
1. Stick to Gentle Cleansers
“Microscopic cracks in the outer skin layer leads to loss of hydration and inflammation,” says Dr. Zeichner. Especially during Winter, make sure to use appropriate cleansers and moisturizers to protect the skin barrier. “True soaps have an alkaline pH and interfere with skin barrier function. Instead stick to gentle, hydrating skin cleansers that remove dirt while protecting the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Try: Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash ($ 8)
2. Always Moisturize!
Before going out for the day, prime the skin with a moisturizer to protect it from the environment.
“Look for ingredients like purified petrolatum, which forms a hydrating seal over the outer skin layer,” says Dr. Zeichner. “The newest generation of moisturizers contain tried-and-true ingredients in light lotion formulations that are easy to spread and won’t cause your clothing to stick to your skin.”
3. Strengthen Skin With Hydration and SPF
“Use a humidifier at home during the Winter months, and stay consistent with a good skincare program, but ease up on the exfoliation,” says Dr. Sameer Bashey, a Cosmetic Dermatologist based in Beverly Hills. That means drinking plenty of water to keep the skin hydrated and never forgetting to use your sunscreen in the Winter, too.
“I like a product called ZO Ossential Daily Power Defense ($ 150) to strengthen skin,” says Dr. Bashey. “Weak skin tends to be more likely to experience environmental damage than strong skin, so medical skin conditions needs to be treated and controlled. Long-term use of retin-A and/or retinol is great to make skin resistant to such kind of environmental damage encountered on a daily basis (not wind burn from climbing a mountain though!)”
4. Don’t Heat Up Too Fast
“If you do find yourself getting painful skin or fingertips, re-warm SLOWLY,” says Skinfix dermatologist, Dr. Kavita Mariwalla. “Wrap in warm blankets and hydrate, and do not rub fingertips together. Just allow your body to come to room temperature.”