What to know about windburn
People frequently sustain skin damage while skiing or snowboarding. Those who blame the winter sun rather than the wind say that this is because snow and ice reflect up to 80% of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, meaning that the same rays can make contact with the skin twice.
However, people who believe that windburn is a separate condition to sunburn suggest that wind removes the natural oils from the skin, causing pain, redness, and dryness.
Windburn will typically resolve without treatment within a few days. During this time, however, it may cause discomfort. The following 10 remedies can alleviate irritation and pain, and some may help speed up healing.
1. Restore moisture
A person may experience windburn after exposure to wind or cold air.
As windburn can cause dry skin, moisturizing the face and body can reduce some of its symptoms. For maximum relief, people should apply moisturizer to the skin several times a day, as necessary.
People should look for creams containing hydrating ingredients, such as colloidal oatmeal, glycerol, shea butter, ceramides, petrolatum, or hyaluronic acid. These ingredients lock in moisture and repair the skin barrier.
Thicker ointments, such as Vaseline, can also work, but they may be too greasy for some individuals.
People should avoid products that contain parabens, fragrances, or other harsh chemicals as these may make symptoms worse. They should also refrain from using lotions, which tend to be drying.
If a person is prone to acne, they should make sure that any products that they apply to the face are oil free and noncomedogenic.
2. Soothe irritation
A soothing oil or cooling gel may help relieve irritation. Many people find aloe vera gel useful for both windburn and sunburn.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) resource on medicinal plants, aloe vera has proved effective in the treatment of a wide variety of burns. However, using the gel fresh from the plant appears to be more effective than using a store-bought product.
Research on humans indicates that coconut oil also significantly improves skin hydration.
If natural products do not provide sufficient relief, people may wish to try an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream to soothe itchy and painful skin.
3. Drink plenty of water
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend that people with a sunburn drink extra water because sunburn causes water to move to the skin's surface and away from other parts of the body.
Windburn may have the same effect, so it is important to drink enough fluid to avoid dehydration. When a person is adequately hydrated, their urine should be light yellow.
4. Wash the skin with lukewarm water
Using creams and oils several times a day may leave the skin feeling greasy and unclean. However, it is best to wash the affected area of skin only once or twice a day, as washing it too much is likely to cause more skin irritation.
People should always use lukewarm water on the skin. Hot water will make the symptoms of windburn worse by irritating the skin further.
5. Avoid harsh products
Someone with windburn may benefit from a noncomedogenic oil free moisturizer.
People should stick to gentle skin treatments while the skin is healing and avoid using the following:
- alcohol based products
- harsh cleansers
Instead, people should use noncomedogenic oil free moisturizers and gentle cleansers, creams, and soaps because these will not completely strip the skin's moisture.
6. Resist the urge to scratch
As the skin begins to heal, windburn can become itchy.
Although it is tempting to rub or scratch the skin to relieve the itching, this will only make the symptoms worse, and it will slow down the healing process.
If necessary, people should wear long-sleeved shirts and other clothes that cover the skin as it heals.
7. Stay out of the sun
As is the case with sunburn, staying out of the sun and wind is important for recovery from windburn. Avoiding the outside elements reduces the risk of further skin damage.
For those who must spend time outdoors, it is important to wear appropriate clothing, hats, and sunglasses to protect the skin from the sun. People should also try to avoid the sun in the middle of the day when the UV rays are most strong.
The AAD recommend using sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. They also note that physical sunscreens — which contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both — are preferable to chemical sunscreens for people with sensitive skin.
8. Use a humidifier
Indoor heat in the form of heaters or fires can worsen the effects of windburn. This heat can dry out the skin and make the burning sensation worse.
To keep the skin hydrated in dry environments, people can try using a humidifier or vaporizer.
9. Take extra steps to protect sore lips
The skin is thinner on the lips than on other parts of the body, and the lips get more exposure to the elements, so they tend to develop windburn more easily. Therefore, they may benefit from extra attention during the healing period.
In addition to drinking plenty of water and staying out of the sun, people can relieve windburned lips by:
- applying Vaseline to restore moisture
- avoiding drinking hot beverages
- avoiding eating spicy foods
- wearing lip balm with an SPF every day
10. Try pain relievers
OTC pain relievers may alleviate the pain and swelling of windburn. Options include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
In more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe a topical medication, such as a steroid or a calcineurin inhibitor, to reduce the inflammation.
When to see a doctor
A person should seek medical advice if an extreme or increasing pain or swelling accompanies windburn.
Windburn typically goes away within a few days with home care. However, people should see their doctor if they have the following symptoms:
- extreme or increasing pain or swelling
- blisters that cover a large part of the body
- blisters with yellow drainage
- high fever
- a severe headache
- nausea or vomiting
It is also important to seek medical attention if the symptoms of windburn or sunburn do not improve within a few days.
Most people with windburn will begin to feel better after a day or two, and symptoms typically go away within a few days. In the meantime, home remedies may provide significant relief.
If symptoms are severe or do not improve after a few days, a doctor can prescribe stronger treatments.
It is important to take preventive measures to avoid getting windburn or sunburn. These include covering up from the sun, avoiding extreme weather conditions, and wearing sunscreen every day, all year round.