It's tough motivating yourself to exercise outside when temps drop anyway, so you don't need a nasty case of windburn as your "reward." While it may feel like it, a windburn is not a Winter sunburn — it's not caused by the sun's harmful rays. Windburn is actually a result of cold temperatures and low humidity. These conditions deplete the natural oils in your skin, causing dryness, irritation, and redness. "Your skin gets red and starts peeling, because the blood vessels in the outer layer of skin are dilating," explains Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist ($13). "It makes it very irritated and very sensitive to products." It most commonly occurs on the face, but windburn can happen any place on your body where skin is exposed to the elements.
Before heading out in the cold, do these things to prevent windburn.
- Keep your skin covered. Wear mittens to protect your hands, a scarf or neck warmer to protect your neck and chin, a hat or headband to protect your ears, and, on superchilly days, a face mask for your nose, cheeks, and forehead.
- When you're going to be out for a long time, lather on some moisturizing sunblock. This will protect your skin from both sun- and windburn. Don't forget to lube up your lips, too, with an SPF lip moisturizer. Apply sunscreen to your skin and lips every two hours.
- Check the weather report, and know the wind-chill factor before heading out. If the weather is extremely cold (under 20°F), then plan to stay out for a short period of time. Also stick to activities that are slower moving. Racing down the mountain on skis when it's absurdly cold won't feel very good on your cheeks.
Windburned skin craves moisture, so if you do happen to get a windburn, apply lotion (ones without fragrances or acidic ingredients will be less irritating) about three to four times a day. Coconut oil is also a good option. "People overuse acids on top of the windburn, and then they don't moisturize it," Dr. Jaliman says. "Abusing products only makes it redder." You can also apply aloe gel from the plant or a bottle to cool and heal windburned skin.
If your skin begins to peel, it's just part of the healing process — resist the urge to pick at your skin, and continue to moisturize. Choose a mild, nonsudsing cleanser with glycerin to clean the affected areas, since you want to keep as much of the natural oils on your skin as possible. If you're overly uncomfortable, then take an OTC anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen to help with pain and puffiness and to promote healing. When your skin begins to blister or looks really swollen, it's always a good idea to get checked by a doctor.