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Windburn Winter Skin Condition Similar to Sunburn Dry Air

martin-reisch-4aIOIjIFfus-unsplash windburn winter skin

Last updated 11/23/2022

Mother Nature can still alter your skin in the winter. This is from being out in the cold and wind. Windburn winter skin condition.

Some experts are still in disagreement with claiming this is just sunburn. But we will take a peek at the differences. And of course, similarities of these two skin concerns.

There is a chance you have probably experienced windburn if you’ve been outside after a heavy snowstorm. You may have had to blow the snow off the driveway or hit the slopes to ski or snowboard. Furthermore, it’s more damaging then just being out in the cold weather.

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What is Windburn?

OK you probably don’t hear this term as much as sunburn. If you spend a lot of time in the cold, windy air you might have had this condition. Therefore, windburn as it implies causes a burning and redness on your skin.

Windburn is an irritating condition occurring in the winter. The cold, dry air irritates the skin and blood vessels dilate creating redness. As a result, your epidermis becomes damaged.

Harsh elements also strip away skin’s natural oils. This lowers your skin's ability to hold in moisture. Thus, breaking down its protective skin barrier even more.

Further, this increases its sensitivity to possible irritants causing dryness and inflammation. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation the wind intensifies the effect of ultraviolet rays. In addition, this leaves the dermis exposed and susceptible to sun damage.

This is why it is often confused with sunburn, especially if you don’t wear SPF in the winter. Most importantly, UV rays are still present during winter months.

What are Windburn Symptoms?

    Considering you’ve been outside for a while in the cold and wind:

  • Redness or flushed
  • Dryness
  • Inflammation
  • Peeling
  • Sensitivity
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Blister (severe)

What Causes Windburn?


It is suspected that sunburn is a cause. Some skin specialists use these terms interchangeably. If you live in a cooler climate, you should be more cautious. The snow and ice can reflect about 80% of the UV rays doubling your chances for sunburn. In addition, combined with dry weather windburn can occur with weakening your skin’s barrier.

Skin Barrier

Some skin conditions can put you at higher risk for windburn. Having rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis tends to make skin more sensitive to irritation. So, these conditions raise the possibility of getting windburn if you’re out in the cold for a time.

The skin loses its natural oils making the defensive outer layer weak. These natural oils provide protection as well as moisture. In short, your skin becomes vulnerable to the sun’s UV rays and windburn.

Procedures or Services

In addition, having procedures done can leave your skin extra sensitive to the wind. Thus, this is due to the procedure taking away your outer layer of skin (epidermis).

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Dermaplaning
  • Peels
  • Facials for treating acne

Above all, after these treatments sunscreen needs to be applied to prevent UV rays from burning the skin. In addition, a hydrating lotion should be used to keep your skin moist.

Remedies to Heal Windburn

To treat windburn, it’s important to replenish your skin’s moisture and reduce any pain.

Soothe Irritation

I love aloe vera for sunburn among other skin concerns. It is cool and soothing on my rosacea (inflamed) skin. So will definitely be comforting to windburn skin.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) aloe vera has proven that it’s effective with treating burns. It contains anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, this soothing oil or cooling gel will relieve irritation.

Coconut oil is another natural treatment option with anti-inflammatory properties. It will also improve skin hydration. If you have either of these handy you can slather on right away (if no allergies).

Further, if these remedies don’t provide enough relief you could try an otc hydrocortisone cream. This is known to soothe itchy and painful skin.

Restore Moisture

Because windburn can make your skin dry it is important to moisturize. This will also assist in relieving symptoms. That is to say, moisturizer should be applied several times a day as necessary.

   Look for creams including hydrating ingredients like:

  • Colloidal oatmeal
  • Glycerol
  • Shea butter
  • Ceramides
  • Hyaluronic acid

Thicker ointments containing petrolatum like Vaseline can also help. But keep in mind it can be greasy and cause slippery surfaces.

If you are prone to acne, use products on your face that are oil free and non-comedogenic.

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Drink Your Water

It is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatologist that those with sunburn drink extra water. As sunburn pulls water to the epidermis and away from the other areas of the body. Similarly, with windburn it is also essential to take in enough fluid, so you don’t become dehydrated.

Wash With Lukewarm

When you’re applying creams and oils several times a day you may begin to feel greasy and unclean. However, you don’t want to wash the affected area too often because this could make it irritated. So, limit washing the sensitive area once or twice a day.

Also, to decrease the burn lukewarm water can help. But you’ll want to avoid hot water which will strip away more moisture from your skin. In short, this could make recovery time longer.

No to Harsh Products

   You should be using gentle skin products while your windburn heals avoid these:

  • Astringents
  • Exfoliates
  • Harsh cleansers
  • Scrubs
  • Alcohol toners
  • Rotating brushes
  • Rough washcloths
  • Parabens
  • Fragrances

Avoid Scratching

With the skin healing it’s going to become itchy. But you know what scratching leads to. So, avoid the temptation (applying ice might help).

Try your very best not to rub or scratch. You don’t want to slow down the healing process. Further, you could cover the area to prevent scratching. But also avoid fabrics that are itchy.

Stay Out of the Sun

The sun is out, it’s inevitable. Avoid direct sunlight when possible. Staying out of the sun and wind is important for your skin’s health. In short, your windburn will heal faster.

If you must be out in the elements, say for work, cover exposed skin. Wear protecting clothes, hat and sunglasses. In addition, avoid being outdoors in the middle of the day, if you can.

Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen with SPF of at least 30. This should protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Thus, ingredients of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both.

In conclusion, SPF matters. The more you moisturize your skin, the less likely you will get windburn.

On those cold and windy days, you can wear an emollient-rich sunscreen. This will protect you from both the sun’s UV rays and the wind’s drying effect. Likewise, your lip balm should have SPF too.

Add Moisture Indoors

Likewise, add moisture to your air indoors. The indoor heat from furnaces and fires can dry out skin. This can make the burning sensation tenser. However, adding a humidifier or vaporizer to this dry environment will support hydrating your skin.

Pain Relievers

If you have pain and swelling with your windburn you could use otc. As a result, your choices are ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

When your inflammation is more severe your physician could give you a prescribed topical medication. This could be a steroid or a calcineurin inhibiter.

Windburn Lips

As they are front and center your lips are one of the most sensitive areas of your body. Lips have naturally thinner skin. As a result, they can become easily windburn.

   To treat windburn lips:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Stay away from hot drinks
  • Don’t eat spicy foods
  • Avoid picking your lips
  • Apply lip balm with SPF during day
  • Use Vaseline for extra protection
alain-wong-f-oxr0Lk5EU-unsplash windburn winter skin

How Long Before Windburn Heals?

The time it takes your skin to heal from windburn depends on how bad it is. Similar to sunburn, you should feel less pain and swelling after a couple days. As a result, the redness will fade also, and your skin could peel. However, if more severe this could cause blisters extending the time.

   Consult your doctor if these occur:

  • Severe or worsening pain or swelling
  • A large area of the body affected with blisters
  • Blisters containing yellow discharge (pus)
  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Headache that is severe
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting

Prevention Steps for Windburn

To avoid outdoor exposure during cold and windy days would be ideal but not realistic. You know you eventually have to go to work or out for some reason.

   So, consider these steps:

  • Use a scarf to cover face
  • Cover neck/face with one garment
  • Wear your sunglasses
  • Put on a hat and hand wear
  • Dress in layers
  • Wear long garments
  • Cover exposed skin
Wrapping it up

Cold and Windy days can also burn your skin. Using home treatments windburn typically feels better within a few days. But if this doesn’t improve consult your doctor for stronger treatment.

Being prepared against the cold and wind is the best prevention for windburn. Protect your skin from the sun and other elements. Thus, this will prevent premature aging and skin barrier damage. Above all, wear sunscreen every day of the year (I have a tube in my purse).


Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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