The Survival Doctor: Protect your skin from windburn

By: James Hubbard Special to The Gazette
March 25, 2014 Updated: March 25, 2014 at 7:50 am
photo - The wind blows off the hood of Eileen Wolff as she walks through a blustery downtown on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.   (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
The wind blows off the hood of Eileen Wolff as she walks through a blustery downtown on Wednesday, January 6, 2010. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Wind and cold weather can do a number on your skin, and here in Colorado we have our share of both. I'm talking rawness, cracking and swelling - full-on windburn.

All that skin damage can lead to serious issues such as infections, and those can be especially dangerous if you're hiking, camping or for some other reason can't get to the doctor quickly for treatment.

Normally your skin is covered with a thin, oily, waterproof layer that protects you from these elements and helps keep moisture in your skin. But like with most oils, extreme cold or heat can change the consistency. Add wind and the oil can virtually disappear. Your protection is gone. There are some things you can do to prevent windburn, however.

1. Cover your skin, especially if it's windy. You'll probably wear gloves in the cold, but don't forget to cover your face with some sort of cloth anytime you're going to be out in the wind.

2. Drink fluids. Keep your skin hydrated from the inside or there's going to be very little moisture to protect.

3. Use sunscreen. We all know that we should use sunscreen to protect against the sun's ultraviolet rays, but sunscreen also helps keep your oily layer in good working order. Use SPF 30 or higher, and reapply it every few hours. Don't forget sunscreen for the lips.

4. Wear sunglasses. The cold and wind can dry and damage your eyes. If you're skiing or riding outside in an all-terrain vehicle, wear goggles.

5. Moisturize. If you've got your own moisturizers, keep using them. However, if you're in a fix, petroleum jelly works fine to retain the moisture already in your skin. Even vegetable oil will do. As long as you cover yourself well, the layer doesn't have to be thick. But it's a good idea to reapply frequently.

6. Cut back on hot baths. Remember, heat damages your skin's oily layer. If you want to protect it, forgo those hot, steaming baths. Instead, have a quick, warm soak. Use a mild soap and don't scrub too much.

7. Use a humidifier. It helps make the dry, inside air a little moister.

If, in spite of all you do, your skin still gets windburned, treat it like a burn. Although the skin is usually not technically burned, the damage from the wind and cold or heat can have the same effects: Your skin becomes red, raw and sometimes swollen. So soothe it as soon as possible with something such as aloe vera. Treat any blisters like you would any others. If you think it's getting infected, see a doctor. If you can't get to a doctor, apply some honey (though not on babies).

I have posts about honey on my website as well as in my e-book "The Survival Doctor's Guide to Burns."


Hubbard is a family doctor who teaches how to survive during disasters or any time you can't get expert medical help at

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