Red, Raw Skin Could Actually Be a "Windburn"—Heres How to Heal It


Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is common practice in the summer, but surprisingly, it is just as important during the chilly winter months. Cloudy and cool weather isn’t typically associated with burned skin, but regardless of the temperature, unprotected skin is still at risk for sun damage at any time of the year.

That being said, the sun isn’t the only element you have to protect your skin from. To add insult to irritation, your skin is also in danger of getting red and scaly thanks to cold temps and blustery winds. This condition is called windburn, and though it is different than sunburn, it deserves and requires the same level of protection.

Thankfully, windburned skin is easily prevented, so if the cold triggers your skin, never fear. Ahead, we spoke with two dermatologists for the skinny on what windburn is, how to prevent it, and what it takes to treat it.


What Is a Windburn?

Windburn is a form of skin damage caused by prolonged exposure to harsh, cold winds Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology explains. As the wind whips against your skin (typically your face), it takes the skin’s moisture along with it, leaving behind a compromised barrier. Unlike sunburn, windburn only damages the surface of the skin, however, windburn can be exacerbated by excessive sun exposure.

The two conditions are different, but their symptoms are pretty similar. “The result is skin that feels dry and burned, itchy, and looks red,” Dr. Jeannette Graf, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine says, “It is not uncommon and occurs while spending time in the harsh cold and windy air.”

“Spending time outside with your skin unprotected in cold, windy weather damages the top layer of your skin, stripping it of its natural moisture and leaving it red, raw, and irritated,” Dr. Yadav says, “Because the skin barrier is damaged, moisture escapes the skin, drying it out and making it more susceptible to further irritation. The wind alone can dilate the blood vessels and exposure to cold wind can alter the skin’s pH balance.”

Unsurprisingly, the longer your skin is exposed to windy and cold conditions the worse the symptoms.

How to Prevent Windburn 

The bad news: windburn is frustrating. The good news: it is easily preventable. Heres how to protect your skin from cold temps to get ahead of a windburn:

Keep Your Skin Hydrated

Windburn occurs when moisture is stripped from the face. In order to prevent it, make sure to hydrate before heading out. Dr. Yadav recommends slathering a thick ointment like Vaseline or Aquaphor on the driest parts of your face (i.e. the cheeks). Also, consider eliminating the harsher elements of your skincare routine (gritty cleansers or acids) during cold snaps.

Finally, before you go to bed, plug in a humidifier and turn it up. Adding moisture to the air prevents your skin from feeling stripped and pampers your skin barrier.

Apply Sun Protection 

Windburn and sunburn are not the same conditions, but “like sunburns, windburns can be prevented by wearing SPF outside,” Dr. Graf says. Look for a multi-tasking formula that hydrates as well as shields skin from the sun for a double layer of protection.

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Cover Up 

Our faces are more susceptible to windburn because they are typically the most exposed area to the cold. To keep this area safe, both Dr. Yadav and Dr. Graf suggest bundling up. Dr. Graf recommends wearing a jacket that zips up to cover your mouth or face masks for added protection.

How to Treat a Windburn

No skincare routine is perfect. If the cold air caught you slipping, no worries. Windburn is treatable and thankfully, does not take that long to heal. Read on for our expert-approved tips on how to remedy windburn.

Use a Gentle Skincare Routine 

Windburn compromises your skin barrier, so it is paramount to avoid any skincare products that may damage your barrier further. Dr. Yadav recommends using mild cleansers, gentle moisturizers, and of course, petroleum jelly (try the "slugging" method to lock everything in). Finally “only wash your face with lukewarm water,” as steamy suds can strip your skin even further.

A cooling compress can also come in handy after a nasty burn. Make one yourself with a wet washcloth or use refrigerate a facial tool.

Skip Outdoor Activities 

After harmful exposure, it’s best to lay low. Both Dr. Yadav and Dr. Graf suggest staying indoors as much as possible and avoiding outdoor activities like running or skiing. This could worsen your condition and lead to more severe burning.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers  

To relieve some of the symptoms of windburn, like swelling and pain, Dr. Yadav and Dr. Graf agree that over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen come in handy.

The Takeaway

While a windburn is definitely not fun, its incredibly common during the winter and, fortunately, not difficult to treat. If you find yourself with raw, red, irritated skin after spending significant time outdoors in the winter months (say, skiing or running in the cold), then its likely that youre dealing with a windburn. Keep calm, avoid the cold weather until your skin calms down, and stick to a gentle skincare routine with plenty of moisturizers and occlusives (like Vaseline) to support your skin while it heals.


Is windburn worse than sunburn?

Generally, sunburn is worse for your skin than windburn. Sunburn penetrates deeper into the skin and enacts longer-lasting damage to your skin. Regardless, neither is pleasant, and both should be avoided.

What is the best moisturizer for windburn?

In general, it is best to look for moisturizers that contain soothing ingredients like aloe, oatmeal, or soy. Using a thick ointment like petroleum jelly helps create a protective barrier around the skin.

Is sunscreen good for windburn?

Sunscreen will not cure your windburn, but it will prevent your skin from getting damaged further. Sunscreen should be worn daily to prevent sunburn.

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