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Preventive Maintenance: Protecting yourself from windburn

What an unpredictable winter this has been so far! Each time the temperature shifts, the new temperature blows in on a strong wind, setting you up for a bad case of windburn. It doesn't seem right. Ev...

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

What an unpredictable winter this has been so far! Each time the temperature shifts, the new temperature blows in on a strong wind, setting you up for a bad case of windburn. It doesn’t seem right. Even without much sun, your face can still feel burnt.

Although it’s called windburn, it’s not actually a burn. Windburn is really a skin irritation caused from a strong wind drying up the outer oil layer of your skin, making it red and a bit swollen like sunburn. Unfortunately, the wind is not the only thing that’s drying out your skin this season. Your rig’s fan, blowing heat in your face all day long, can add to the problem.

Your hands and face (especially your lips and ears) are exposed to the harsh, winter winds and your rig’s blasting heat. So, they need some special attention this time of year to stay healthy.

This constant exposure to the dry air of this season will dry up your skin.

As well, the cold, winter wind may leave it chapped, flaking, cracked, and bleeding.

These problems will only get worse if you don’t get some moisture back into your skin. And because your skin is your body’s first defense against disease, it’s important to note that cracks and small breaks create open doors for germs to attack. To stay healthy, try to keep your skin as healthy as possible.

If you can’t avoid winter, how can you keep our winter climate from harming your skin? Choosing appropriate clothes, keeping your body hydrated, and using appropriate soaps, moisturizers, and lip balms are all good options. Prepare for winter weather.

First, listen to the weather on the radio to find out the wind chill factor because the wind chill magnifies the effects of the cold. Then, choose clothing that will protect you.

If you can’t stay out of the wind, block it. Wear a hood with a long collar that can be pulled up over your face when necessary. My husband has one made of Arctic fleece which works very well. Or, wear earmuffs, a scarf, and gloves or mitts.

As well, keep your skin soft by keeping it moisturized. When you wash, use mild, moisturizing soaps. Harsh soaps strip the skin’s natural oils and dry it out. Avoid antibacterial and deodorant soaps because they dry it out the most. Better yet, instead of using soap on your hands, keep a package of moist baby wipes in your rig for a quick hand wash.

After you wash, use a moisturizer, especially those containing mineral oil or petroleum because they leave a thin layer on your skin, sealing in moisture. Don’t be afraid to use it on your face, too. When buying a body lotion, find one with “alpha hydroxide” because it exfoliates the skin’s outer layer and conditions the underlying layers. But, stay away from skin care products with alcohol because the alcohol dries out your skin.

As well, time your shower or bath. Long, hot baths and showers drain the moisture from your skin, so try to keep them less than 10 minutes. Better yet, cool it down a little.

In addition, you can keep more moisture in your skin if you have lots of liquid in your body.

Drinking up to eight glasses of water or other non-caffeinated beverages each day can help to counteract the effects of dry air on your skin.

To keep your lips moist, use a lip balm before you go out. Look for ones with petrolatum and dimethicone as the main ingredients (not menthol or phenol) to lock in moisture.

If you don’t have a lip balm handy, use vegetable oil. If you tend to lick your lips, don’t choose a flavoured lip balm, or you’ll probably just lick it all off. And be aware that anything that rubs your lips dry (like smoking) will dry them out.

If, in spite of all this advice you do get a winter windburn, here’s what you should do:

After coming in from the cold, re-warm your skin gently. The gentler you are, the quicker your skin will heal.

Sudden temperature changes just damage your skin more, so allow the heat in the room to warm you up instead of using a heat lamp, or rubbing the wind burned area.

You should also use a little oil on the burnt spots. If they’re quite painful, use an oily skin medication, even Vaseline or Chap Stick will work.

And since windburn can swell, keep the areas elevated to keep the swelling down.

So, even though Old Man Winter wants to rub you the wrong way, your best defense is a good offence. Beat him at his own game, by taking good care of your skin and you’ll be looking good in spring.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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