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The cold winter months are hard on the skin. Indoor heating can dry your skin, and the freezing temperatures outside can cause your skin to lose its natural oils, making it itchy and irritated.

If you’re spending a lot of time outside – and let’s face it, thanks to COVID-19, we all are these days - you also put yourself at risk for windburn. Low temperatures, lack of humidity, and cold, blustery wind can lead to peeling, red, dry skin. Windburn can be just as uncomfortable as a bad sunburn. 

How does this happen? 

When you expose your skin to cold, dry, windy air, your skin loses some of its natural protectors (oils). Not only does this make it drier, but it also reduces its defense against UV rays, weakens the topmost layer of the skin, and dilates the blood vessels in the outer layers. Additionally, snow and ice reflect up to 80% of the sun’s rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, meaning that the same rays can make contact with the skin twice. 

There’s the risk of a double whammy – windburn AND sunburn at the same time. Ouch!

What do I do?

The best way to avoid windburn is with an ounce of prevention. Just like you would on a hot, sunny day before heading out, slather on sunscreen. Apply it to any exposed skin (nose, cheeks, lips, etc.), and cover up as much as possible. 

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and with an SPF of 50. Mineral sunscreens, such as Project Sunscreen for All, are preferable because they create a physical barrier that aids in sun protection. They are also really great for sensitive skin. 

While staying out of the sun is the best way to heal your skin, it may not be realistic. The slopes are calling, and many gyms remain closed (hello outdoor workouts!). Try these tips to heal up faster:

  • Hydrate, soothe, and strengthen your skin with a really good moisturizer. Ideally, use something with humectants and emollients that will hydrate and enhance the skin barrier and lock in moisture. Coconut oils and shea butter are also great options to try.

    This also includes hydrating from the inside out. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends upping your H20 when you have a sunburn. The same rule applies here. 
  • Be careful not to irritate the skin with harsh soaps. Look for naturally soothing ingredients, such as aloe vera or oatmeal, which will help with the inflammation and contains antioxidants. Avoid using anything that can be drying (e.g., with astringents, alcohol, fragrances, or exfoliants).
  • Tone down the temperature. While a nice hot shower or bath on a cold, winter day sounds relaxing, hot water will only further irritate the skin. Try not to overdo it, though, as good as it feels, as too much can be drying. 
  • Because indoor heating can be unforgiving – and harsh -try using a humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air.
  • Resist the itch. Windburn can be uncomfortable and irritating, especially as it begins to heal. Rubbing or scratching the skin will only make it worse. An over the counter 1% hydrocortisone can help provide relief. If it persists, we recommend seeing your dermatologist.

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