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What Does Frostbite Look Like and How Can You Treat It?

When winter comes and temperatures drop, people who spend time outdoors can become incredibly susceptible to frostbite. However, with the proper identification and prevention strategies, you can keep yourself safe and healthy from the dangers of frostbite.

But what does frostbite look like? Keep reading to learn what frostbite looks like, how to treat frostbite, and most importantly, how to prevent frostbite in the first place.

What does frostbite look like

What Is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury that causes damage to the skin and sometimes the tissue under it.

It occurs when skin freezes after being exposed to cold and windy weather conditions.

Because of frostbite’s causes, there is a conception that only bare skin is susceptible to frostbite. However, skin covered by clothing and other layers can also be affected by frostbite.

Although how long it takes to get frostbite may vary if your skin is covered versus uncovered, experiencing frostbite on covered skin is still a possibility.

Dangers of Frostbite

While less severe frostbite causes symptoms that won’t affect you in the long-run, deeper frostbite can give you harsh, long-lasting medical problems.

As a result, how to treat frostbite may also change depending on the symptoms. Early frostbite can cause discomfort, including numbness and tingling.

As frostbite progresses, you can also experience swelling, stinging, or burning on the affected areas.

Frostbite Blisters

The worst cases of frostbite may cause blood clots, nerve damage, and even death of the affected tissue.

Even after rewarming your body, you may see blisters forming on your skin as the result of more severe frostbite. Now you’re probably wondering, “What does frostbite look like in each stage?”

What Does Frostbite Look Like?

There are several warning signs of frostbite that are important to look out for. Noticing these signs of what frostbite looks like early on may allow you to catch your frostbite and treat it before it can cause severe damage to your body.

One of the first indicators of frostbite is a change in skin color. This change is also sometimes accompanied by splotchiness on the skin.

As the frostbite progresses, you may also experience numbness or the loss of function in your limbs.

Especially severe frostbite may bring slurred speech, drowsiness or confusion, and stumbling when attempting to walk.

While many of these warning signs may appear in the moment that you’re experiencing frostbite, it’s important to pay attention to warning signs even after you’ve warmed up again.

Lingering symptoms may be an indicator that the severity of your frostbite was worse than you previously thought and an alert that you should seek medical attention immediately.

Stages of Frostbite

There are multiple stages of frostbite that people can progress through depending upon the intensity and duration of the weather conditions they’re experiencing. In other words, the question of how long it takes to get frostbite is different depending on the stage of frostbite.

Stage one of frostbite is the least severe, while stage three is the most severe. These different stages come with different symptoms as well as various long-lasting effects.

Stage One

The first stage of frostbite, or first-degree frostbite, is also known as frostnip. This stage is generally fairly mild, which means that it’s not likely to permanently damage your skin.

You can usually tell if you have frostnip based on what this type of frostbite looks like. It’s usually characterized by redness or discoloration of your skin.

Cold Red Skin

Frostnip is also accompanied sometimes by tingling or mild numbness, and skin is typically cold to the touch.

Treating frostnip is relatively quick and easy. The main treatment option is rewarming the affected area. This is accomplished by soaking the frostbitten skin for up to half an hour in warm water.

While frostnip usually doesn’t produce any long-lasting impact on your health, you may experience slight discomfort or tingling as you rewarm your skin.

Stage Two

Stage two of frostbite, second-degree frostbite, is also known as superficial frostbite. With this stage of frostbite, the effects you feel in the moment are more intensely painful, and there is a greater possibility for permanent damage.

While skin affected by frostnip is usually reddish, skin that’s subject to superficial frostbite will turn bluish or a pale white color. Your skin may also begin to feel cold rather than warm and may be hard to the touch.

If the frostbite persists, you may begin to experience increased numbness.

To treat superficial frostbite, you are likely going to have to seek medical attention. The rewarming process is noticeably more painful with second-degree frostbite, and medical professionals who know how to treat frostbite can prescribe medication to lessen that pain.

In addition, a doctor can wrap the frostbitten area and observe any blisters that form on the skin after rewarming occurs.

Most people recover fully from second-degree frostbite, and full tissue death does not occur. However, in some cases, those affected continue to feel numbness or pain in the affected area even after rewarming.

Stage Three

The third and final stage of frostbite, or third-degree frostbite, is also known as deep frostbite or severe frostbite. It is the final and most deadly stage of frostbite.

What frostbite looks like in its final stages is basically a more intense version of earlier frostbite. When third-degree frostbite occurs, blotchiness will continue, and the skin may look even more blue.

In addition, numbness will increase, and you might lose function of certain limbs or joints.


Medical attention is necessary as soon as possible for effective treatment of deep frostbite.

How to treat frostbite changes as additional symptoms of severe frostbite appear. For example, doctors may administer a “clot-buster,” which is a medication that promotes blood flow and helps prevent blood clots that the frostbite may cause.

Rather than just harming your skin, third-degree frostbite can also damage the tissue below it. In the most severe cases, this causes tissue death.

In less severe cases, tissue damage may cause sensitivity, numbness, and pain in the areas affected.

Frostbite Prevention

The most obvious prevention strategy for frostbite is to immediately go inside and warm up if you begin experiencing the early stages of frostbite. However, if you’re outdoors with no available shelter, there are more advanced survival strategies you can take.

While these tips may not prevent frostbite altogether, the following advice on how to treat frostbite will help the situation from getting even worse if you’re unprepared.

Stay Calm

First and most importantly, if you believe you’re in a situation where you’re susceptible to frostbite, stay calm.

Panicking will only use up the mental energy you could apply to problem solving. You also might get nervous and start sweating, which will only make you colder.

Remove Wet Clothing

If you’re able to, remove any wet clothing on your body. Because wet clothing will only exacerbate your frostbite, it’s essential that you take it off if you have other clothing that can replace it.

Stay Active

Assuming you still have some feeling in your legs and feet, keep moving. This will allow your blood flow to increased and will help maintain your body heat.

Staying Active to Prevent Frostbite

However, if your toes are feet are extremely frostbitten, don’t move them. Walking on frostbitten toes and feet will only make your condition worse.

Utilize Layers

In addition, try to create as many layers of clothing between your body and the elements as possible. Clothing layers serve as insulation for your body by trapping air in between each layer, so it’s important to use any materials at your disposal.

Elevate the Affected Area

Finally, if there’s a particular area of your body that’s experiencing the effects of frostbite most severely, elevate the area above the rest of your body.

Learning How to Treat Frostbite

So what is frostbite and what does frostbite look like? Now you know everything you need to know to answer these questions. Frostbite is a condition that nobody ever wants but that many people are affected by every year.

If you ever find yourself in a winter weather situation, use these tips to identify what frostbite looks like and figure out how to treat frostbite will keep you safe from the worst effects of frostbite. For information on how to find shelter in freezing conditions, check out this post on Igloo Shelters.