When it comes to survival situations, you’re likely more familiar with the dangers of sunburn. Overexposure to the sun can leave you with terribly painful skin irritation, potentially cause blisters, worsen dehydration, and more. But even if you’re hiking or camping in an area where the sun isn’t as much of a concern—particularly a cold and dry place—you have another hazard to keep in mind: windburn.
If you aren’t sure how to treat windburn, or even what it is, good news! I’ve put together everything you need to know right here.
What Is Windburn?
If you aren’t familiar, windburn is a condition remarkably similar to sunburn—in fact, it’s really considered to be another category of sunburn more than anything else. Some insist that it’s a condition all its own, but most experts say that windburn is just sunburn accelerated by the effects of wind removing the UV-filtering layer of lipids from the skin.
Regardless of which side you land on in this debate, windburn is a very painful condition, and you’ll want to avoid it any way possible—and learn how to treat windburn, just in case. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent this condition from occurring, but first, you need to understand what causes windburn!
Causes of Windburn
The main cause of windburn is leaving your skin exposed to harsh elements. The wind strips the skin of the protective oils on the surface, leaving it vulnerable to damage and irritation. The stronger and colder the winds, the more susceptible skin becomes to windburn.
You’re less likely to suffer windburn if you’re hiking in a place with high humidity, but if you’re scaling a mountain, hiking through a snowy forest, or out in the open in a place with dry air and high winds, you’re going to want to be careful about how much skin you leave exposed. Although windburn most frequently targets the face, it can affect any exposed area of the skin.
Symptoms of Windburn
As far as the symptoms of windburn go, you’ll likely find them familiar: they’re very similar to the effects you can expect from sunburn. In mild cases, you’ll notice the following symptoms:
- Reddened, sore skin, painful to touch
- Dry, flaky skin
- Peeling skin as it begins to heal
- Itching sensation
- Skin may feel hot or flushed to the touch
- Extremely chapped lips
- In more severe cases of windburn, you might notice these additional symptoms:
- Swelling/inflammation of the skin
While most of these symptoms are simple causes of discomfort—unpleasant but not exactly dangerous—more severe cases can become so quickly, especially if you’re out in the wilderness long-term.
Permanent eye damage or a heightened risk of lymphoma (skin cancer) can occur, and if you end up with blisters that burst, these can quickly become receptors for infection.
How to Prevent Windburn
There are many ways to go about treating windburn, but the better move is to do what you can to prevent it. While you likely won’t be able to cover every inch of skin, this is your best defense against the elements—the more skin you can cover, the better.
Unfortunately, the most windburn-vulnerable area of your body—your face—is also the most difficult to cover up. After all, you need to be able to see and breathe as freely as you can, especially if you’re on a mountainside or otherwise elevated terrain, where the air may be thinner and you’re already at risk of altitude sickness.
To best protect yourself from windburn, try getting a thin scarf to put over your nose and mouth that still allows you to breathe comfortably. You can also invest in a pair of goggles or other protective eyewear, but keep in mind that no matter what sort of eye cover you get, it will limit your visibility a bit.
You’ll want to take this extra risk into account when heading out on your expedition. If you choose not to cover your skin, you can also utilize sunscreen and lip balm to protect your face and lips from UV and wind damage.
How to Treat Windburn
Thankfully, most windburn cases are mild, and even more severe ones are able to be treated fairly easily. Very rarely does windburn require hospitalization, so even if you suffer from a case in the wilderness, you should be able to bring along supplies in your first-aid kit for treating windburn properly.
The best way to go about treating windburn is also the best way to treat sunburn: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Aloe is a great choice to soothe that burn, but you can use other types of moisturizer if you prefer—just avoid any acne-treating moisturizers when treating windburn, as these may include other substances that could irritate your already-sensitive skin.
Hydrocortisone cream is another option for treating windburn; while this cream is mainly used to treat poison ivy or mosquito bites, it’s also helpful for treating redness of the skin, irritation, and other uncomfortable skin conditions. It will also soothe any itchiness that comes along with a healing windburn.
If your lips have suffered the most from your windburn, be sure to keep a medicated lip balm on hand. You’ll want to splurge a bit on this—severely chapped lips will make everything far more uncomfortable, including eating and drinking, and your afflicted lips could easily begin to split and bleed, putting you at further risk of infection.
If you have a very severe case and end up with blisters, you’ll want to do everything in your power to avoid infection while treating windburn. Blisters tend to burst easily, and any open wound is an invitation for bacteria to come in and make themselves at home.
If you do find yourself suffering from an infection, you will want to solicit medical help as quickly as you can; infection of facial wounds is no joke. It can leave you with considerable scarring, and even if it doesn’t, infection forming that close to your brain isn’t exactly ideal.
Wrapping up on How to Treat Windburn
Now that you know how to prevent and how to treat windburn, be sure to check out our other guides to avoiding and treating potential wilderness hazards, such as sunstroke!