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What is Windburn?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Windburn is a condition caused by exposure to strong and frequently cold winds for extended periods of time. Wind can remove the oils from the top oil layers of skin, creating chapped dry skin that feels hot or burned, and may appear red or swollen. Windburn can be confused with sunburn, and people may attribute “burned” skin on overcast days to wind rather than to sun. In fact, overcast days are still likely to cause sunburn, particularly if you are up on the tops of mountains where your exposure to sun is greatest. Both windburn and sunburn should be avoided when possible, although the wind tends to produce far less long term damage to the skin.

To prevent windburn, you should wear sunscreen, but emphasis should really be on covering exposed areas of the face. Sunscreen won’t really protect you much from the condition, but should still be used to avoid sunburn. To get full protection, wearing sunglasses or preferably goggles can help keep the wind from irritating the skin around the eyes. These should have UVA and UVB protection. Also, it can help to wear items like ski masks, which will cover most of the skin, leaving very little exposed to the wind. Hands should be gloved as these can can be affected by windburn too.

When you have windburn, common sense would suggest putting moisture back into the skin. It can help not to expose yourself to extreme warmth too fast. Don’t take a hot shower at first to help with the condition, and keep your face away from the heat of fires or heaters.

Instead, most doctors suggest using a mild skin lotion. Yet you should expect that your skin may peel, redden and feel hot just as with sunburn. Some people recommend using a bit of aloe vera, or tinctures of chamomile and noni to help reduce the discomfort associated with windburn.

If the symptoms persist beyond a few days and you haven’t had repeated wind or sun exposure, you might have another condition. Rosacea, especially in its early stages, can be commonly misdiagnosed, especially in the home setting. When symptoms continue, you might want to check with a doctor to rule out other conditions.

For severe cases, doctors may sometimes want to prescribe a mild pain reliever. Normally it just takes several days to get over, and most over the counter pain relievers will help with discomfort. If your eyes are especially irritated, consider using some “red eye” eye drops or even artificial tears to help reduce itchiness.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon312268 — On Jan 06, 2013

I have windburn at the moment and I have used aloe vera and vaseline before I go to bed. It's healing slowly, but what is the watery substance coming out of my face all the time?

By julies — On Nov 01, 2012

I never realized that applying sunscreen to prevent windburn would work just like it does for a sunburn. I guess I assumed a windburn was caused from the wind and not from the sun, and applying a sunscreen wouldn't make any difference.

By bagley79 — On Oct 31, 2012

When we go skiing in the mountains, it is not usual for us to get a combination of both a windburn and a sunburn. This makes it hard to tell the difference between the two, but I treat them the same way.

On really cold days it helps if most of your skin is covered. This means that we wear a ski mask and goggles to give us the most protection. On days when it isn't so cold and the sun is shining, I don't like wearing a ski mask and just wear goggles.

At the end of the day I can really tell because my face will be red and chapped. The best way I know how to get rid of windburn is to keep out of the elements for awhile and give your skin a chance to heal.

By myharley — On Oct 31, 2012

@anon38342 -- Whenever I have had windburn, it feels pretty much like having a sunburn. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the sunburn, this can be worse, but windburn leaves your skin feeling dry and somewhat sore. Applying lotion on a consistent basis is one thing that I have found that provides both windburn and sunburn relief.

By Mor — On Sep 20, 2012

@pastanaga - I lived in a windy area as a kid and my mother used to get windburn all the time. She has very fair, dry skin and I inherited the more oily darker skin of my dad, so I guess skin type makes a difference (she gets sunburned a lot more often than I do as well).

She treated it with sunburn remedies, although she seemed to think it was more sore than sunburn. The worst was when she would get windburn on her lips though. I always felt so bad for her, and at one point they were so dry that they actually cracked a little bit. It's best to try not to let them get to that point, believe me!

By pastanaga — On Sep 19, 2012

It sounds like you can probably help prevent windburn by putting dry skin cream on before going out into the wind. That way you'd lock in the oils so that you wouldn't lose as much to the wind.

It might not prevent it entirely, but it could help to make it less painful. I only got windburn once, when I was a child and I went climbing over some local hills on a windy day. I thought the wind was great, and quite fancied my hair blowing in the wind and all, but I regretted it later on.

By anon286183 — On Aug 20, 2012

I got windburn over the weekend and it feels just like a sunburn without the tight feeling of a sunburn. It's still very sore, still very red and still very swollen. My tip: avoid it when possible.

By anon60983 — On Jan 17, 2010

Windburn is not sunburn. I get windburn very badly when I'm out at night shoveling snow or walking home from work.

By anon57552 — On Dec 24, 2009

wind has no effect on the skin directly. all windburn is, in fact, sunburn caused by the wind evaporating/dissipating the protective layer of sweat from your body

By anon38342 — On Jul 25, 2009

i wonder what wind burn feels like. didn't you ever have the same thought?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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