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Tips to Protect Your Skin Against Frostbite

January 31, 2011

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When numbers on a thermometer dip, it’s a good idea to check for frostbite—and be aware of the symptoms and prevention.

If you live in a colder climate and are hardy enough to weather the elements, the temperature outdoors should not keep you indoors, within reason. However, when it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less, take precautions to avoid frostbite.

Frostbite occurs most often on the extremities of exposed skin surfaces, like your face, earlobes, or fingertips. (Hopefully, if it is less than 32 degrees out, your feet are well covered.) The telltale sign is a white discoloration of the skin. The affected patch will lose sensation and look waxy.

Frostbite is dangerous because it kills a layer of your skin tissue, making you even more susceptible to frostbite in those same affected areas in the future.

One key to prevention is to cover exposed skin—pull your hat over your ears and wear a neck gaiter or other outdoor apparel meant to protect you in frigid temperatures. It’s also a good idea to not be alone. Another person can regularly check you for the beginning signs of frostbite called frostnip—when the skin gets red and starts to tingle—and full-on frostbite.

If you have a patch of frostbite and can not get to a shelter, you need to slowly warm the affected area. When I see someone skiing with a white patch of skin on his or her face, I always tell the person that they might have frostbite. Once your skin goes from “nipped” to "bitten,” you can not feel anything, so you might not realize that anything is wrong. You, or that person, should put a warm (hopefully) hand over the area until it starts to thaw out. This is not medical advice, since I am not a doctor, but a little enlightenment goes a long way in prevention.

Another tidbit I learned over the years on cold days spent outdoors is to add an extra layer of protection to your skin by smoothing Bag Balm on your face. This thin layer gives added protection against the elements, though I can not vouch for what it will do to your pores. My beauty tip advice is to protect yourself from frostbite now and worry about your pores later.

The windchill will also affect your susceptibility to frostbite. Refer to Almanac.com for windchill charts for Canada and the United States.

Please add your comments, questions, and tips on how to protect your skin!

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Comments

Way BBBRRRR!

By Julie R

WI had -17 this am. I drive school bus, those big metal boxes don't warm up fast!
You are never too old for snow pants! Layers, layers, layers! I wear a hat with a fleece hood over the top, & sometimes a headband under).
Keep on dry sox if possible, change often during the day, if you spend alot of time outside. Start the day with boots on a boot dryer (it heats them nicely).
Remember to drink lots of fluids, it helps keep your lips from chapping as easily.
Go inside & warm up as often as possible, but unbundle when you do, so you don't sweat up, or you'll be colder on the next round.

Brrr!

By Catherine Boeckmann

It's brutally cold today--3 degrees out East. And another frigid storm in the Midwest. Good timing on these tips! Thanks. My tips: Wear mittens, not gloves. Use those handwarmers. Wear ear muffs over your hat. And gaiters are great, too.

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