A Complete Guide on How to Treat Windburn

Have you ever developed skin redness with a burning sensation after exposure to cold wind?  Although it is not an official medical diagnosis, most people describe this phenomenon as windburn.   Unlike sunburn which occurs as a result of UV sunlight exposure, windburn is thought to occur when our skin is exposed to dry, cold air.   It also differs from frostbite which is associated with numbness or a “prickly” skin sensation, and can involve the deep skin layers.

While windburn can be quite painful and uncomfortable, there are many ways to treat it.   So if you experience these symptoms frequently after cold wind exposure, then you’ve come to the right place.  Here is everything you need to know about windburn, and what you can do to treat and prevent it.

The Big Windburn Debate

Although many of us have come to accept that this skin condition is caused by the wind, the exact cause has not been determined.  Some health professionals feel that windburn is no different from sunburn.  For example, it is often seen on the unprotected facial skin of skiers after a sunny day on the ski slopes.  Because snow reflects the sun’s rays, it doubles the exposure to UV radiation.  In contrast, others believe that  windburn is associated with the cold air itself.

One possible explanation is that sunlight reflects off of large surfaces such as snow or sand, and causes a sunburn.  The skin is further irritated by cold, dry air, resulting in moisture loss.

It is more likely, however, that windburn is caused exclusively by the wind.  The cold air alters the normally acidic pH of skin, making it more prone to irritation and moisture loss.  The dry wind gusts also create friction while robbing the skin of moisture.  This results in skin redness, soreness, and inflammation.

In all likelihood, windburn is probably caused by a combination of these factors.  It is, therefore, best to protect your skin from both harmful UV sun rays  AND cold wind.

What are the Symptoms of Windburn?

In order to know whether or not you have windburn, it is important to understand its symptoms.   This allows you to better identify when it is present, and to take the appropriate steps to treat it.  Typical skin symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Irritation
  • Peeling
  • Dryness

Windburn only develops on areas of skin that are exposed to the environment.  If you experience these symptoms on areas of the body that are covered by clothing, you may have a different skin condition.   In this case, seek the advice of a dermatologist.

How to Treat Windburn

There are a variety of home remedies and other treatments that can reduce the symptoms of windburn.  Some involve the use of ingredients you may have in your kitchen, while others require a trip to the pharmacy.   The best solution can be different for each person as skin types and needs vary.


A thick, pasty dollop of oatmeal can be a simple yet effective treatment for windburn.  Oatmeal is naturally rich in antioxidants and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.  Studies of skin care products that contain oatmeal have been found to repair the skin’s barrier function.   Slathering a fresh serving onto your skin may help soothe the irritation and pain of windburn.

To use oatmeal as a windburn remedy, simply add two tablespoons of plain instant oatmeal to water according to the package instructions.  Do not use flavored oatmeal or add sugar, milk, or other ingredients which may cause more skin irritation.  Allow the oatmeal to cool to room temperature before applying it over the affected skin areas.

Use it as a paste, slathering it generously over the parts of your skin affected by windburn.  Leave it on for 15-20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly while gently massaging the oats into your skin with small circular movements.  Repeat up to three times daily.

Aloe Vera

As one of nature’s most effective soothing agents, this gelatinous substance effectively cools sunburned skin.  It also reduces skin inflammation, irritation, and itching.   Aloe vera is available in the form of cosmetic products, but acquiring it straight from the aloe plant is ideal to fully leverage its properties for windburn treatment.

Take a generous spoonful of aloe vera, and slather it all over the affected skin areas.   Allow it to dry on the skin, wiping away any excess with a cool, moist towel.  Repeat three times a day or as needed when windburn is painful or uncomfortable.


There’s a reason why people use cucumber slices over their eyes as a beauty treatment.  This mild, cooling fruit offers analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits that soothe the skin, and reduce irritation and pain.  It may also speed healing, and reduce skin discoloration.

To use cucumbers for windburn treatment, slice up a whole cucumber, then blend it into a puree.  For additional efficacy, add some aloe vera.  Once you get a smooth, paste-like consistency, slather the mixture generously over your skin.  Massage the cucumber paste gently over the affected areas, and leave it on for 10-15 minutes.  Rinse with clean, cool water, and repeat up to three times a day.

Virgin Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is a substance that’s often used in a variety of beauty products.  Sweet and fragrant, this natural oil possesses powerful antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that work wonders on skin conditions such as eczema and acne.  Applying virgin coconut oil to windburned skin can moisturize and reduce inflammation.

To use this remedy for windburn, simply coat the affected area with a film of virgin coconut oil, massaging it gently into the skin until partially absorbed.  Leave the excess, and reapply as necessary.  Because virgin coconut oil is 100% natural, it’s also safe to apply around the eyes and lips.


Some people are particularly prone to developing severe windburn such as those with sensitive skin or atopic dermatitis.   In these scenarios, it is best to use a product that has been clinically proven to heal irritated skin.  For example, Cetaphil Restoraderm relieves irritation and dryness by restoring moisture.

Apply this product liberally over the windburned skin, and repeat two to three times a day.  It works best when used after showering while the skin is still moist.

Can You Prevent Windburn?

Is there a way to avoid windburn all together?   Yes.  When you plan to be in an environment or situation that might result in windburn, there are skin care steps to minimize or prevent irritation.

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is a thick, greasy substance that forms a protective barrier over the skin’s surface.  Applying thick layers of petroleum jelly over exposed skin will prevent irritation from harsh, cold wind.

Protective Clothing

Another effective way to prevent windburn is to cover up.  Reducing the amount of skin that’s exposed to the environment will limit the areas that are susceptible to windburn.  Thick material that covers most of your face and arms is ideal  (i.e. ski masks, scarves).  A pair of protective eyewear can protect the skin around the eyes.


There is much debate on whether or not windburn is a form of sunburn, so the use sun protective creams may be helpful.   Sunscreen provides a barrier between your skin and the sun’s harmful UV rays.  Because these rays can bounce off of packed snow and other reflective surfaces, it is best to protect exposed skin, even when not in direct sunlight. 

Lip Balm

The lips are the most affected area of the face associated with windburn.  This is because many of the protective measures we use often omit the lips.  Coat your lips and the surrounding skin with a thick, long-lasting lip balm before you step out outside.

Lip balm prevents irritation in the same way as petroleum jelly.  It keeps your lips moisturized in dry, cold environments.  It should be reapplied throughout the day, so be sure to carry your chosen product with you for those necessary touch-ups.

In Conclusion

Don’t let the fear of windburn keep you indoors, and cause you to miss out on outdoor fun, especially during wintertime. While windburn can be an annoying skin problem, there are lots of home remedies that can easily resolve it.

To avoid windburn completely, protect yourself from the sun and cold wind before stepping outside.  This will allow you to participate in all of the snow-filled fun without the wind interfering with your enjoyment.

Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Dr. Alexander began her pediatric career at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000, and has practiced at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric training at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics. In addition to pediatrics, Dr. Alexander pursued her interest the culinary arts with study at the French Culinary
Institute. In 2007, she opened Global Palate, LLC, catering small group events for six years. Dr. Alexander has also been a professional writer and editor since 2018, engaging in a variety of medical editing and writing projects.