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April 14, 2021

Windburn or sunburn? A woman with dark hair blowing across her face stands with the ocean in the background

When it comes to windburn, there’s quite a bit of heated (or chilled?) debate and conjecture about whether it actually exists. Most dermatologists seem to recognise windburn as a real condition, but even the experts haven’t reached a consensus. For those who’ve experienced windburn, you’ll probably attest that it’s a totally legit (and uncomfortable) phenomenon.

Some of the conjecture comes from the fact that people sometimes mistake sunburn for windburn. As we know, sunburn can happen even on cool, overcast days — especially if the sun’s rays are bouncing off water or snow — so we might end up blaming the wind for damage caused by the sun.

To add to the confusion, it can also be hard to tell the difference between the symptoms. Luckily, the prevention and treatment methods for windburn and sunburn are mostly the same.

Windburn or sunburn? A small girl walks down some steps at the beach with an overcast sky overhead

What does windburn look and feel like?

Windburn appears and feels very similar to sunburn.

Your skin might be red, itchy, scaly, puffy and hot to touch. We most often see windburn on the face, as facial skin is the most delicate and sensitive, but it can appear anywhere on the body where skin has been exposed to the elements.

When and why does windburn happen?

Basically, windburn can occur anytime when you’re outside in cold winds with low humidity (windburn doesn’t tend to happen in warm weather). One theory is that the wind strips your skin of its protective oils, leaving it vulnerable to inflammation. Low humidity also dries out your skin, which means its natural defences are weakened.

People will often experience windburn while skiing or snowboarding, while boating or surfing, or while running or cycling in the cold. 

Windburn or sunburn? A close-up of a red-headed woman's closed right eye and freckly face

How can we prevent windburn?

Thankfully, there are some things we can do to minimise our risk of windburn.

Just like sun damage, your first line of defence is covering up as much skin as possible when out in the elements. It’s especially important to protect the face with sunglasses or goggles, and you might want to wrap a scarf around your mouth and neck.

Dermatologists also recommend keeping the skin moisturised, so remember to go through your normal skincare routine — and potentially use a thicker moisturiser — on days when you’re going to be out in the wind and cold. It’s a good idea to avoid harsh chemicals (like retinol) on your skin at all times, but particularly if you’re concerned about windburn, as you don’t want to be stripping your skin’s natural oils before you even meet the wind.

Using a physical sunscreen (like SunButter!) will further assist in creating a barrier. Plus, given what we know about UV rays, we should really be wearing sunscreen year-round. SunButter has the added benefit of being hydrating for the skin (thanks to coconut oil), so it’s a win-win-win! 

Don’t forget to protect and nurture your lips, either — the skin on the lips is especially sensitive, and chapped lips are fun for no one. Zinc and lip balm are your friends here. 

How to treat windburn

Thankfully, windburn doesn’t usually last as long (or cause the same lasting damage) as sunburn. However, it’s no walk in the park. If the undesirable has happened and the wind has delivered you (what feels like) a slap across the face, there are a few things you can do to nourish your skin back to health.

First, you can to make sure you’re moisturising the skin several times a day with hydrating creams. If the windburn is bad, it can be a good idea to harness the calming effects of aloe vera (fresh is best) or oatmeal (there are some body lotions on the market that are oatmeal-based, or your can make your own. For the face, check out our DIY facial recipes here). Be gentle with your skin, keep your showers cool and avoid exfoliating until the condition has cleared up.

Our Boab, Wattle and Kelp Face Oil is also great for rehydrating the skin. Boab is said to be one of the best natural humectants ( a kind of moisturiser that helps you draw moisture from the air)!

If you’re heading back out into the great outdoors, it’s important to maintain your sunscreen game, because damaged skin is more susceptible to sun damage (unfair, but true).

Windburn or sunburn? A woman wearing colourful bikinis holds an aluminium bottle of SunButter face oil with the dropper above it

How long does windburn last?

The good news is that windburn generally fades sooner than sunburn: it’s usually gone after a few days. The more after-care you give yourself, the sooner your skin can start repairing.

Shop our original SPF50 sunscreen

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