Frostbite – How To Prevent It

When your body is exposed to cold for too long, your body will start to protect itself by narrowing blood vessels that are close to the skin, thus reducing blood flow. The combination of low blood flow and cold temperature can freeze the skin tissue and can cause severe injury.

Although people don’t always know or acknowledge these dangers, many of the dangers can be reduced or prevented.

Frostbite occurs when the skin and tissue freezes after being exposed to extreme cold for a prolonged amount of time. Most frostbite injuries occur on the fingers, toes, cheeks, ears and nose. In many cases, the body part affected can be rewarmed to avoid serious injury, but in severe cases, surgery or even amputation may be required. 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.

The most exposed to frostbite are the elderly, small children, homeless, and those who have peripheral vascular disease or diabetic neuropathy.

Read: Staying outside longer during the winter months

Signs and symptoms of frostbite:

  • Shivering: the earliest sign that the body is losing warmth.
  • Coldness, numbing, tingling and itching.
  • Discoloration of the skin from almost white/yellowish skin to a purplish color. More severe signs include blisters and pain on rewarming.
  • Mumbling, stumbling and loss of fine motor skills.

Here are tips to help you stay safe and warm:

  • Limit time you’re outdoors in cold, wet or windy weather. Pay attention to weather forecasts and wind chill readings. In very cold, windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes.
  • Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Air trapped between the layers of clothing acts as insulation against the cold. Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments to protect against wind, snow and rain. Choose undergarments that wick moisture away from your skin. Change out of wet clothing — particularly gloves, hats and socks — as soon as possible.
  • Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears. Heavy woolen or windproof materials make the best head wear for cold protection.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves. Mittens provide better protection. Or try a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material (like polypropylene) under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens.
  • Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture and provide insulation. You might also try hand and foot warmers. Be sure the foot warmers don’t make your boots too tight, restricting blood flow.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs of frostbite include red or pale skin, prickling, and numbness.
  • Plan to protect yourself. When traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. If you’ll be in remote territory, tell others your route and expected return date.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster.
  • Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated. Doing this even before you go out in the cold will help you stay warm. And if you do become cold, drinking warm, sweet beverages, such as hot chocolate, will help you warm up.
  • Keep moving. Exercise can get the blood flowing and help you stay warm, but don’t do it to the point of exhaustion.

If you have a patch of frostbite and cannot 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 cannot 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 cannot 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.

Pay attention to yourself, and do not neglect the measures of protection against frostbite and hypothermia in the winter season!

Stay Warm, Stay Dry, Stay Safe in the Winter Cold.


You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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