After returning from Snow Shoot 2017 in West Yellowstone, Mont., AmSnow editors remarked how the altitude and wintry elements had taken their toll on their skin. Sunburn, windburn, frostbite and blisters are all possible consequences of playing in the powder. For avid snowmobilers and other winter sports enthusiasts, the dermatological battle with Mother Nature is a never-ending one.
Here are some tips for protecting your skin before you go out riding:
Sunburn & Windburn
Whether you’re hitting the trails or climbing mountains, parts of your skin may experience extended sun exposure. Even on a chilly, overcast winter day, the risk of exposure to harmful UV rays is still significant.
Even if just your face is showing, put on sunscreen. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Dr. Mark Seraly, board-certified dermatologist and founder of www.DermatologistOnCall.com, says that any part of your skin that’s not covered by clothing should get an application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
“Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside,” says Dr. Seraly. “Also, re-apply sunscreen about every two hours if you’re staying outdoors or going back outdoors later, even in the winter months. Sunscreens require reapplication to maximize their effectiveness and prevent ultraviolet light injury to the skin.”
And don’t forget the lips. They can really take a beating during snowmobiling or other winter activities, so use a lip balm that has an SPF of 30 or higher.
What about windburn after a good day of riding outside? That pink or red face (one that doesn’t fade in less than an hour) is often called “windburn,” but there is actually no such thing. It’s actually sunburn resulting from prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays, even when the sun is hidden behind clouds. So feel free to get that winter “wind” in your face and hair – just make sure the sunscreen is on.
According to the National Weather Service, even with relatively calm winds, sub-zero temperatures as high as -5 F will cause frostbite to exposed skin after about 22 minutes. The colder it gets, the less time is needed for frostbite to set in.
Frostbite occurs when the skin freezes due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Depending on how long and how frozen the skin and underlying tissue, frostbite can result in severe and sometimes permanent damage.
If you plan to go snowmobiling in extremely cold temperatures, dress accordingly. Wear loose layers to trap warm air and hold it against the body; wear more than one pair of socks; cover your head and wrap a scarf over your mouth to warm the air you breathe; wear a very good pair of insulated gloves; and prevent snow from going into your shoes or clothing. It’s also important to take a break if you start to sweat … and to stay hydrated. When in doubt, wait for a warmer day to hit the trails.
Blisters can form when there’s too much friction against warm, moist skin. A common cause for this is wearing improperly fitted (or too tight) boots. To prevent blisters, make sure there’s enough room between your protective clothing layers and the potentially offending item – and to give your body breaks from the friction.
If you get a blister, Dr. Seraly offers this advice: “It’s best to leave a blister intact and keep it covered with a bandage, letting it heal naturally. If the blister ruptures, wash it several times daily, apply a topical emollient-based healing ointment, such as Aquaphor or Polysporin triple antibiotic ointment, and then keep it covered with a bandage. Covered blisters heal better and quicker than uncovered, ruptured blisters.”
Other Skin Issues
The dry winter air can also trigger itchy skin patches, eczema, dandruff, or keratosis pilaris. The good news is that thanks to modern technology and the ease of taking “skin selfies,” any skin concerns related to winter weather conditions can be diagnosed and treated through online dermatology visits. Plenty of sites and mobile apps, such as Dr. Seraly’s DermatologistOnCall service, eliminate the need for appointments or travel – leaving patients more time to enjoy the winter activities they love.
Jennifer Sikora contributed to this post.