Frostbite: How to Care for Your Skin in Extreme Cold

True adventurers never stop exploring when the temperatures drop. If you push on through extremely cold temperatures to ice climb, snowshoe, ski or snowboard, you need to be careful to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. Follow these tips to avoid frostbite on those really cold adventures.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is when the flesh in your extremities actually freeze. It's most likely to happen on your face, ears, fingers and toes but it could happen to any skin exposed to extreme cold temperatures. It's possible to maintain a safe core temperature and still be at risk. Frostbite is most likely to happen in really cold temperatures and in high wind. It can lead to permanent damage or amputation.

What are the warning signs of frostbite?

The first warning sign of frostbite is white or grayish-yellow skin. The skin will feel unusually firm, "waxy" and numb. The fingers, toes, nose or ears may be so numb that you don't even realize you have frostbite.

How to avoid frostbite

How to care for frostbite?

  • If possible, seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

  • Escape the cold a soon as possible.

  • Warm the affected area with your hands or armpit. place warm water on the frostbitten skin but never pour hot water on an affected area.

  • Be careful to not burn the area. Due to numbness it's possible to burn the skin without realizing it.

  • Do not rub the skin as you may cause even more damage.

Bottom line: frostbite can be very painful and could lead to amputation. The best way to avoid frostbite is to keep skin covered in extremely cold conditions.

For more information on Frostbite and Hypothermia, visit our Head to Toe Winter Dressing Guide. Or learn more about staying warm this winter by reading these related articles:

Clothing Layering Guide
Down vs. Synthetic
Keep Kids Warm with Proper Layering
What is Down Fill Power
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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