Winter sports: saving your skin

Winter sports are a great way to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors. But cold weather activities can put an extra strain on your skin. Keep your skin safe by avoiding these pitfalls:

Dehydration: Because it's not hot outside, you may not feel as thirsty while exercising. However, if you're active, you can get dehydrated, even in the cold. It's especially important to stay hydrated at high altitudes (for instance, while skiing in the mountains), since dehydration can make altitude sickness worse. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Avoid alcohol while exercising outdoors. It can cause dehydration.

Frostbite: Cold weather can cause areas of the skin to freeze, leading to frostbite. This is usually seen on the skin of the face, fingers and toes. Frostbite causes ice crystals to form in the tissues. This leads to tissue damage and reduces the blood supply in the affected area. If not found and treated quickly, it may lead to infection and tissue loss. With frostbite, the affected areas are cold, white, hard to the touch and numb. When warmed, the area becomes swollen, red and painful. Blisters may appear, and areas of the skin may be black or gray. Frostbite is treated by warming the affected area in warm (but not scalding) water. Once thawed, the area should not be refrozen, as this will do more damage. Antibiotics and surgery to remove damaged tissue may be needed in cases of infection.

Tips for preventing frostbite:

  • Dress in layers, with a moisture-wicking inner layer, a warm middle layer and a wind-proof outer layer. Mittens provide more warmth than gloves. If your hands or feet become wet, go inside.
  • For very cold temperatures, try a neoprene facemask or a balaclava to protect the delicate facial skin from frostbite.
  • Blood circulation helps keep the extremities (hands, feet, ears and nose) warm in cold temperatures. If you have conditions that affect your blood circulation (such as diabetes or Raynaud's disease), you may have a higher risk of frostbite.

Sunburn: You can still get a sunburn in the winter, especially on snow or ice, which reflect 80% of the sun's rays. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin to protect it from sunburn. For more information on sunscreens, see "Sunscreen is for winter too!" in this health feature.

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