Is it really possible to get windburnt?

You’re walking along the coast on an overcast day with the wind whipping your hair and you end up with a raw, stinging feeling to your face. Windburn. But is it? Is it really possible for the wind to burn skin or is something else going on? While it may seem that the wind is responsible for burning your skin, it is actually the usual culprit of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. What we call windburn is really plain old sunburn and can be prevented by using sunscreen. But like all sunburn, the redness doesn’t show up straight away. It can take four to 24 hours to appear. “What you’re getting is ultraviolet light exposure that produces a sunburn and people call it a windburn,” said Rod Sinclair, professor of dermatology at the University of Melbourne and director of Epworth Dermatology. When it comes to avoiding sunburn, there’s more to it than meets the eye. How do you spot the safest shade? The reason for the confusion is that windburn often happens when the temperature is cool but UV exposure is high. “That’s much more likely to happen on a windy day, when the Sun is shining but the wind is cooling the air,” Professor Sinclair said. Most of us know that you can still be sunburnt on a hot overcast day, but we often associate cooler weather with a lower risk. This is an especially dangerous assumption in summer, but it can also be untrue for other times of the year. “The UV index is a more reliable measure of when to wear sunscreen than temperature,” Professor Sinclair said. Wind can sculpt rocks over thousands of years, but the good news for wind lovers is that wind alone won’t really damage your skin. The internet may be full of claims that wind destroys vital fats called lipids, but this is not true. “Wind doesn’t break down lipids in the outer layers of skin,” Professor Sinclair said. On the other hand, sun exposure and dehydration do affect your skin. The moisture content in our skin is in equilibrium with the moisture in our environment, which is why skin often feels dry and tight when the air is dry. “If the environment is incredibly humid, then moisture from the environment will soak into our skin,” Professor Sinclair said. But if the air is very dry, then moisture from your skin will evaporate into the environment and the skin can become dehydrated. So a dry wind will probably dehydrate your skin, but it’s not so much the wind itself, it’s actually the low level of humidity in the air.

ABC News, 22 October 2015 ; ;