Windburn is a condition whereby a sunburn obtained in cool or cloudy conditions is incorrectly attributed to the effects of the wind rather than the sun mostly in North America. The main reason for this is that in cool or cloudy conditions many people are unaware that they are still vulnerable to the burning effects of the sun's UV radiation, so fail to take precautionary sun protection measures. This increases their risk of sustaining a sunburn, which they may then falsely attribute to the wind.
The fact that windburn was really misattributed sunburn, rather than an actual condition in its own right, was shown as early as 1936 by English skin specialist Charles Howard White of Cambridge and American physicist William Henry Crew of New York University. Nonetheless, the accepted existence of windburn remains a popular and widely held misconception.
Prevention and treatment
Wind as a contributing factor
There may be contributing factors of the wind to windburn, and similarly, sunburns. Most importantly, the cooling effects of the wind decrease the perception of heat and burning, meaning individuals are less likely to seek shade or to protect themselves against the sun, and are more likely to stay exposed to the burning effects of the sun's UV radiation for longer. Along with being cooling, the wind also has a drying effect on the skin, which may exacerbate the symptoms of a sunburn. There are also some claims that the natural oils and moisture in the skin are reduced in cold conditions, making the skin more vulnerable to the drying effects of the wind and the sun's UV radiation, and thus more easily burnt in situations where people may not expect to be sunburnt, such as in the snow.
- "10 myths about sun protection" (PDF). Official SunSmart website. Cancer Council Australia. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
You can get burnt on windy, cloudy and cool days. Sunburn is caused by UV radiation, which is not related to temperature – a cooler or windy day in summer will have a similar UV index to a warmer day. If it’s windy and you get a red face, it’s likely to be sunburn. There’s no such thing as ‘windburn’. You can also get sunburnt on cloudy days, as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds, and may even be more intense due to reflection off the bottom of the clouds.
- "Sun safety in the workplace". Department of Commerce official website. Government of Western Australia. 7 October 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
The wind may dry the skin but does not burn it. What is commonly described as windburn is most likely sunburn.
- Beckman, Wayde (8 February 2011). "Myth-busting Windburn". MetService Blog. Meteorological Service of New Zealand Limited. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
“I got windburnt today.” “My lips feel windburnt.” It’s something we hear from time to time... But what is windburn? And can the wind really burn our skin?... Double-checking with a dermatologist confirms that the term windburn is a misnomer. And that red, sore, dry skin or lips is actually sunburn caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
- Hall, Mike (2 October 2012). "'Windburn' myth highlights need for sun safety message". TV3 (New Zealand) official site. MediaWorks New Zealand. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
“Windburn is a misnomer,” says dermatologist Todd Gunson. “... the redness and the tenderness that results from a day out in the sun is almost always due to sunburn.”
- "Medicine: Windburn to Sunburn". Time. Time Inc. 12 October 1936. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
...was the first demonstration that "windburn" is really sunburn
- "Windburn". Dictionary.com. IAC. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
an inflammation of the skin...caused by overexposure to the wind.
- "What is Windburn?". WiseGeek official website. Conjecture Corporation. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
Windburn is a condition caused by exposure to strong and frequently cold winds for extended periods of time.
- Sugar, Jenny (15 January 2008). "Prevent and Treat Windburn". PopSugar Fitness official website. PopSugar Inc. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
If you like to venture out in the cold weather, you want to protect your skin from windburn. No it's not a Winter sunburn because it's not caused by the sun's harmful rays...it's actually caused by a combination of cold temperatures and low humidity.
- Barrymore, John. "Windburn overview". Discovery Fit and Health official website. Discovery Communications. Retrieved 18 August 2013.