Wow, it was cold outside this morning. It usually takes me a mile or two to warm up, but really did take me a mile or two to “warm up” today. It was 11 F along with 10 MPH winds. That’s -3 with the wind chill, and even colder when I’m running with a headwind. The cold air stung my face and I questioned if I should have put on some vaseline to protect from frostbite.
This got me wondering, does Vaseline reduce the chance of frostbite?
Every running site I could find said yes, but according to The US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, the use of emollients (e.g., petroleum jelly) does not protect against frostbite. Instead it may give a false sense of security and therefore increase the risk for frostbite. It is the reason why face camouflage paint is not used when the air temperature goes below 32 °F, because the paint conceals any changes in skin color, which signal the early development of frostbite.1
The advice given is to run indoors if possible, move your runs to later in the day, or dress wisely. Covering all exposed body parts as much as possible. This includes nose, ears and cheeks.
Here are the warning signs:
- Early cold response is the first warning sign that you should come in out of the cold. Early cold response starts with a slightly painful and cold feeling to your skin. Your skin will also turn a reddish color.
- Frostnip comes after early cold response and causes your skin to become numb or slightly numb. It will also turn from red to a whitish color. At this point, you’re probably approaching frostbite and should warm up as soon as possible.
- Superficial frostbite is when the skin is numb, soft and white. Any form of frostbite requires medical attention.
- Deep frostbite is very serious. Your skin will no longer be soft, but firm. Your tissues are actually freezing and, if not attended to, can blister and eventually die. This is a very serious condition and may be irreversible.2
So, be careful when the temperature drops. Get out your favorite balaclava and keep running!
1. Castellani, John. O’Brien, Catherine. Baker-Fulco, Carl. Saqka, Michael N. Young,
Andrew. “Sustaining Health & Performance in Cold Weather Operations”; Oct 2001.
US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine
2. Debra Ronca, How Stuff Works