If you’re an all-weather runner, no ice, sleet, snow or rain can keep you from your workout. But while your body will reap the benefits of running all winter long, your skin will pay the price. Here’s how to protect yourself from painful chapping and cracking with a little precaution— and a lot of Vaseline.
Why they hurt: When it comes to winter running, Helen M. Torok, M.D., medical director of Trillium Creek Dermatology in Ohio, says, “The lips in particular can be the most problematic.” Moist lips combined with dry air create a perfect storm for a painfully chapped mouth. When respiration and saliva deliver liquid to the lips, it quickly evaporates, exacerbating dryness.
Your move: Stop mid-run lip licking! This is a surefire way to strip moisture. To soothe lips, Torok advises skipping fancy balms and opting for plain old Vaseline. “Wax-based balms are not as effective as petroleum jelly,” she explains. Apply the sticky stuff before, during and after your run as needed. A sunburned pout can be equally painful and doubly dangerous, so layer on a lip-specific sunscreen as well.
Need an emergency Rx for badly chapped lips? Slather on balm before you go to bed. In the morning, combine olive oil and brown sugar for a gentle lip scrub to slough away dead skin, then reapply petroleum jelly.
Why they hurt: Brisk, windy days are especially unkind to your eyes. Gusts of dry air cause your peepers to compensate by watering, which leads to peeling and chapping of the nearby skin. Since this area is naturally thin and delicate, drying can be extra painful.
Your move: Be gentle when treating dry eyes. The first step is to protect yourself from wind and UV rays that reflect off snow banks with a pair of polarized sunglasses. Avoid creams and lotions—opt instead for an oil-based gel that will stay put and not irritate your eyes when you start to sweat. Torok says, “To heal this sensitive area, apply a thin coating of equal parts Vaseline and hydrocortisone gel twice daily for three to five days.”
Why they hurt: Raw, sun- and wind-burnt cheeks don’t create the kind of rosy complexion you covet. Friction caused by wind can rub your skin raw while robbing it of lipids. Forget your sunscreen and that burn will be made more painful thanks to skin-singeing UV rays.
YOUR MOVE: Because windburn can affect any exposed skin, the simplest prevention is to cover up. But short of wearing a ski mask, your face will inevitably be vulnerable to the elements. To create a buffer against both the sun and wind, apply a sweat-resistant sunscreen 30 minutes before you head outdoors. “You want to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays,” Torok says. Layer with a sports-friendly scarf and avoid anti-aging products during the day, as these often tighten skin.
If you’ve already been burned, apply a mixture of Vaseline and hydrocortisone, and “make sure to use a gentle cleanser when washing the face,” Torok says.
WHY THEY HURT: When left vulnerable to the elements, ears are the body part most prone to frostbite. A lack of blood flow in these appendages caused by below-freezing temperatures can lead to irritating frost-nip or the more serious ’bite.
YOUR MOVE: Protect your ears with a head wrap, hat or earmuffs. “These should always be worn in winter,” Torok advises. If you’ve experienced the icy bite for 30 minutes post-run, wrap your ears with towels soaked in hot water. “Frostbitten ears can be very painful and tender to touch,” Torok says. “However, taking an aspirin twice a day helps reduce the inflammation and swelling that can occur.” When frostbite is severe or the skin begins to blister, visit your doctor.
WHY IT HURTS: Dull, dry and lusterless skin casts a pale on the winter months. Low humidity and harsh weather deplete skin of its natural lipids, leaving it itchy and coarse.
YOUR MOVE: Up your hydration game. “During the cooler months, you’ll want to switch from a thin moisturizer to a thicker one,” Torok says. “Choose creams that not only restore skin’s moisture, but also promote collagen and elastin regeneration.” She recommends using products containing copper, an anti-inflammatory agent that encourages tissue-building to heal skin.
And although it’s tempting to take a long, hot shower after a cold run, keep the water lukewarm to avoid inflammation. Torok says, “A humidifier will also help skin stay moisturized when you’re at home.”