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Best treatments for Frostnip

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Written by Andrew Le, MD.
Last updated June 23, 2024

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As winter sets in and temperatures drop, many of us look forward to enjoying outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. However, with this chilly weather comes the risk of frostnip. Frostnip is a common condition that can affect anyone exposed to very cold temperatures for an extended period. While it is not as severe as frostbite, frostnip can still cause discomfort and lead to more serious complications if left untreated. In this article, we'll explore what frostnip is, how to identify it, and most importantly, how to treat and prevent it.

What is Frostnip?

Frostnip is the earliest stage of an injury which happens when your skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. It mainly affects the outer layers of the skin, causing the area to become numb, red, and slightly painful.1,2 This condition typically affects areas of the body that are most likely to be exposed to the cold, such as the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes.1,2

When your body gets very cold, it tries to protect your vital organs in your torso by lowering blood flow to your extremities by constricting blood vessels. This process, known as vasoconstriction, reduces blood flow to your skin's surface. This vasoconstriction makes your skin cool down quickly and increases the risk of frostnip.4 As the skin temperature drops, the cells in the affected area begin to freeze, causing frostnip.

While frostnip and frostbite are both cold-induced injuries, they cause different kinds of injury. Frostnip is a milder form of injury that affects only the outer layers of the skin, whereas frostbite freezes deeper tissues, including the skin and underlying structures like muscles and nerves.1,2 Frostbite can cause permanent damage and may need medical help, while frostnip is generally reversible with the right first aid measures.

How To Identify Frostnip

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of frostnip is important for preventing the condition from progressing into frostbite. The most common symptoms of frostnip include:

  • skin that appears pale, red, or even purple in color
  • numbness
  • tingling1,2
  • cold to the touch
  • slightly painful when exposed to warmth.

As frostnip progresses, the skin may become harder and more waxy-looking. This means frostbite is beginning to set in. If the affected area is turning white or grayish-yellow, or if it feels firm and frozen, these are warning signs that the tissue damage is becoming more severe.1,2 In these cases, it's important to seek medical attention urgently to prevent permanent injury.

To help distinguish between frostnip and frostbite, pay close attention to the texture and sensation of the skin. With frostnip, the skin stays soft and pliable, and the numbness and tingling sensations typically subside once the area is rewarmed.1,2 In contrast, frostbitten skin feels hard and waxy, and the numbness may continue even after rewarming. This likely means that deeper tissues have been affected.

If you think that you or someone else has frostnip, it's important to get out of the cold and start first aid.

First Aid for Frostnip

If you or someone around you is showing signs of frostnip, it's important to take immediate action to prevent it from getting worse. The first step in treating frostnip is to get out of the cold and into a warm, dry place as soon as possible. If you're wearing any wet clothing, take it off, as damp fabrics can draw heat away from your body even once you're indoors.1,2

Once you're in a warm place, the next step is to gradually rewarm the affected areas. It's important to avoid using direct heat sources like a heating pad, fire, or hot water, as these can damage the already vulnerable skin.1,3 Instead, use gentle rewarming techniques, such as placing the frostbitten hands under your armpits, where your body heat can slowly raise their temperature. You can also soak the affected areas in warm water that's between 100°F and 105°F (37°C to 40°C) for 20 to 30 minutes until you get sensation back.1,3

As you rewarm the skin, it's important to handle the affected areas gently. Rubbing or massaging them can cause additional tissue damage.1,3 If blisters form, let them be, as they provide a natural barrier against infection. You can loosely wrap the affected area in a clean, dry bandage to protect it as it heals.

During the rewarming process, you may feel some discomfort as sensation returns. This can include a burning, tingling, or even a throbbing sensation, which is a normal part of the healing process.2,3 The skin may also look red and swollen, but this should get better within a few hours after rewarming.

In most cases, frostnip can be effectively treated with these simple first aid measures. However, if the symptoms don't improve or if you notice signs of frostbite, such as skin that feels hard, waxy, and numb even after rewarming, it's important to seek emergency medical care.2,3 Frostbite is a more serious condition that requires professional treatment to prevent permanent tissue damage or even amputation.

Preventing Frostnip in the Future

While treating frostnip and frostbite is important, preventing these cold-induced injuries from happening in the first place is even more important. By taking some simple precautions and planning ahead, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing frostnip or frostbite during cold weather.

  • Dress appropriately for the conditions. Wear multiple layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that can trap heat and provide insulation.1,2 Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep your skin dry, add an insulating middle layer for warmth, and lastly, put on a wind- and water-resistant outer layer. Protect your extremities by wearing a hat and gloves, as well as thick, warm socks.
  • Avoid behaviors that can increase your risk of frostnip. Alcohol and drug use can impair your judgment and reduce your body's ability to regulate its temperature.5,6
  • Take frequent breaks indoors to warm up. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, particularly in windy or damp conditions, can raise your risk.
  • Change out of sweaty clothing. If you are sweating heavily, change out of any wet clothing as soon as possible to prevent heat loss.
  • Plan ahead. Before heading outdoors, check the weather forecast and know the wind chill factor, which can make the air feel significantly colder than the actual temperature.1,2 If possible, limit your time outside during particularly cold or windy days, and schedule outdoor activities for the warmest part of the day.

Risk Factors for Frostnip

Certain groups of people are more susceptible to developing frostnip, particularly those who may have difficulty maintaining warmth. This includes:

  • People who are homeless, who may not have proper shelter and clothing to protect against the cold.5
  • Children, as their bodies lose heat more quickly than adults, and they may not recognize the early signs of frostnip.5
  • Elderly people, due to age-related changes in circulation and reduced ability to sense cold.5
  • Physiological factors, like dehydration, high altitude, and underlying medical conditions that affect circulation, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease, can also increase the likelihood of developing frostnip.5,6

For vulnerable groups, such as people who are homeless, children, and the elderly, taking extra precautions is important. Homeless outreach programs can help provide warm clothing, blankets, and shelter to those who may not have access to these resources.5 Parents and caregivers should make sure that children are dressed appropriately for the weather and watch them closely for signs of frostnip when playing outside. For people who work in cold conditions, employers should provide adequate cold-weather gear and allow for frequent warm-up breaks.


Frostnip may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it can quickly escalate into a serious medical emergency if left untreated. By understanding the causes, risk factors, and symptoms of this common cold weather injury, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself from frostnip and frostbite.

Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding frostnip and frostbite. Dressing appropriately for the weather, limiting your time outdoors during extreme cold, and taking frequent breaks to warm up can help reduce your risk of frostnip or frostbite. If you think that you or someone else has frostnip, act quickly to rewarm the affected area using gentle techniques and seek medical attention if the symptoms continue or worsen.


<1>Nemours KidsHealth. (n.d.). Frostbite and Frostnip (for Parents).</1>

<2>Healthline. (2022). Frostnip: Definition, vs. Frostbite, Pictures, and Recovery Time.</2>

<3>Nationwide Children's Hospital. (n.d.). Frostbite: Symptoms, What to Do and Prevention.</3>

<4>SELF. (2022). Frostnip: 5 Signs of Frostnip to Know, and Other Frostnip Facts.</4>

<5>Stanford Medicine Children's Health. (n.d.). Frostbite and Frostnip in Children.</5>

<6>HealthJade. (2022). Frostnip definition, causes, symptoms & treatment.</6>

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Le obtained his MD from Harvard Medical School and his BA from Harvard College. Before Buoy, his research focused on glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. Outside of work, Dr. Le enjoys cooking and struggling to run up-and-down the floor in an adult basketball league.

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