Our skin is constantly responding to its environment – we get goose bumps when we’re cold, and our pores dilate when we’re warm. A peculiar skin concern can develop when it’s exposed to very warm air immediately after very cold air. Chilblains are the name given to this uncomfortable condition that often clears up in the warmer spring weather.
What are chilblains?
Chilblains are a mild ‘cold injury’ not as severe as frost bite – but not pleasant either. They develop after the skin has been exposed to very cold air and are more common in those who have poor circulation. The ‘cold injury’ damages the tiny blood vessels, which in turn further restricts circulation leading to skin discolouration, discomfort and other symptoms. They are most commonly found on the body’s extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, and nose.
The affected patches or bumps on skin may be small but can often connect and develop into larger areas.
- Skin discolouration can be red, purple, blue, or white. However, they usually start off red before turning a shade of purple.
- You may experience a hot sensation and the affected area may also be scratchy and uncomfortable.
- Some people may also experience dry, tender skin that can lead to cracks and splits, which can be very uncomfortable – especially if you have chilblains on feet and chilblains on toes.
They generally last around seven days and then gradually go away over a week or so. Most do not cause any permanent damage.
What causes chilblains?
Since not everyone who is exposed to the cold and damp can develop chilblains, they are believed to only affect those overly sensitive to changes in temperature or in weather. The tiny blood vessels located under the skin constrict or narrow when the skin becomes cold. This results in the blood supply to these areas becoming slower.
As the skin becomes warmer, some fluid may leak from the blood vessels to the tissues, which can lead to swelling. They often don’t occur until several hours after exposure to the cold in temperate humid areas, and often play up when the area is reheated after being exposed to the cold.
Who is the most affected?
Some people are more likely to get chilblains, these include:
- The elderly, sedentary, and teenagers.
- Those who have lower blood oxygen levels due to anaemia or smoking.
- Chilblains on fingers and toes can be more common in people with health concerns that impact on circulation.
- People with connective tissue health concerns.
- Those with a low body weight or poor nutrition may also have a higher risk.
Some people can get recurring bouts every winter and may want to take additional steps to look after their skin and circulation.
What can you do to prevent chilblains?
If you are sensitive to temperature changes, you may want to avoid extreme fluctuations in temperature where possible. You could consider warming your hands slightly before leaving the house, so you can more easily adjust to the change. When you head back indoors, make sure you slowly let yourself warm up rather than trying to warm up quickly with hot water bottles or hot showers, as the sudden change in temperature extremes can aggravate your skin.
- Keeping your hands and feet toasty warm is the best measure to avoid chilblains. Consider wearing woollen gloves and socks, particularly when you’re outside.
- Make sure your shoes fit comfortably. If they’re too tight, you may experience more chilblains as it can restrict blood flow.
- Layer clothing on your body and make sure you keep your head and neck warm. Several loose layers may be ideal for trapping body heat.
- Chilblains can be a sign of lowered circulation. To boost this, it’s essential to exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
- Smoking should be avoided as this can restrict blood flow and hinder circulation.
If healthy circulation is a health goal for you, consider taking a Circulation Support supplement. Our extensive range includes Ginger, Cayenne, Ginkgo biloba and Hawthorn. Alternatively, you could add a little fresh sliced ginger to your tea and let it warm you up from the inside.
As well as incorporating some of the preventative measures listed above, you can use a topical chilblains cream to support your skin, blood vessels, and circulation. Our favourite cream is the Weleda Frost Cream.
Weleda Frost Cream supports circulation and brings warmth to unbroken chilblains. It contains herbal extracts from St John’s Wort, Southernwood, Arnica, Nettle, Horseradish, Capsicum, and essential oils of Camphor, Geranium, Juniper, Lemon, and Rosemary.