If ice is cold, why does it burn the skin?

If ice is cold, why does it burn the skin?

If you’ve ever held an ice cube or a snowball for a long time in your hand, without any kind of protection, you must have felt a strange burning sensation. Depending on the time the skin was exposed, it may have suffered an ice burn, with sensations similar to what happens with fire, caused by thermal shock.

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To be honest, it doesn’t make any sense to think that ice, which is cold, can burn the skin and, to be honest, the reactions are just similar, but not the same. Also, in both cases, the burn can kill skin cells and leave permanent scars, depending on the degree of exposure.

How does ice burn the skin?

When the skin is exposed to something very cold — like a rock or an ice pack — for an extended period of time, the water in the skin cells literally begins to freeze. This forms ice crystals and these damage the tissue, initiating cell death.

In parallel, the blood vessels that reach the hand constrict, reducing blood flow and limiting the delivery of oxygen. In this way, clots can form, which further limits the delivery of oxygen. At this point, other cells also begin to die.

In the process, skin receptors are activated and transmit pain messages to our brain, as if the region were burning. Here, it is important to highlight that the problems intensify with the exposure time of contact with ice.

What are the symptoms of ice burn?

In general, an ice burn can have the same presentation as a burn caused by fire or the sun – something quite common in summer. For example, the affected region will change color, becoming redder and darker than the rest of the skin.

In addition, the person may experience:

  • Burning;
  • numbness
  • Tingling sensation;
  • Ache;
  • Redness on site;
  • Bubble formation;
  • In some cases, permanent scars form on the burned skin.

Regarding the last topic, it should be noted that scars are formed only when the burn goes beyond the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin), reaching the dermis or hypodermis. It is something that can happen to those who handle dry ice, when it is at an average temperature of -78 °C.

Never hold ice unprotected

To avoid frostbite, the main tip is never to expose yourself to materials with low temperatures (less than 0°C), unprotected. For example, when using an ice pack, always place a cloth between the pack and your skin.

Another important tip is to wear appropriate clothing for cold temperatures. This is true both for people who work in slaughterhouses and for those who are going to travel to cold places, such as a ski resort – never try to walk barefoot in the snow.

Source: Healthline and Medical News Today