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Winter is coming. I found that when commuting or just riding in cold (say -10 Celcius) conditions the skin on my face becomes too dry, red and itches.

What can I do to prevent this?

I've tried using buff as a mask, but had no luck - due to the air I breathe out this mask freezes quickly and makes things even worse.

upd to be more clear: I'm not asking about masks only - maybe there are some gels to apply on the skin?

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    When it's cold i used : neoprene face protector, the kind used for skiing, a winter cap and if it's really cold a ski mask. – Tony Morris Oct 30 '17 at 11:05
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    For men growing a beard or even short stubble helps. – ojs Oct 30 '17 at 11:39
  • @ojs - I have a beard, but it doesn't seem to be working as a protection – k102 Oct 30 '17 at 12:26
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    Beware! Don't rub ANY of the stuff on your face that you normally would rub on your legs. It contains capsaicin. You might as well rub tear gas or pepper spray on your face. – Carel Oct 30 '17 at 12:52
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    Also, neoprene facemask with a beard under it is not great - I found ice still forms under the mask, freezing it to your beard. I realize that's getting off-topic since the OP's question was about cold faces in general, not specifically with beards. – SSilk Oct 30 '17 at 15:28
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There are several companies that make masks designed for endurance sports during the winter. Air that cold can actually cause issues with your lungs when inspired for long periods. The secret is to find a mask designed to hold the moisture you are exhaling and hold it as a way to moisten and warm the air you are taking in.

Just a plain polar fleece mask can do this, but it can also hold too much moisture in too thin an area and freeze under some conditions.

Another thing to try is a hood with a ruff or edging. A hood that extends beyond your face can actually create a small pocket of air that your face can keep slightly warmer. This doesn't work as well in cross winds or such, but it can help significantly. There is a reason that cold weather cultures have traditionally lined parka hoods with animal fur ruffs. The ruff extends the area of that air pocket and keeps your face significantly warmer.

The second option will keep your face warmer, but won't do as much to mitigate the effect cold air has on your lungs over a period of time.

UPDATE WARNING PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION BELOW!!

Cold Avenger (https://coldavenger.com/) makes masks of the style I am talking about. I have no affiliation with the company. I do own several masks from them and believe they work. Basically its a traditional polar fleece or windstopper fleece mask with a rubber device around the nose & mouth designed to regulate airflow and retain moisture/heat.

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    I think product recommendations and personal experiences would be fine with this question. – ojs Oct 30 '17 at 19:47
  • I have several brands that I prefer, but it's not necessary to recommend one. Any "device" that moisturizes and warms the incoming air and protects your face will work. – Deleted User Oct 30 '17 at 21:40
  • Is it reasonable to direct the exhaled air back into the jacket? And then take fresh air from the other side, say around the back? You'd wear a mouth/nose mask that covers the chin and snugs up to goggles. Mask would have two pipes into the clothes, and a valve so that inhale and exhale go through the correct pipes, something like a SCUBA mask but with no regulator. Feasible ? – Criggie Oct 31 '17 at 3:09
  • To reinforce this answer - the answerer has biked in Alaska. So he's speaking from experience. – Criggie Oct 31 '17 at 5:34
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    "hold it as a way to moisten and warm the air you are taking in" i.e. do what the nose is designed to do when breathing through the mouth. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Dec 18 '19 at 14:37
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The first thing you need to worry about in winter is your lungs. You breathe much and air that you breathe in does not get warmed enough before it gets to lungs, that's why I use fullface fleece cloth with eye holes only to protect my head. There are two types for me - when two eye holes are separated and when eye hole is one big hole. I prefer one big hole to have an ability to take my nose outside when fleece gets extremely wet and does not allows to breathe at all

I breathe with mouth mostly because it is harder to breathe through wet fleece. But such way of breathing does not allows you to breathe in much air fast, so airflow have time to get warmed by your body enough before it gets to lungs.

Pros: such mask is quite warm and it protects your skin, Cons: it is harder to breathe when it gets wet, but fleece gets dry wery easily even in frost

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The system I use works pretty well for biking in the winter, though it does require you take things slower as your line of sight can be a bit limited.


First I put on a balaclava with a nose hole. There are all kinds you can get, some have more technology for ventilation than others. I find a simple one with a nose hole is sufficient after trial and error for how to wear the mask and other accessories carefully so that my goggles don't fog up.

Next is, as mentioned above, goggles. I wear snowboarding goggles which secure around my helmet. The goggles overlap the balaclava so there's no exposed skin on my head at this point, except vent holes in the balaclava. Like the balaclava, goggles range from basic to advanced in terms of ventilation and other qualities.

Then I put on a snowboarding helmet with built-in ear muffs. This kind of helmet is better insulated around the edges (especially ears, chin, and back of head) and is all around designed for wet winter use. The downside to this is limited hearing.

Lastly I put on a scarf to seal between my neck and my water resistant, wind-breaking, and insulating jacket layers. Scarfs warming my neck also help with my breathing as cold air gives me asthma-like symptoms but warming my neck mitigates that.

Another part of my outfit that helps with my head is layers on my hands. I wear thin gloves that I have dexterity in so I can adjust the gear on my head as needed, and then I cover those by wearing thick wind-breaking mittens while riding. The mittens are tethered to my wrists so while riding as needed I can remove the mittens, use my dextrous hand to adjust my outfit (moving head gear around, opening or closing layers of jackets), then put my mitten back on and be all set. Layers are key.


Those are the layers that help keep my head warm. Here's more details about them.

As noted each part can range in quality and cost. A good helmet is key - don't be cheap about that. I also think high quality goggles are valuable, in terms of ruggedness, ventilation, fit and comfort, and visibility. Your vision is important so you want to invest in protecting it. The balaclava I use is a cheap one, but it does have a nose hole so it isn't the cheapest. It took trial and error to avoid my goggles fogging but I find a nose hole balaclava fit properly and when I have correct posture does not fog my goggles. That fit and posture will probably be unique to you and your setup though.

As noted this setup reduces hearing and range of sight. You could probably mitigate that with mirrors but I just compensate with extremely defensive cycling, which is important in the winter anyway because of reduced traction and visibility for everyone.

  • Is your snowboarding helmet rated for road use? – Criggie Nov 8 '17 at 0:17
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    Great question @Criggie ... luckily I have not had to find out, no wintertime crashes yet. I will double check and get back to you. I wonder if such winter sport helmets are made for road use at all now that you mention it, or if they only exist for niche cases like bobsledding. – cr0 Nov 8 '17 at 16:57
  • (product recommendation) instead of a ski/snowboard helmet, there are also these "hot ears" to be put on a regular bike helmet dragonflybike.com/… – pseyfert Jul 30 '18 at 8:49
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Cycling specific balaclavas should be your choice since they provide better fit and breatheabilty whilst keeping the mouth and nose covered.

Some will have external loops to hold glasses in place.

You should look at the following: Assos s7 face mask, Castelli ws balaclava,Giordana knitted polypro balaclava,Gore bike wear universal balaclava As well as options from Perl Izumi and Craft.

The brand I prefer (Assos) is a bit expensive but has proven useful while racing in +20 degree F (-7 degrees C) weather.

  • What are the common features of those items that make them good? – Criggie Nov 7 '17 at 19:48
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    1) fit 2) fabric intended to wick 3) features (some have external loops to hold glasses in place on the outside of the balaclava to prevent wind from entering the dides) 4) dual layer fabrics in some cases. Look on the respective vendor websites. – Dwight J. Browne Nov 7 '17 at 20:54
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Here's what I do/did (where I live now, it rarely goes below -15 °C). All temperatures are of course very rough approximations, as humidity, wind speed etc. matter as well:

  • Temperatures around 0 °C, possibly with rain/sleet or wet snow.

    • acclimatization helps a whole lot: face including nose and ears (and hands) "learn" to turn on the builtin heater. This needs some time (few days to weeks) and happens only if the face is exposed to uncomfortable cold.
    • Particularly if it's wet (rain/sleet, fog at < 0°C) I put grease on exposed skin. There are lots of suitable products ranging from plain petroleum jelly/vaseline over milking grease/bag balm to products that include UV protection, ... The important thing is that the product should have low/no water.
      For extended stays, reapply when needed.
    • In freezing temperatures, the skin tends to dry out. Moisturizing lotions work well when applied when you stay in the warm. When such moist lotion is on the skin while out, it may crack even more (or freeze if it's really cold).

    • The ears either get vaseline, too or a head band (I've sufficient hair to have snow staying on top of it).

  • Temperatures below ≈ -15 °C (already acclimatized):

    • I wrap a scarf so that one narrowly folded (wound lengthwise) loop goes over the nose and cheeks to the neck. Nostrils and mouth stay free. Scarf covering the nostril/mouth area in my experience gets moist very fast, then depending on temperature freezes. This is plain ugly on the skin.
    • Transition head band -> wooly cap under the helmet.
  • At some point (maybe -20 °C) a 2nd loop (one of the neck loops) goes to cover the chin.

  • Somewhere around -28 °C I switched from scarf wrapping to balaclava (the style with 2 eye holes and 1 mouth hole)

  • below about -35 °C biking became unpractical. The freewheeling mechanism didn't catch any more after coasting (probably the grease in the rear axle got so stiff that it "glued" the catches to the freewhell position).

  • I don't use glasses (except sunglasses because of sun & snow).


Breathing technique: bronchi and lungs don't like cold dry air. Our inbuilt heating & moisturizing apparatus is the nose => breathe in through the nose (yes, that means: go slowly - I'm mostly using the bike as commuter/for everyday life, less as sport).
Breathing out through the mouth is longer possible, but at some point the warmth of the outgoing air becomes crucial for keeping the nose warm. At some point the hairs in the nose will freeze with every ingoing breath, which feels funny if you're not used to it.


What didn't work for me:

  • neoprene face masks did get moist/wet. This moisture stays on the inside. Taking off the face mask leaves wet skin exposed to the cold :-(, so the mask must bascially stay on once it is put on, no possibility to adjust for getting warm.

  • To some extent this also happened to the balaclava, but much less: the material was fleece + knitting, so breathable. Moisture could get through to the outside and whether it forms frost on the outside doesn't matter as long as the inside is reasonably dry.

=> The balaclava would have had its limits say in a storm (or on a snow mobile). That is where I'd put the use case for the neoprene mask.

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The neoprene mask I tried did not breathe very well. A knitted balaclava works well in my experience

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    This might be better as a comment on the answer that suggested neoprene mask, as opposed to an answer of its own. – Criggie Oct 31 '17 at 19:40

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