Use These Pictures to Identify Frostbite

A Gallery of Frostbite Pictures from Minor to Severe

Frostbite can happen when the skin is exposed to temperatures below 23 degrees Fahrenheit for a sustained amount of time. Frostbite can look similar to a thermal burn. Both damage body tissues in the same way. The marks they leave can be permanent.

This article discusses the symptoms of frostbite. It also provides photographs to help you spot frostbite when it occurs.

White Frostbite on Fingertips

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Frostbitten Fingers

Dan Darley

If you have frostbite, your skin may look white or grayish, as in the above photo. The skin may also have a waxy feel.

Don't try to warm a frostbite injury until you are in a warm area. If a frostbite injury is warmed and then re-exposed to cold, it can make the damage much worse.

In the worst cases, frostbite can happen in just a few minutes.

Frostbitten Face

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Frostbite on cheeks
Japeofapes

This photo shows a frostbite injury that was treated with snow. Rubbing frostbite with snow was once a common way to treat this injury. Today, healthcare providers know that this can make the injury worse.

Never rub or massage frostbitten tissue. Frostbite is best treated with warm (not hot) water or body heat.

Frostbitten Feet

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Frostbitten toes

China Photos / Getty Images

The further your blood gets from your heart, the cooler it gets. This is why your hands, toes, and nose seem to get cold first.

Toes are extremely vulnerable to frostbite. If you suspect frostbite on your toes or feet, avoid walking on them. Walking on frostbitten toes and feet can make the damage worse.

Blister on Frostbitten Toe

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Frostbitten toe
Timothy J. Kosier

This injury occurred because the person was wearing inadequate footwear in freezing temperatures. If you're going to be outdoors for a while, make sure to wear warm, dry clothing. Cover the body parts most vulnerable to frostbite, including the feet, hands, ears, lips, and nose.

Severely Frostbitten Hands and Fingers

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Severe frostbite

Winky / flickr

Early frostbite can look like a burn. At first, the damage to the skin causes almost identical swelling and blisters. As it heals, frostbite can cause the skin to crack and peel like a burn.

In this photo, the most damage is on the knuckles. This is because blood flowing through muscle helps it stay warm. Joints have less muscle and more bone.

Doctors sometimes prescribe Ventavis (iloprost) for severe frostbite. This medication improves blood flow and is best taken within 24 hours of exposure.

Frostbite After Two Weeks

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Frostbitten fingers after two weeks

Dan Darley

After rewarming, frostbite may look worse. Minor injuries may blister and scab over and become discolored as they heal.

Depending on the severity, frostbite can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to completely heal. Even after healing, the frostbitten area can remain extremely sensitive to cold temperatures.

Black Frostbite on Fingertips

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Frostbitten fingertips

Sandra Mu / Getty Images

In severe cases of frostbite, the skin and deeper tissues may become gangrenous. They may turn dark green or black as they die. In these cases, feeling, movement, and blood flow are lost.

If the tissue isn't surgically removed, gangrene can spread and develop into a serious infection.

Frostbite from an Ice Pack

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Frostbite on ankle

Melanie Martinez

Applying ice to a sprain or inflamed skin makes sense. Applying it incorrectly, though, can lead to frostbite.

It's important not to put ice directly on the skin or leave it there for too long. Instead, put a lightweight towel on your skin and put the ice over the towel. Use ice for no more than 10 to 20 minutes. Remove the ice pack as soon as the injury starts to feel numb.

Be Prepared To Treat Frostbite

Frostbite needs immediate treatment. If you suspect that you or someone you're with has frostbite, follow these guidelines.

  • Seek medical attention as soon as you can.
  • Find a warm place where there is no chance of refreezing.
  • Remove damp or wet clothing.
  • Warm-up under layers of dry clothing and blankets.
  • Place the frostbitten area in warm water.

Take care not to "shock" the skin with too much warmth. It may be numb, so do not:

  • Warm-up in front of a fireplace, space heater, or heat lamp
  • Use a heating pad or electric blanket
  • Rub or massage the frostbitten region

After the skin has warmed, wrap the frostbitten area in clean bandages. Make sure to keep fingers and toes separated. Keep the skin clean so you don't develop an infection.

Severe frostbite requires medical attention.

Summary

Frostbite can happen quickly in very cold temperatures. You can prevent frostbite by wearing warm clothing and covering vulnerable body parts, like your fingers and nose.

If you think you may have frostbite, get to a warm place as soon as you can and seek medical care. Don't try to warm the area while you are still in a cold place. Frostbite can be treated with warm water, but never hot water or heating pads. Do not rub or massage frostbite or rub snow into it.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Handford C, Thomas O, Imray CHE. Frostbite. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2017;35(2):281-299. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2016.12.006

  • Lorentzen AK, Davis C, Penninga L. Interventions for frostbite injuriesCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;2018(3):CD012980. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012980