How to Recognize the Stages of Frostbite, and When to Get Help

When the temperatures are low and you’re outdoors, it doesn’t take long for your fingers to start feeling cold and stiff. Depending on the weather and how long they’re exposed, they may start to feel numb, or turn red. But is this a normal reaction to the cold, or the beginning of frostbite?

That’s a great question—and one that isn’t necessarily answered (at least very clearly) by many of the safety guidelines on frostbite. That’s because they often only mention skin color and appearance, like turning pale (yellow or white) and becoming waxy and shiny.

But what if your skin is always kind of pale and waxy-looking? Or you aren’t sure what counts as “pale” in relation to your usual skin color? That’s when you look for the other signs of frostbite, which are broken down by stages. Here’s what to know.

What is frostbite?
Frostbite is more than simply feeling cold: It’s an injury that could permanently damage body tissues—especially in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes.

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