Chilblains result from a poor circulation of blood to the extremities, most often the fingers and toes, but sometimes the ears as well. When the skin is cold, the surface bloodvessels contract, so reducing the supply of blood near the surface, and in people who have a poor circulation, this can reduce the supply of oxygen to the skin to a level where it reacts by swelling, itching and redness.
In chilblains, freezing causes the terminal blood vessels to shut down. This is called vasoconstriction. The local tissue metabolism being at an extremely low ebb, the requirement for oxygen is much more, due to the extreme cold. Vasoconstriction decreases blood supply, which leads to tissue damage. Chilblains are itchy, red skin lesions, with or without a slight swelling, or even blistering, at the site. The swelling increases when heat is applied to give warmth. Untreated, or unheeded, these become haemorrhagic and even infected. Prevention, in this, as in most cases, is better than cure. Keep warm, be adequately clothed, keep dry and keep moving.
If the chilblains are unbroken, essential oils classed as rubefacients will help to increase the local circulation temporarily, two of the most effective being Marjoram and Black Pepper. Brisk friction of the painful area with a massage oil containing 3% of either of these, or 1% Black Pepper with 2% Marjoram, will reduce pain and itching and help to disperse the chilblains.
In the long term, the circulation needs to be improved. Garlic capsules and food containing good levels of Vitamin C and Vitamin E will help, and so will massage and baths with oils of Cypress, Juniper and Rosemary.
Keeping the extremities warm is the most obvious step to take, since prevention of chilblains is much easier than cure.
See also Chilblain Herbal Remedy and Chilblain Ointment