Dry Ice Burn: What Happens When You Touch Dry Ice?

By: Marshall Brain & Austin Henderson  | 
Pellets of dry ice used by wine growers for maceration and conservation.
While dry ice looks cold, it's extremely dangerous to the touch and can cause severe burns. Instants / Getty Images

The winter season has its own share of snowball fights and icy sidewalks, but there's a different kind of cold that has intrigued science nerds and Halloween enthusiasts alike: dry ice. Have you ever wondered about the chilling aftermath of touching this nippy solid? Here are the frosty facts behind the dry ice burn and what it means for your skin.


What Is Dry Ice?

Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. Unlike the regular ice cubes chilling your lemonade, this ice has a party trick up its sleeve: sublimation. This means it doesn't melt into a puddle; instead, it transforms directly into carbon dioxide gas.

Dry Ice Temperature

Now, as much as we love its magical features, a block of dry ice boasts an extremely cold surface temperature of minus 109.3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 78.5 degrees Celsius). That's a lot colder than your freezer's ice cream stash.


What Happens During Direct Contact?

The sensation of touching dry ice is similar to grabbing a hot pot's handle without an oven mitt. A brief touch might just leave you with some red skin, but prolonged contact? That's where the ice burn occurs.

These aren't your typical burns from heat but rather from extreme cold. The dry ice freezes your skin cells, causing an injury similar to a heat burn.


The Science Behind Ice Burns

When you touch dry ice, the freezing temperatures constrict your blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the affected area. This lack of blood can cause severe tissue damage, leading to a condition we commonly refer to as frostbite.

Symptoms of an ice burn include waxy skin, discomfort and a change in skin color.


Safety First: Handling Dry Ice

When dealing with this frosty substance, always handle dry ice with care to prevent ice burns. Wear heavy gloves and avoid direct contact with bare skin.

Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry when dancing with this chilly partner!


First Aid for Ice Burns

It's crucial to treat the burned area promptly.

Start by soaking the afflicted area in warm water for about 10 minutes. Avoid hot water, as this can cause further damage to already damaged tissues.


Apply aloe vera for some cooling relief and keep the area clean to prevent infection. If you see blisters or experience severe pain, it's time to seek medical attention.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Dry Ice FAQ

Is dry ice dangerous?
When carbon dioxide takes on a solid form, it becomes dry ice. Though dry ice has a temperature of minus 109 F, it's not inherently dangerous when stored and handled correctly.
Can dry ice catch fire?
Dry ice is not flammable and won't ignite your Halloween cauldron. However, because it turns into carbon dioxide gas, sealed containers can rupture from the pressure. So, no tight-lidded potions with this ingredient!
What happens if you touch dry ice with your bare hands?
Poking dry ice with your finger will feel extremely cold. Holding dry ice in your bare hands is not recommended and will likely result in severe frostbite.
What should you do if you burn yourself with dry ice?
You will need to treat dry ice burns like a regular burn. You should see a doctor immediately if blisters form on the skin. The burned area will need to be kept clean until it fully heals to prevent infection.
What's the risk of dry ice with younger children?
Ensure that younger children understand the risks and keep dry ice out of their playful reach. After all, no one wants an unexpected frosty surprise.