Why Are Olympic Skiers Wearing KT Tape On Their Faces?
When it comes to staying warm in brutal weather conditions, Olympic skiers have no doubt picked up all the tricks of the trade. If you've been watching the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, you may have spotted one such strategy. Amid an extreme winter chill some of the athletes have been sporting a curious accessory on their faces in an effort to protect against high winds and harsh temps. They've been using kinesiology tape — often referred to by a popular brand name, KT Tape — an elastic sports tape traditionally used to help support muscles and joints.
Given the extremely cold temperatures — paired with wind gusts at times that hit 40 mph, postponing Alpine events — it's understandable that they'd try anything to prevent frostbite and/or windburn. But KT Tape wasn't designed to be used on delicate facial skin, so you may be wondering whether taping up your face could come with unpleasant consequences. Keep reading for the low-down on this Olympic trend, and whether or not you should try it yourself as you hit the slopes this winter. (Related: Climate Change Could Limit the Winter Olympics In the Future)
How does KT Tape work?
First things first: a brief explainer on what KT Tape is. This new and improved version of classic white athletic tape "aids in active recovery for injuries and common aches by reducing the perception of pain and improving the balance of tissue tension across muscles and joints," biomechanics expert Ted Forcum, D.C., DACBSP, F.I.C.C., C.S.C.S., previously told Shape. (Related: What's That Weird Athletic Tape Olympians Have All Over Their Bodies?)
Kinesiology tape offers support without limiting your range of motion the way that stiffer, traditional athletic tape does. This is key, since limiting your range of motion can lead to muscle imbalances and decreased blood flow. KT Tape also gives skin a slight lift, taking pressure off swelling or injured muscles and allowing fluid to move more freely beneath the skin and reach the lymph nodes, as Ralph Reiff, head of the Athlete Recovery Center for Team USA during the 2016 Rio Olympics previously told Shape. It's also an easy-to-use, budget-friendly solution (at around $11 for 20 strips) that's both water- and sweat-proof.
As for whether or not kinesiology tape actually works, a 2010 review published in the New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy concluded that research has yet to provide substantial evidence to support the use of kinesiology tape for the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Still, it's been a buzzy addition to the field of physical therapy with anecdotal support backing up its benefits. (Related: The Workout Recovery Plan Olympic Athletes Follow)
Is it safe and effective to use KT Tape on the face?
When Olympic skiers started showing off their unique technique to ward off winter weather conditions, Greg Venner, CEO and president of KT Tape, told TODAY that he's seen it used "as protection against the wind in winter sports over the years, so although it isn't a clinically approved usage, we appreciate the ingenuity." Elaborating a bit further, he added, "KT Tape doesn't endorse the use of kinesiology tape on the face as it isn't clinically tested, and the adhesive that works so well to keep tape in place to provide long-lasting muscle and joint support can be a bit more difficult to remove from the delicate skin on the face."
While application on your face is an "off-label use" of the product, "it's safe from a medical perspective," says New York-based sports medicine physician and orthopedic surgeon Joshua Dines, M.D.. That said, "It's impressively sticky, so it may irritate the skin on the face, which is much more sensitive than other parts of the body," he notes.
"Using the tape may give a physical barrier to the skin, protecting against the chill and wind burn," adds Purvisha Patel, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. "The downside is the adhesive or latex on the tape, which could trigger allergic reactions in some people." (Related: Secrets for Staying Toasty Warm During Your Winter Workouts)
Both docs agree that it's all good if professional skiers find it helpful and don't experience skin irritation, but for recreational skiers who aren't racing downhill at high speeds, there are gentler solutions. "If I have to put KT Tape on my face, it's probably too cold for me to be skiing," says Dr. Dines, noting that neck gaiters provide a more comfortable barrier between your skin and extreme weather conditions. Dr. Patel agrees, recommending a good old ski mask to avoid irritation. Still, if you're set on applying KT Tape on your face, you should make sure to apply it on a small area of skin to see how removal feels before placing it in large areas, says Dr. Dines.
As for using KT Tape for its intended purpose, when it's applied correctly, it can be "very helpful to stabilize muscles and joints," says Dr. Dines, noting that he's seen patients have success with it post-injury. On that note, here's how to apply KT Tape like a pro so you can get max benefits out of the tool.