Having an annoying skin tag on my back which I could not treat myself without impossible contortion, my G.P. gallantly offered to assist with his famed 'Cryogenic Clinic' available on Saturday mornings.

Halfway through the treatment he stepped back and asked (with some degree of irritation) 'Well, do you want this done or not ?'

Having liquid nitrogen applied to my skin at close to absolute zero (zero Kelvin for afficionadoes of the art) had caused me to move a few millimetres and Dr X is used to absolute compliance on his Saturday morning tort... I mean treatment ... sessions.

The problem is it 'burnt'.

Please note, it did not 'freeze'. My skin did not become a solid. Had it done so, my nerves would have transmitted no electrical signals to my brain and I would have felt nothing.

I have thought long and hard about this from a physics aspect and Googling has done nothing for me at all.

It is a 'burning sensation' but it is not a burn.

I winced with pain when the liquid caused a _______ sensation.

  • 3
    Perhaps you should change the sample sentence. In the sample you could definitely use 'burning' since even if you think it didn't actually burn you, the sensation is certainly one of being burnt. – S Conroy Oct 3 '18 at 13:40
  • 2
    it destroys cells as a burn – lbf Oct 3 '18 at 13:40
  • For "afficionadoes of the art," Kelvin is used as a unit, and "degrees Kelvin" is as incorrect as "degrees kilograms." sciencenotes.org/why-there-is-no-degree-in-kelvin-temperature – jejorda2 Oct 3 '18 at 14:09
  • @jejorda2 You are absolutely right. The 'kelvin' itself is the unit. Duly edited. – Nigel J Oct 3 '18 at 14:23
  • @jejorda2 Don't people say 'degrees Fahrenheit' or 'degrees Celsius'? – Mitch Oct 3 '18 at 15:30

The Oxford English Dictionary (subscription site) includes

burn v,1
14 d
Said of a caustic, acrid, or irritating substance (as vitriol, a blister, etc.); sometimes of intense cold, the effect produced by which resembles that caused by burning: To wound or cause local pain to, in a manner resembling the effect of contact with fire.


Yep, it burnt you. At least colluqiually. Technically it probably froze individual cells, even though it didn't freeze your whole body.

A google search for "ice burn" returned "about 168 million hits", among them:


An ice burn is an injury that can happen when ice or other cold things contact and damage your skin. Ice burns usually occur after prolonged exposure to freezing or below-freezing temperatures. For example, if you apply a cold pack directly to your skin, you might get an ice burn.

and https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=687

If you hold a piece of dry ice too long, it feels like it is burning your skin. Your skin isn't actually burning, though. What is actually happening is that the dry ice is freezing your skin. The dry ice is carbon dioxide that has been frozen at -110 °F (-79 °C). That's why it hurts when you hold it too long, because your skin is starting to freeze from its cold. Freezing skin is a bad thing, so I recommend not letting dry ice ’burn’ you.

The reason that freezing and burning can feel the same is because touching things that are very cold can do the same thing to your cells as touching things that are very hot.


Burn/Burning is correct.

I winced with pain when the liquid caused a burning sensation.

I winced with pain. It burned!

… My skin was burning! … It felt like my skin was burning! … It felt like a burn!

The fancy name is cryogenic burn, but this would never be said by a layman. He would not know the word "cryogenic".

There is also an idiom "freezer burn" which you should not use. It is a specific condition of frozen food that was not wrapped properly (exposed to air).

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