A guide to in-flight skincare, from a pro

March 2, 2020

Not only am I afraid of flying, but without fail, I land with a swarm of pimples that weren’t there on take-off. Starting a holiday with a constellation of blemishes is never fun, so I chatted with dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, about how to avoid the inevitable (or not) mid-flight break out. He provided some easy, painless, ways to make it to the other side of the ocean with glowing skin:

First, it’s helpful to understand what causes the skin to protest while flying. “Dry, recirculated air can stress the outer skin layer, leading to microscopic cracks in the skin barrier with dryness and inflammation,” Dr. Zeichner explains over email. The solution to combatting the dry air travel begets is simple: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. “My best recommendation is to apply moisturizer before getting on the plane to act as a barrier to the environment.” Dr. Zeichner recommends Vaseline All Over Body Balm, which can be used to create a protective seal over the skin (including your face, body, hands, and cuticles). Plus, the stick format makes it super portable and meets the guidelines for carry-on luggage.

To further combat dehydration, before takeoff, make sure you drink water. You might want to consider skipping makeup while you fly, as to not clog your pores. Once onboard, give your seat area a wipe-down with a bleach wipes and apply hand sanitizer to avoid germ-to-skin contact. While in the air, skip alcohol and coffee service (sorry) in lieu of more water. Your skin will thank you post-flight.

Another possible reason for the uptick in breakouts while travelling is stress. Whether you’re running late, security clearances cause your anxiety to spike, or if, like me, you’re simply afraid of flying, travel can adversely affect your skin. “If you are acne-prone, airplane travel may lead to a breakout. Inflammation around the follicles can trap oil, causing pimples to form. In some cases, the stress associated with long lines and getting through TSA may be enough to rev up oil production, making matters worse,” says Dr. Zeichner. He recommends traveling with a salicylic acid spot treatment to address any breakouts. “When you get off the airplane, make sure to thoroughly wash your face to remove dirt, oil, and any makeup,” he adds.

A common misconception is that because you’re inside an aircraft you don’t have to worry about sun safety, but the opposite is true. “While you may not consider it, sitting next to the window on an airplane can increase your risk for sunburn and some damage,” says Dr. Zeichner. “UVA light penetrates right through window glass, plus on an airplane, you are at 10,000 feet above the ground and closer to the sun. Make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect your skin in flight."

Of course, don’t forget to apply a generous coating of lip balm to protect lips from chapping. And your travelling skincare regimen shouldn’t stop on landing. There’s been an influx of masks that specifically target jet-lagged skin (such as Sunday Friday and Lano, which I tried on recent travels to great success) which contain ingredients that hydrate, reduce inflammation, and provide antioxidant benefits. Jet lag contributes to a look of fatigue on landing, so try to acclimatize to the time change as quickly as possible and get a good night’s sleep.

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