As travelers, we often think about what to do if we fall ill abroad. We buy travelers insurance, get vaccinations, and bring along appropriate bug sprays. But if we’re en route to our next adventure, we tend to worry a lot less about caring for the biggest organ we have: our skin. Flying, in particular, can take a toll on our dermis, so we chatted with six experts to find out what we can do to keep our whole body healthy on the outside while in transit.
Probably the biggest factor that aggravates our skin on an airplane is the dryness. “Flying is extremely dehydrating,” says licensed esthetician Lora Condon, who has her own line of natural skin care products. “There’s only about 20 percent relative humidity on a plane, whereas the optimal level is between 40-70 percent,” she says. Studies have shown cabin humidity to be as low as 2 percent. For flyers, that might translate to itchy, tight skin; for those with conditions like rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, even a short flight could lead to a flare-up. To accommodate for the atmosphere, our exports recommended layering—and no, we’re not talking about a sweater combo.
Before heading to the airport, apply a hydrating serum on your skin, followed by a moisturizing cream, suggests Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a Beverly Hills dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. Then, re-apply your moisturizer during the flight. “When possible, make sure you’re putting on the same type of anti-aging products you use at home,” suggests Dr. Jeanine Downie of Image Dermatology. “Travel throws your body off-kilter, so it helps to stick to your good skin care regimen.” If you don’t have one yet, Dr. Downie suggests affordable moisturizers like Neutrogena and Aveeno; for the higher end, she prefers SkinMedica’s Ha5 and Dermal Repair Cream.
Don’t bother with mists and sprays, though, she says. Condon agrees. “The air will suck the moisture right back out of you,” Condon says. “If you’re dry, oils tend to be better, but if you already get oily, tea tree oil is a good ingredient to look for.”
And remember to show some love to your lips, which can become cracked from the dryness. “Apply a hydrating, greasy lip balm like Aquaphor Lip Repair before you board and multiple times during the flight,” Dr. Shainhouse suggests.
Another sensitive spot passengers might not expect—especially folks over age 50—are the knees and ankles, reports Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky. Nivea and Eucerin are solid choices to use for moisturizing those areas before flying.
Low humidity isn’t the only menace to hydration, however. Air pressure plays a role, too, says Dr. Harold Lancer, who has treated such Hollywood A-listers as Ellen DeGeneres and Kim Kardashian. “That is why you should avoid alcohol, salty foods, and carbs on the plane,” he says. “If not, you have to triple your water intake to compensate.”
Protect from germs
“Bacteria can proliferate in many different areas of the plane you come in contact with, from the seat belts to the tray tables to the lavatory,” says Dr. David Lortscher, founder of Curology. “Touching your face while on the plane may transfer bacteria and make acne worse. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water, or carry hand sanitizer with you.”
Drinking water and stocking up on vitamin C will help, too.
Protect from the sun
Although an airplane’s wings aren’t made of wax, you still have something in common with Icarus when you’re on that Boeing: You’re closer to the sun than normal. “You may experience greater UV exposure than you would if you were reading a book by a sunny bay window at home or even running errands outside on a fall day,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “A study showed that UV exposure on airplane pilots over a one-hour flight was equivalent to lying in a tanning bed for 20 minutes! So, if you are lucky enough to get a window seat, remember to wear sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF like Neutrogena Health Defense Sensitive Skin Moisturizer SPF 50 with PureScreen."
They don’t call it “beauty sleep” for nothing. Although maintaining your rest schedule can often be near-impossible on flights, it’s worth a shot. “Lack of sleep can lead to blood vessel dilation,” says Dr. Lortscher, “which may make dark circles and under-eye bags worse.” If you’re on a long-haul, try a sleep mask like The Body Shop’s Drops of Youth Bouncy Sleeping Mask for when those cabin lights dim.
Help your skin bounce back once you’re off the plane, too, with a sheet mask or a round of exfoliation followed by moisturizer. Or, for the ultimate post-flight treat, book a facial and body wrap at your hotel.
While these tips are helpful guidelines, everyone’s skin is different. No single routine will work for all skin types, so it’s important to develop a healthy regimen in your day-to-day life before you even step on a plane. Your future self will thank you.