How To Prevent Dry Skin and Acne When You Fly

Airplane air always sucks the life out of my skin—but I FINALLY figured out how to beat breakouts and dehydration.
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Michelle Villett
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Airplane air always sucks the life out of my skin—but I FINALLY figured out how to beat breakouts and dehydration.
Chrissy Teigen in-flight sheet mask

Chrissy Teigen goes for a mid-flight sheet mask. (Source: @chrissyteigen)

Travelling is great... except for the travel part. 

If only we could skip the whole airplane thing—line-ups, security checks, irritating seat-mates, etc.—and just arrive at our destinations well-rested and fresh-faced. 

Well, maybe I can help you with that last part. 

Two weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles for a quick press trip with Pantene (you might've seen this on Snapchat!), and happily, my skin did NOT freak out. 

That's despite getting only three hours of sleep the night before I left, and spending five hours each way in the lovely recycled airplane air. In the past, that would've broken me out for sure, plus given me a complexion so severely dehydrated that I'd land at my destination feeling 100 years old (and probably looking it, too). 

Didn't happen this time—I present you the Snapchat evidence: 

Pantene blowout Los Angeles

Surprisingly well-behaved skin during my recent trip to Los Angeles with Pantene.

Granted, I was in a good part of my cycle. But I think it was also because I fine-tuned my routine, did a little pre-planning, and brought the right products.

Want to know my travel skincare strategies? Read on...

How Airplanes Mess With Your Skin

First, a quick word on in-flight air quality. As you know, it's dry as hell up there. In low humidity, moisture is pulled from the deeper layers of your skin, which makes a complexion prone to dryness look and feel even drier. 

On the flip side, people with normal to oily and combination skin can actually experience more oiliness in dry environments such as airplanes. This is because the skin is trying to compensate for moisture loss by ramping up its oil production. I can tell you, it's no fun when you're simultaneously dehydrated and shiny.

The worst part is that this combination of dryness and oiliness can also lead to pimples. Think about it: you've got more sebum than usual (which can host acne-causing bacteria), but it's getting trapped under a build-up of dead skin cells. Add the stress of travelling, hopping time zones and losing sleep, and it's no wonder so many of us break out upon arrival. 

While travel is always going to be stressful on some level, I still think there's a lot you can do to negate its impact on your skin. Here's what works for me:

Before You Fly

PMD Personal Microderm

PMD Personal Microderm System.

  • Load up on moisture. I'm a huge believer in serums, and a good hydrating one will help banish dryness before you board. I know I talk about it all the time, but Consonant HydrExtreme really is the best. That's because it contains a polysaccharide, cassia angustifolia seed, that locks in the humectant, glycerin—so effectively that my skin doesn't need any other moisturizer in warm weather. However, by all means, top up with a cream or lotion if your skin requires it. Decent moisturizers are few and far between (I think it's best to avoid silicones and crappy oils), but a couple I like are Acnessential Niacinamide Cream and Cyberderm H2O Hydration. If you prefer the feel of an oil, my top pick is Lilly & Lola Renew Your Face With Coconut Oil Overnight Oil Treatment.
Consonant HydrExtreme

Consonant HydrExtreme.

Ingredients: Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide, Vegetable Glycerin.

  • Consider intensive masking. I did a couple face-masking sessions in the days preceding my flight, and I think it really makes a difference. If you have the time and inclination, I'm sure a week of nightly masking would be as good as a getting a professional facial! Éminence is basically my go-to for natural, non-sheet masks, especially the Stone Crop Masque—it has a jammy texture, and is so hydrating. 
Eminence Stone Crop Masque

Éminence Stone Crop Masque.

Ingredients: Stone Crop, Stone Crop Juice, Aloe, Honey, Bioflavonoids, Natural Moisturizing Factor, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Biocomplex (Vitamin A, Vitamin C Ester, Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, Alpha Lipoic Acid), Xanthan Gum, Vitamin B5 From Soy, Lavender Oil, Lemon Oil, Chlorophyl, Glycerin, Glycine Derivative.

  • Get in your vitamin A. Since I'm prone to breakouts when I travel, I make sure that I'm getting enough vitamin A before and during my trip as extra "insurance." I think it's the single most important nutrient for skin health, and it really works to my keep skin clear. If you want to get it from food, beef liver is the best source. But I suspect some people (including me) have particularly high vitamin A requirements, so I also use a supplement. Currently, I'm taking Genestra A-Mulsion with fantastic results. More on vitamin A benefits over here
Genestra A-Mulsion

Genestra A-Mulsion.

Ingredients: Each Drop (0.027 ml) contains 3,0000 mcg or 10,000 IU Vitamin A (Palmitate). Non-medicinal ingredients: Purified water, xylitol, modified tapioca starch, lemon oil, xanthan gum, natural mixed tocopherols, citric acid, potassium sorbate, stevia leaf extract (glucosylsteviosides).

  • Skip makeup (if possible!) the day of the flight. If you can get away with a bare face, your necessary in-flight moisturization tactics will be easier to execute. This is where I'll make the case for flying at the crack of dawn—nobody expects to see a flawless face at that hour! If you do feel you need a little coverage, RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up with a light dusting of "Un" Powder (pure silica powder) would be perfect. I actually consider this stuff to be skincare. Unlike most foundations and concealers, they contain all-natural ingredients, and no pore-clogging silicones. Plus, the oils will keep your skin hydrated AND act as a barrier against moisture loss. For application tips, see here and here.
RMS Beauty Un Cover-Up

RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up.

Ingredients: *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, *Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, *Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Tocopherol(non-GMO), *Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, and may contain: [+/- Titanium Dioxide CI 77891, Iron Oxides CI 77492, CI 77491, CI 77499] *Certified Organic

During Your Flight

  • Remove your makeup (if it's a longer flight). If you're going to be on that plane for a while, face wipes are your friend. I bring 'em no matter how short or long the trip; even if I don't need to take off makeup, they're great for refreshing your face (and/or body!). I'm a fan of the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Make-Up Removing Wipes—they're the cleansing cloth version of the cult favourite micellar water (which I use daily, when at home).
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution Make-Up Removing Wipes

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution Make-Up Removing Wipes.

Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Polysorbate 20, Pentylene Glycol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Rhamnose, Fructooligosaccharides, Allantoin, Cetrimonium Bromide, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance (Parfum).

  • Apply a nourishing moisturizer or sleeping mask. I mean, sure, you can pull a Chrissy Teigen and throw on a sheet mask. But that might a) frighten the other passengers, and b) leave your skin drier, since most are soaked in humectant ingredients. If you do go the fabric route, make sure to follow with a dab of oil, such as MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba or Skinny & Co. Skinny Coconut Oil, to seal the moisture in. Otherwise, Cyberderm H2O Hydration, applied generously, would be an awesome one-step in-flight treatment. Not only is the ingredients list stellar, but its pump format is more convenient/hygienic for travel than dipping your fingers into a jar. If your skin gets very dry, my pick would be REN Vita Mineral Emollient Rescue Cream. Sleeping masks are another option, although be aware that most are super-siliconey. Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask is a rare exception (and it, too, has a pump). PS: Don't forget sunscreen, if you're on a daytime flight and by a window! See my SPF picks here.
Cyberderm H2O Hydration

Cyberderm H2O Hydration.

Ingredients: Aqua, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Cetyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Palmitate, Propanediol, Ectoin, Tetrapeptide-21, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Allantoin, Resveratrol, Gluconic Acid, Sclerotium Gum, Xanthan Gum, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol

Dr. Jart Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask

Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask.

Ingredients: Fructan, Baobab Seed Extract, Sophora Japonica Flower, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Equisetum Arvense Extract, 9 Essential Oils Blend of Lavender, Myrrh, Orange, Rose, Lemon, Lime, Sandalwood, Chamomile, Geranium.

  • Disinfect your hands. Hold up! Before you start slathering on your creams and masks, make sure you're not transferring icky airplane germs to your face (which could lead to breakouts). I like CleanWell Natural Hand Sanitizer Spray.
Clean Well Natural Hand Sanitizer Spray

CleanWell Natural Hand Sanitizer Spray.

Ingredients: Thymus Vulgaris Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Citric Acid, Copper PCA, Sodium Decylglucosides Hydroxypropyl Sulfonate, Sodium Coco-Sulfate.

  • Spritz with a moisturizing mist. Key word: moisturizing. Everyone loves to mist, but if you're just spraying your face with water, you're doing your skin no favours. In the plane's low-humidity environment, it will only dry you out even more. Instead, look for a product with extra hydrating ingredients that will keep the moisture in your skin. Dermalogica Age Smart Antioxidant HydraMist is probably the richest mist I've found. 
Dermalogica Age Smart Antioxidant HydraMist

Dermalogica Age Smart Antioxidant HydraMist.

Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Butylene Glycol, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Arginine/Lysine Polypeptide, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Sorbitol, Proline, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Methyl Gluceth-20, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Sodium Carboxymethyl Beta-Glucan, Lecithin, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Tocopherol, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5, Bambusa Vulgaris Leaf/Stem Extract, Pisum Sativum (Pea) Extract, Glucosamine HCl, Glycerin, Disodium EDTA, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Citronellol, Eugenol, Geraniol, Limonene, Linalool, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Rose Damascena Flower Oil, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Flower Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Oil.

L'Occitane 100 Percent Pure Shea Butter

L'Occitane 100 Percent Pure Shea Butter.

Ingredients: Organic Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) Fruit.

  • Wear an eye mask. True, sleeping on a plane isn't exactly comfortable. But if you can get some shut-eye, you're sure to arrive looking (and feeling) more rested. The ne plus ultra of eye masks is the Iluminage Skin Rejuvenating Eye Mask, which is embedded with copper oxide fibers. Just like the pillowcase, there's legit evidence that they reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Iluminage Skin Rejuvenating Eye Mask

Iluminage Skin Rejuvenating Eye Mask.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Dehydrating drinks mean dehydrated skin. While water alone won't moisturize your skin, it's a better choice than booze, coffee or soda pop.

When You Arrive

  • Cleanse and exfoliate. Well, duh. We all want to rid our faces of airplane grime as soon as possible upon landing. It'll take off any dead skin accumulated from flying and prep your skin for the all-important next step (hint: it involves masking). Pack a non-drying sulfate-free cleanser—I adore Derma E Purifying Gel Cleanser—and your exfoliation method of choice. Preferably something acid, for maximum efficacy and convenience. The Bliss That's Incredi-Peel! glycolic pads come in individually-wrapped packets that are probably not great for the environment, but are extremely handy for travel. On my trip, I used 'em morning and night.
Bliss That's Incredi-Peel Spa-Strength Glycolic Resurfacing Pads

Bliss That's Incredi-Peel! Spa-Strength Glycolic Resurfacing Pads.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Glycerin, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange) Flower Water, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Xanthan Gum, Butylene Glycol, Lauryl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Benzoic Acid.

  • Apply a sheet mask. If you do nothing else, do this! Get that sheet mask on your face as soon as you can—and repeat as needed. I always try to do a quick sheet mask upon arrival, and then another one before bedtime on the first day. (If the mask is a particularly juicy one, sometimes I can get two applications out of it.) Depending on my skin and my schedule, I'll try to squeeze in another one the following day, and by then, my complexion is usually back to normal. There are so many masks I love, but Patchology Exfoliate FlashMasque Facial Sheets are my current favourite. The Masque Bar by Look Beauty Aloe Vera Sheet Mask is decent for a cheapie, and for very important masking situations, I always go back to the classic SK-II Facial Treatment Mask.
Patchology FlashMasque Exfoliate Facial Sheets

Patchology Exfoliate FlashMasque Facial Sheets.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Urea and Yeast Amino Acids and Trehalose and Inositol and Taurine, Betaine, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Seed Extract, Disodium EDTA, Lactic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Arginine, Algae Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin and Glyceryl Caprylate and Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, Panthenol, Saccharomyces Polypeptides, Sodium Hyaluronate, Fragrance, Mannitol and Papain and Bromelain.

  • Apply serum, moisturizer and sunscreen as usual. I used to try and get by with random tiny skincare samples when I travelled, to avoid lugging around full-sized products and having to check my luggage. But I've since realized I NEED to have my favourite products with me, so I can stick to my routine. It's definitely worth it to either invest in travel sizes or decant your products into smaller bottles, such as the Sephora Collection Take Me Away Travel Jar Set. That way, you won't be stuck without your must-have creams, serums, etc. 
Sephora Collection Take Me Away Travel Jar Set

Sephora Collection Take Me Away Travel Jar Set.

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay.

Ingredients: 100% Natural Calcium Bentonite Clay

Conclusion

Hopefully, these tips will help your complexion as much as they helped mine! 

Post-flight bad skin has put a damper on so many trips for me over the years. I think my face would be so confused by the time I arrived that I had every skin condition happening all at once (dry! oily! acneic! etc.). Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have things more under control now. 

The most critical things for me are bringing along at least a couple of sheet masks, an acid exfoliant and my trusty RMS "Un" Cover-Up (which does double-duty as both makeup and moisturizing barrier to protect against water loss). I'd love to hear what works well for you...

How do YOU save your skin when flying? Which products do you swear by?