I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to many wonderful cities and countries in my life thus far. Even now, i sit in my apartment in Japan on my year-long work contract. Who knows where I’ll be a year from now? I intend to travel as often as I can for as long as I can.
But, being from Australia, every overseas flight is a long-haul one for me. I’m talking 10+ hours (and often more than 15 hours) to get to anywhere. And one thing I cannot stand is the dry, recycled plane air that wreaks havoc on my skin.
Why are planes so bad for your skin?
If you’ve ever been in a plane before, you’ll know how horrible the air is. That’s because it’s brought in from outside the plane and at such altitudes (sometimes 30,000 feet) the air is freezing cold and unable to hold any moisture. The typical humidity inside an aircraft is 12 to 15% – or as low as 2% if you’re alone in business class, as a lot of moisture comes from other passengers’ recycled breaths (ew).
This low humidity does have the benefit of minimising the spread of bacteria and mould and keeping the electronics and structures of the airplane functioning happily. Unfortunately, our bodies work best at a humidity of 45-55%, making the cabin of a plane way too dry for comfort.
What happens to your skin on long-haul flights?
The air just wants to find balance. So just like if you put a bowl of water out for a few days and it dries up, when you fill an uber dry cabin full of moist, living, breathing people, the air sucks up the moisture from wherever it can until everything is all equalled out. So if the air is really dry, there’s a lot of difference to be made up, and it comes straight from our hair, eyes, noses, mouths and, of course, our skin.
Over the course of a long-haul flight (generally 7+ hours) there’s plenty of time for that constantly recycled, dry air to wipe out any moisture in the upper layers of your skin. After that, you are more susceptible to sensitivity and irritation (read: redness), your skin starts to look lacklustre, and elasticity is reduced meaning more creases and lines. Basically, you’re being slowly turned into a piece of human jerky.
Though the effects are generally temporary and you’ll eventually go back to normal once you’re back on solid ground, to land feeling and looking as good as you can, being dehydrated in this way is something you want to prevent and treat ASAP.
What can you do to counteract the effects of flying on your skin?
Over time I’ve developed some tips and tricks for keeping my skin as hydrated and happy as possible during my many long haul flights. The strategy comes down to this:
Hydrate and occlude
That’s a fancy way of saying you need to use products that put water INTO your skin and KEEP it there. If you start off your flight hydrated, you’ll be able to lose some without any issue. And if you protect your skin with a waterproof barrier well enough, you’ll fend off the dry air and stay hydrated for longer.
I prepare carefully and follow certain steps while on board to make sure I’m giving myself the best chance to land as close to normal as possible. It’s surprisingly a lot more to do with preparation and very little on the flight itself. Let’s go!
My tried-and-tested, long-haul dehydration-fighting skin care routine
Before the flight:
1. Fly makeup free
You’re going to be doing a routine or two in the span of the plane flight, so makeup will just be a pain to remove. And who wants all that on their face while they’re trying to be comfortable and binge watch movies?
Wear big sunglasses if you’re self conscious, but nobody really cares what you look like in an airport or on a plane.
2. Do a sheet mask session
Get those moisture level sky-high in preparation for the journey. The more hydrated you are on boarding, the longer you’ll last. And sheet masks are the perfect way to prepare. These amazing inventions are pieces of thin cotton soaked into tons of skin care goodies, and usually ones that are full of humectants that will draw water from the deeper layers of your skin. They look absolutely terrifying, no lie, but it’s worth it for the relaxation and pampering factors, plus the skin benefits! My holy grail is the Dr. Jart Ceramidin masks.
3. Apply an occlusive
Occlusives are essential if you want to stop the dry plane air from sucking your skin dry. Water wants to create a natural balance, and so if the air is drier than your skin, water will try to evaporate into the air. We can address this by using a strong occlusive layer as the final step in our pre-flight skin care routine. This traps water in your skin, preventing the trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). I personally think the best and cheapest occlusive is Vaseline – it has been shown to reduce TEWL by 98% and is easy to find worldwide. If you really hate the feeling of vaseline, an oil like Squalane or Jojoba (my two favourites) is better than nothing. Heavy creams with shea butter or beeswax also work, but can be comedogenic so tread with caution. The most important thing is to never let your skin be without some rich occlusive layer, otherwise it will dry out really fast in the cabin air.
4. Pack a no-rinse cleanser, hand sanitiser, face mist and moisturiser.
These are the key items you’ll need to use on board, so don’t get caught out without them.
Refer to my post on why I don’t use a regular cleanser to see why Garnier Micellar Water and cotton pads are some of my go-to cleansing options for every day (and especially while camping). On a plane, however, they’re perfect because you won’t need to climb over your row-mates to go to the tiny plane bathroom and use potentially hazardous tap water on your face.
Hand sanitiser is pretty self explanatory, I hope. Planes are gross.
A face mist is going to act like your personal humidifying station and help bring you a small amount of luxury in an otherwise unglamorous aircraft cabin. I’ve heard and experienced good things from Lush Eau Roma Water and Avene Mineral Water. But nowadays I just like to take a watery lotion (usually Hada Labo Super) and mix it half-half with some water in a little travel spray bottle.
Please note that strong smells can be upsetting or even dangerous to other passengers on the plane, so use fragrance-free or low fragrance products where possible.
A nice thick moisturising lotion is going to basically smooth over any dehydration before you land and help you look as fresh as possible. When selecting one, opt for something emollient – that means it has natural butters or oils. These fill in the gaps and cracks between your skin cells and make it looks nice and plump, elastic and glowy (even if it’s really not). The richer the better! I recommend Weleda Skin Food not only because it has a gorgeous orange scent.
While you’re mid-air
Now the fun part’s here; you’re all settled in your seat, you’ve watched the safety directions and refreshments have been served. It’s the perfect time for some in-transit strategic skin maintenance to make sure the rest of your journey remains as comfortable as possible.
1. Douse yourself with face mist
My solution for increasing your personal humidity levels is to whip out that face mist you packed. Use it to spray around and on yourself occasionally to keep the air around you moist. The more hydration there is in the air and sitting on top of your occlusive, the less likely it is to be stolen from your skin where it’s needed most.
2. Drink water regularly
Not exactly a skin care tip, but the air will really dry out your whole body, especially your mucous membranes. Keep sipping on small amounts of water to limit the number of bathroom visits.
3. Leave your skin alone!
You’re done all the prep work to get it hydrated, so just leave your skin be. Apply more occlusive if you feel yourself getting dry, but otherwise try to hold out for landing.
Before you land
Now it’s almost time to disembark, but there’s still time for some last-minute finishing touches.
1. Clean up
It’s time to whip out that hand sanitiser and get your mitts nice and sparkling because we’re going to be doing a mini-routine. After however many hours of sitting on a plane, touching airplane bathroom door handles, and rubbing your sleep eyes, the last thing you want is to put all that on your face.
2. Freshen up
And for the same reasons as above, you should cleanse your skin before your disembark. Taking off the day or night’s oils and sweat will make you feel and look a lot fresher. If you packed no-rinse cleanser this should be a breeze.
Follow it up with the lovely rich moisturiser you packed. Give yourself a mini face massage to get the blood flowing.
All going well, you should feel ready to land looking your normal, grounded self!
I like to make my plane routines lush and lengthy because why not! I’ve got nothing better to do and skin care is something I enjoy. But you don’t need special expensive products or an exhaustive routine to stay looking fresh and feeling good. Just using what you already have with a little pre-planning and strategy will do wonders in landing at your destination looking just as good as when you left.
I wish you luck on your next flight and hope you’re going somewhere amazing!