It’s the holiday season, which means you may be traveling more than usual. You may also have to fly regularly for your job.
Either way, flying isn’t good for your skin. Are you taking precautions?
Your Skin on a Plane
You may have already noticed that your skin doesn’t look or feel its best after a few hours on the plane. But why is that? What happens to create that dry, itchy feeling?
1. Airplanes Circulate Dry Air
The biggest problem with flying is that the skin is exposed to very dry air. Since the plane has to be airtight to be pressurized (which is what saves you from needing an oxygen mask as you go thousands of feet up into the air), that means the only available air is what is circulated inside the plane itself.
That air is not humidified, which means there is no moisture added to it. As a result, it is about 20-50 percent lower in humidity than what the skin is normally comfortable in. Such dry air pulls moisture from the skin in an attempt to create homeostasis, robbing your skin of whatever moisture it had when you stepped on board.
The result? Dry, dehydrated and potentially even itchy and irritated skin.
2. Dry Air Can Cause Breakouts
If your skin breaks out after an airplane trip, you can blame the plane. All that dry air causes the skin to work overtime to counteract the dryness. That means it produces more oil than usual, and you may experience greasiness. Oily skin types are particularly vulnerable to this effect, though any skin type may suffer from breakouts after a flight.
Of course, flying is often stressful too, and you’re likely to get less-than-optimal amounts of sleep before and/or after your trip, which can also create the perfect conditions for a breakout.
3. Cabin Altitude Dulls You Out
Commercial aircraft are usually pressurized to levels representing between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, which is a higher altitude than what most people are used to. Higher altitudes create less blood flow to the skin, which can make skin look dull, lifeless, and pale.
4. High Altitudes Expose Skin to Dangerous UV Rays
While you’re on a plane, you’re actually at a greater risk of UV-induced skin cell damage than when you’re on the ground, for one simple reason—you’re closer to the sun. Particularly if you have a window seat, your skin can be exposed to higher-than-normal levels of UV radiation.
Yes, UV rays can penetrate window glass on airplanes, particularly UVA rays, which are more strongly linked to skin cancer. A 2015 study found that pilots flying for about 56 minutes at 30,000 feet were exposed to the same amount of UVA radiation as someone receiving a 20-minute session in a tanning bed.
Passengers are at a lower risk than pilots, as the windows are smaller and the people are exposed less often, but when you’re flying it’s important to realize that you can be exposed to UV rays.
5. Planes Make You Puffy
If you notice puffy eyes or puffiness in other areas of your face after getting off the plane, that’s also common. Sitting all that time with little movement can result in fluid retention, which causes the skin to puff up.
How to Survive the Plane Trip With Healthy-Looking Skin
There are several steps you can take to help your skin cope with the stresses of flying, so when you get where you want to go, you still look your radiant best.
- Use a good moisturizer before you leave. Consider using a moisturizing mask the night before.
- Drink enough water before, during, and after the flight.
- Take along a moisturizing spray like our Rescue + Relief Spray to help counteract cabin dry air.
- Consider flying with minimal makeup or no makeup at all—it will help keep your pores cleaner. Take makeup with you to apply before you land or shortly after if you like.
- Move around as much as you can to stimulate blood circulation.
- If you don’t have makeup on, use some moisturizer and massage your face after you land. It will help get the circulation going again and reduce any puffiness.
- If you experience post-flight oiliness, cleanse your skin after you land, then follow with an oil-free moisturizer.
- If you’re on a super long international flight, take along some skincare products so you can stick with your normal skincare routine.
- Pack a nourishing lip balm and apply it as needed.
- Avoid eating high-sodium foods, which can contribute to water retention and puffiness.
- Avoid alcohol, because it’s dehydrating.
- Apply sunscreen before leaving. If you are in a window seat, keep the shade down most of the time.
How do you make sure your skin survives the flight?
Sanlorenzo, M., Vujic, I., Posch, C., Cleaver, J. E., Quaglino, P., & Ortiz-Urda, S. (2015). The Risk of Melanoma in Pilots and Cabin Crew. JAMA Dermatology, 151(4), 450. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.4643