How to prevent breaking out when flying
When you fly, pressurized air in the cabin sucks out the moisture in your skin, leaving it feeling dry and looking dull and lacklustre. The haggard complexion on landing is directly proportional to the length of the flight. What can we do to protect our skin so that we don’t look drained when we land?
Cabins are pressurized using low-humidity conditioned air to create a safe and comfortable environment for passengers and crew flying at high altitudes and protect them from the risk of physiological problems caused by low outside air pressure. But flying does affect the skin. The main repercussions for the skin on the face and the body arise from dehydration: dry skin, cracked lips and dry throat, nose, eyes and hands. The body also responds to jet lag and fatigue by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs the skin’s barrier function and causes redness, blotchiness and breakouts.
Other skin responses are associated with immobility (leading to fluid retention in the ankles, stiff joints and puffy eyes and hands) and with UV radiation.
Skin care expert Renée Rouleau performed a simple experiment: she poured some water onto a 100% cotton t-shirt in a Boston hotel room on a sunny December day and then at 11,000 metres in an airplane, timing both until the water had disappeared. The t-shirt took 1 hour and 27 minutes to dry in the hotel, but only 24 minutes to dry in the airplane.
Whereas our humidity comfort zone is around 50%, humidity in an airline cabin is usually below 20%. This low humidity combined with higher cabin pressure reduces the oxygen supply to the skin, alters microcirculation and affects skin regeneration, all of which accelerate skin deterioration. Dry skin becomes drier and oily skin becomes oilier, as the water loss leads to overcompensation in sebum production.
Skin tips for flying
Knowing what to do on board will also also help you prepare before leaving.
- Hydrate your skin from inside and outside: drink plenty of water and apply a moisturizer to exposed skin, taking special care with the face, lips, hands and nails.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables for a slow release of hydration to the body, as you can lose valuable nutrients if you visit the bathroom too frequently.
- If you use a hydrating spray, be sure to put moisturizer on almost immediately afterwards. When the air is dry it looks for water wherever it can, so if you immediately moisturize the damp skin, you’ll stay hydrated for longer.
- Avoid wearing make-up, most especially on long-haul flights.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as both have dehydrating effects and absorb water out of your body cells.
- Avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, as they dehydrate the body and can cause the skin to break out.
- If you have oily skin, blot it occasionally with tissue or oil-blotting papers to reduce oil and acne-causing bacteria.
- Try to sleep your way to your destination, as the skin restores and repairs itself while we sleep. Losing sleep not only makes you look tired, it also affects your immune system.
- Stretch your legs frequently and even stand up and walk around to ensure enough circulation.
- Apply SPF 15+ sunscreen as protection from damaging UV rays. Your skin is more exposed to radiation because a plane at altitude is closer to the sun and the atmosphere is thinner.
- Try to be healthy before flying as it can exacerbate whatever conditions you may already have.
- In the days before flying, increase the amount of water you drink, avoid foods that are dehydrating and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- Use extra moisturizer for a few days before travelling, especially at night.
- The night before your flight, exfoliate your skin and then apply a moisturizing mask.
- Pack travel-sized creams for the face, hands and lips in your cabin luggage. Add special drops or sprays if your eyes or nose are especially susceptible to dryness, e.g., if you wear contact lenses or suffer from nosebleeds.
- Once you get to your destination, cleanse your skin to remove surface dry-skin cells and excess oil and apply a hydrating masque to add back essential hydration and brighten the skin.
- Immerse yourself in water and get hydrated through the pores of your skin: take a good bath or go for a swim in the ocean.
For the first few days after travel, hydrate well inside and outside — and see how quickly your skin will recover its normal healthy glow.