Airplane skin: not just a name for the outer layer of an aircraft.
This common side effect of flying is to blame for that shiny, tight feeling your skin gets when you fly.
Whether you’re one of the lucky ones and just experience dry skin when you travel, or you struggle with more severe symptoms of airplane skin like dry, tender nasal tissue, peeling cuticles and scratchy eyes, most travelers have experienced some level of airplane skin in transit.
Compromised skin from traveling isn’t just a cosmetic problem. There’s another dark side of this common travel symptom: a weakened immune system.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It acts as the barrier between the outer world and your inner biological environment. Your skin prevents the transmission of most pathogens you’re exposed to, so compromised skin integrity can have an impact to the immune system when you travel as well.
In this article, we’ll explore exactly what “airplane skin” is, why your skin gets so dry when you fly, and, most importantly, how you can prevent and remedy this unfortunate flying phenomenon.
- Nourish Your Skin to Glow from the Inside Out
- Give Makeup a Miss During your Flight
- Bring Your Skincare Routine from Home
- Don’t Forget to Take Care of Your Eyes
- Give Your Skin (And Yourself) a Little TLC
- Prioritize Your Hormonal Responses & Get Some Shut-Eye
- Safeguard Your Skin Against Cosmic Rays
- Drink More Water Than You Normally Would
What is Airplane Skin?
Airplane skin is a traveler-coined term to describe the dehydrated, tight, shiny feeling and look that the skin takes on during and after air travel.
The effects of flying on the skin can take it’s toll not just on the facial skin, but also on your neck, hands, lips, feet and elbows.
Dehydrated skin is more prone to acne and breakouts, which is a common byproduct of jet lag and travel fatigue, so flying provides a double-edged sword for your skin.
There are a number of reasons why travelers experience airplane skin, and understanding them can give you the tools to remedy and prevent this from happening.
Why Does My Skin Get So Dry When I Travel?
As with most side effects of air travel, the root cause of plane skin isn’t isolated to one culprit.
There are many stressors at play inflight that can contribute to this problem, including:
- Water loss. Research shows that the conditions of an airplane can lead to 1.5-2 litres of water loss in a 10-hour flight[*] despite water intake. Flying is dehydrating due to the environment in the aircraft and the biological impacts of being 30,000 feet in the air.
- Changes in routine. Many travelers will upend their skincare routines by using different products than they do at home, like hotel-supplied facial bars or products you only use when you travel.
- Fluctuating humidity. If you have sensitive skin, you’ve probably experienced dry, oily, scaly, or acne-prone skin when the seasons change. Travel is like that only amplified, because you land in a climate that differs from the one you departed from, even if you only flew from SFO to LA. En route, your skin has to tolerate air that’s drier than the Sahara desert, aggravating the problem even more.
- Mask-wearing. By now you’re probably used to wearing a mask everywhere you go. You’re still required to wear a mask during your entire flight, unless you’re eating or drinking. Masks trap bacteria and moisture against your skin, and rub at your skin.
- Poor nutrition. Healthy skin starts from the inside, and travelers struggle to find healthy food and supplements when in transit. Between the nutrient-depleted airplane food to heavy, unhealthy fast food options at the airport, it’s hard to nourish your body properly when you fly. Most travelers struggle to get adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and enzymes to support their skin when they travel.
- Disrupted hormones. Hormones play an important role in skin health and behavior. Women who experience breakouts, or oily or dry skin during “that time of the month” might relate. This is also why teenagers tend to have skin problems. Travel disrupts your body’s hormonal systems (hello circadian rhythm!) which can exacerbate dry skin or breakouts.
- Disrupted sleep. There are two reasons why the disrupted sleep from jet lag or your red-eye flight can compromise the skin. The first is the hormonal response from inadequate sleep. The second is that sleep is when your body repairs after a long day. Less sleep means less time for your body to carry out those restorative functions so necessary for healthy skin.
Your skin may be dry when you travel, but there are several things you can do to support it when you’re en route.
How to Prevent and Remedy Airplane Skin
Airplane skin is uncomfortable, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel confident. Now that you have the intel you need to understand why plane skin happens, you’re ready to jump into the solutions.
#1. Nourish Your Skin to Glow from the Inside Out
Glowing, healthy skin is an inside job.
Poor nutrition shows on the skin, and unfortunately, airports and airplanes don’t have the best reputation for providing healthy food and supplement options.
Rather than stick to a decent diet, travelers often are forced to opt for salt-laden, heavily-processed snacks or nutritionally depleted airport or plane food. Plus, most people avoid packing their regular vitamins and supplements when they travel to save suitcase room.
While it can be tough to plan and pack portable healthy meals and snacks for your flight, you can support your skin by avoiding damaging and dehydrating foods such as those high in sodium and chemicals.
If you can, pack or pick up antioxidant-rich foods like berries, greens, and many nuts and seeds.
Travel-supporting supplements can be an easy solution for helping to maintain your skin health when you travel and support digestion, jet lag, energy, and more.
Research has found that supplementing certain vitamins, minerals and compounds can support the skin, especially when traveling. One of the most promising supplements to support skin and overall travel health is Pycnogenol®, which is an extract from French maritime pine bark.
Results from a randomized, double-blind, peer reviewed study showed that Pycnogenol supplementation may help to “significantly retain skin hydration, increase skin elasticity, and reinforce skin barrier function for those exposed to urban environmental pollution, as well as temperature and humidity variations.”[*]
This is just one of the reasons we chose to include this powerful extract in our flagship product, Flight Elixir. The travel-supporting supplement* for frequent flyers, Flight Elixir contains a host of ingredients that may benefit the skin, including:
- Astragalus, a medicinal herb packed with antioxidants and used for it’s anti-aging properties[*]
- Beetroot, which may provide anti-inflammatory effects while improving circulation and bloodflow to support the skin[*]
- Papaya, which not only reduces bloating and gas from jet belly, but also contains phytochemicals that may promote skin healing[*].
Travelers who have used Flight Elixir to support other side effects of flying, like sluggishness or swelling report benefits to their skin, as well.
Healthy skin starts from the source, and if you want to give your largest organ a head start, be mindful of what you consume on travel days, as well as on your trip.
#2. Give Makeup a Miss During your Flight
Whether you have oily, dry, or combination skin, flying can exacerbate any existing problems.
As mentioned, low cabin humidity means you'll be exposed to seriously dry air for the duration of your flight. Not only can this dip in humidity lead to dehydrated skin, but it also signals your sebaceous glands to boost oil production.
Skipping the makeup and daring to go bare can help you bypass blocked pores and minimize dryness.
Another reason to consider skipping makeup on your travel days is that cosmetics contain alcohols.
These alcohols give cosmetic products a lightweight feeling and the ability to dry quickly when applied, but they are dehydrating, and quickly aggravate the already dire conditions your skin must tolerate.
While this skin-protecting tactic may not seem practical for business travelers or those who fly for work, like Flight Attendants or Pilots, there are ways around the no-makeup-zone. Consider doing your makeup right before you land or even at the airport instead of flying with a full face on.
If you don’t want to skip the makeup on your flight, you can still minimize any negative side-effects by keeping it light.
- Swap out your regular foundation for a lightweight bb cream or tinted moisturizer
- Avoid powder-heavy foundation which will clog up the pores
- Ditch the lipstick and swipe on a hydrating lip balm instead
- Give the mascara a miss and keep the liner (just don't forget to keep it light).
If you don’t mind showing off your natural beauty, we highly recommend cleaning off the makeup completely before flying. Use an oil-based cleanser followed by a regular cleanser to truly cleanse your skin.
Remember: less is more when you're flying. Adopt a "barely there" approach and try to choose products that will nourish your skin while perking up your look at the same time (think tinted moisturizers, BB creams, and lip balms).
#3. Bring Your Skincare Routine from Home
Men, don’t gloss over this point. This goes for you, too!
If you hit “pause” on your regular skincare routine when you travel, opting instead for using whatever cleanser is available at your hotel or travel-sized facial products that you wouldn’t normally use, this is for you:
Bring your skincare products from home.
The golden standard in skincare is to introduce new products one at a time, and slowly, starting with a small patch test to gauge your skin’s reaction. But many travelers will upend their skincare routines by using different products than they do at home, like hotel-supplied facial bars or products you only use when you travel.
The skin typically reacts to dry conditions in two ways:
- It dries out, becoming uncomfortably tight and itchy
- It then begins to produce excess sebum to combat that dryness, resulting in oily skin and possibly even blocked pores and breakouts.
Suddenly introducing new products to your skin will only make these reactions worse, stressing your skin and increasing your likelihood of a major meltdown.
So skip the hotel-supplied bar soap and pack the products your skin is already used to. And it needs to be said:
Avoid using facial wipes! These commonly used products are not only abrasive to the skin, but they often have drying ingredients like alcohols that will further irritate your skin.
If you’re traveling with just a carry-on, remember to stick to TSA-approved quantities of your skincare products or you might end up having to leave your routine behind.
#4. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Your Eyes
Ah the eyes… windows into the soul they say. But let’s make sure those windows are sparkling, shall we?
If you’ve ever wondered why you have red, bloodshot eyes during and after your flight, it’s because air travel can be tough on your eyes and the skin around them.
High altitude, low humidity, air conditioning for the entire duration of the flight, lack of sleep, all these factors play a role in the dry, scratchy, weathered feeling you get in and around your eyes when you travel.
Be sure to give them a little extra love whenever you hop on a plane to safeguard the thin skin around your eyes from accelerated aging. Some tips to take care of those peepers include:
- When you’re shopping for eye creams to take on the plane, look for ones that contain Vitamin C, Hyaluronic Acid and Ginseng. Vitamin C helps your skin produce collagen, which may improve elasticity. Improved elasticity means less chance of cracking and lines. Hyaluronic acid reduces the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as moisturizes the skin so that skin cell production can take place. Ginseng has anti-inflammatory properties to help with the puffiness around the eyes.
- Avoid puffiness around the eyes by ensuring you get sufficient sleep. Try cutting down on salt at least a few days before flying. Salt causes water retention, and it is fluid draining below the eyes that causes puffiness. And if you suffer from allergies, don’t wait to pop a pill when the sneezing starts as this can lead to puffy eyes. Take one before you flight since they last 24 hours in the body.
- Don’t aggravate your eyes. This means no rubbing! Even (especially!) if your eyes feel scratchy and itchy, rubbing them is just going to make the problem worse and weaken the integrity of the sensitive skin around them.
#5. Give Your Skin (And Yourself) a Little TLC
A bit of pampering never goes amiss on long travel days, and travelers often feel like they need it!
That run-down, fatigued feeling when you fly is so common place that nearly every single major airport in North America has a spa, so take advantage. What seems like an indulgence at home might just save your skin when you're flying.
Research shows that physical relaxation leads to mental relaxation and alleviates stress. And where do we wear our stress? On our faces! Plus, when you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you do good.
Spoiling yourself in this way will not only boost your self-confidence, but lower stress levels translates to healthier skin.
If you don’t have time to hit up the airport spa on your layover, bring the spa with you.
Try using a face mask to bring out the glow. An overnight mask is the common choice as the more time a mask has to work, the greater the benefits, but if you’re short on time, a sheet mask can be super effective as well. If you have oily or combination skin, try using a charcoal or clay mask. Masks are great at cleaning out your pores to prevent any breakouts.
We are giving you tips to maintain the health of your skin while flying, that means it needs to be looking and feeling healthy before you fly. So, remember that this is pampering with a purpose!
#6. Prioritize Your Hormonal Responses & Get Some Shut-Eye
Inadequate sleep and crossing time zones throws off your circadian rhythm, the hormonal process that controls your sleep/wake cycle. As we’ve explored, hormonal disruption causes a number of issues with the bodily processes, many of which impact the skin.
But that’s not the only reason why you should make sleep a top priority when you travel.
A lack of sleep causes the muscles under the eyes to weaken, which leads to fluids filling the area under the eye and voila! Now you’re carrying more bags than you boarded the plane with.
The skin under the eyes is also very thin, so when blood fills the droopy area, discolouration becomes visible. Jet lag and sleep deprivation are not your friends.
Sleeping on a plane is easier said than done, but for long-haul flights, it's essential if you're hoping to put your best foot (or face) forward when you land.
Here are some tips to help you sleep on the plane, but it’s also important to prioritize shut-eye when you land.
- Bring a travel pillow. A good travel pillow will not only help you fall asleep easier, but will prevent neck strain from falling asleep without the proper neck support of laying horizontal on a bed.
- Research shows that the body is designed to sleep at night, so it will not enter sleep mode when too much ambient light is received. Although they do turn off the lights during overnight flights, you may want to sleep earlier, or you may be flying during the day, and an eye mask will block out the light and your body prepare for sleep.
- Blocking out the light is one thing, but you will also need to block out the noise. Molded ear plugs can be quite expensive but silicone self molding ear plugs are cost effective and do a great job of blocking out noise, even if there’s a crying baby on board.
- We do not recommend sleeping pills to help you fall asleep as most of these will leave you feeling drowsy and miserable when you land. Should the worst happen, and you are awoken to some sort of emergency, you need to be alert and sharp.
Remember when we said avoid energy drinks when you’re trying to stay hydrated? You can probably guess why now: they will keep you up!
#7. Safeguard Your Skin Against Cosmic Rays
Even though you’re inside a plane, if you’re anywhere near a window, research shows that the sun’s UV rays can still affect you.
What you don’t need research to tell you, is that when you’re closer to the sun, the UV effect gets much worse. So yes, you can get sunburned on a plane!
It’s smart skin care to wear sunscreen daily, but don’t skip it on travel days. Experts recommend SPF50 as a minimum. You can go higher depending on how sensitive your skin is to the sun.
Clear glass allows 75% of UVA to get through, while tinted glass lets in up to 50% of UVA. Some planes have a UV cover you can pull down while still being able to enjoy the view, but for those that don’t, rather protect your skin and pull down the window cover.
Remember to put some on your hands as well, as the skin there is very thin and prone to damage. Clothing does not protect from UV rays, so if your arms are exposed, make sure to rub some sunscreen on them as well.
#8. Drink More Water Than You Normally Would
Cabin air is drier than the Sahara desert, which explains why your skin looks like it aged a couple of decades after a long-haul flight.
According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, your body is made up of 60% water, but more important to the topic at hand, your skin is made up of 64% water.
Not only does an adequate amount of water keep your skin visibly glowing, but it also regenerates skin tissue, which in turn boosts elasticity. Inadequate water levels means your skin is more likely to become aged and cracked, leaving you with a GPS route on that beautiful face.
So this dry skin prevention strategy is one of our favorites: drink more water than you think you need.
As annoying as it is to have to use the washroom on your flight, the short-term pain is worth the skin gains.
Dehydration is a widespread and prevalent travel side-effect, and it leads to many impaired bodily processes, not the least of which is compromised skin. To protect your skin and your overall wellness when you fly, it’s crucial to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight.
That’s why we created Flight Elixir as a drink mix to encourage our community to boost their water intake and get the crucial vitamins and minerals to support your body when you fly.
Aim to drink at least 8oz of water for each hour you spend inflight. A 32oz travel water bottle will cover you for a standard 4-hour flight. If you’re struggling to remember to drink up, we’re here to help!
We developed The Travel Water Bottle by FLIGHTFŪD to help you stay hydrated on the fly (ie when it’s most difficult to do so!) with motivational time markers.
Once at your destination, keep a water bottle on hand so you can stay hydrated and can track how much water you’re drinking.
Proper hydration is a two-step process; you need to take in those foods/drinks which keep you hydrated while avoiding the ones that cause you to pass out more water (diuretics).
It’s normal to get thirsty while flying but try to stick to water instead of drinks that are considered diuretics, i.e. drinks that cause you to pass out more water than you take in. This means stay away from alcohol and coffee.
Smoothies are a great way to stay hydrated and get essential nutrients in, which are lacking in the usual travel options. Adding certain ingredients to your smoothie can boost your intake even more, because a large portion of our water intake comes from food.
Snack on fruits that are rich in water concentration. Watermelon would be the obvious choice, consisting of 92% water, but who’s going to pack a watermelon for their flight?
Strawberries have 91% water, obviously much smaller, and they taste better too! Oranges have 88% water, and are a great source of Vitamin C, which as we’ve explored, helps to boost your immune system too.
Leave Dry, Cracked Airplane Skin at the Departure Gate
All the planning, buying, packing, anxiety, excitement and stress that goes into a trip really boils down to that one moment when you step off the plane and see the faces waiting for you on the other end of the exit gate.
You want to look and feel your best when that moment comes.
Take care of your skin and leave that dry, dehydrated feeling at the gate.