We know most of our patients love to travel to sun-kissed destinations over the summer, and so do we! But whether you’re flying to the azure waters of the Aegean, the white sandy beaches of Mexico, or the Blue Lagoon of Iceland, airplanes are one of the most stressful environments for our skin. Dr. Nikolov sees many inflammatory skin and overall health conditions resulting from airplane travel: the significantly lower air pressure in the cabin draws moisture out of the top layers of the skin, leaving you with fine lines, eye bags, and dry skin post-flight. On top of that, the germ-laden environment of the cabin, with its recirculated air and tight seating arrangements, leaves all skin types at a greater risk of acne breakouts.
Here are some of Dr. Nikolov’s favorite tips to keep your skin protected while you travel.
Step One: Choose a window seat
Did you know that your exposure to ultraviolet radiation is elevated on airplanes? Airplane windows filter UVB rays, so that you won’t get a sunburn. But they don’t filter the sun’s UVA rays, which can be responsible for certain skin cancers and signs of premature aging, such as fine lines and sagging skin. A recent Harvard study is revealing disturbingly high rates of skin and other types of cancer in flight attendants – potentially due to their increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
When booking your flight or checking in, be sure to reserve a window seat. Sitting near the window not only lessens your risk of contracting a viral infection on the plane, but it gives you the option to shut the window, decreasing the UV exposure you’re getting. Stuck in the aisle? Don’t worry, just be diligent about reapplying your SPF 30+ sun cream every two hours on the plane, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Step Two: Deep Cleanse
Cleanse your skin thoroughly as close to boarding time as possible – so right before you leave the house. Be sure to discontinue use of retinoids and exfoliating acids ideally five days before your flight. You want your skin as hydrated as possible before boarding the plane. Focus on moisturizing ingredients in your serums and creams, like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and avoid makeup products for the flight.
Step Three: Grab the biggest water bottle you can find
Since the airplane is one of the driest environments your skin will ever encounter, you want to make sure you are consistently drinking enough fluids throughout the flight, even more than you would drink regularly. Once you have passed through airport security, search for the largest water bottle you can find in the shops – usually about one liter in volume. If you want to take your hydration even further, you can infuse your water with an electrolyte mix, like this Watermelon one from LMNT , providing your body with the necessary minerals to maintain hydration.
This also means you will want to skip alcoholic beverages on the flight, as they can lead to further dehydration and inflammation in the body.
Step Four: Opt for occlusive moisturizers
In-flight sheet masking may have gone viral, but by the time you enter the plane it’s already too late to start your skincare regimen. The air inside airplanes is full of bacteria, and in-flight sheet masking provides a moist environment for these bacteria to thrive, leading to breakouts. When you’re on the plane, the only products you want to be applying are your sun cream – if you are on a daytime flight – and occlusive moisturizers to protect your skin’s moisture levels. What is an occlusive moisturizer? It’s any moisturizer that acts as a barrier on top of your moisture serums to prevent these products – and your skin’s moisture – from evaporating. Often any oil-based moisturizer will do: no makeup, but lots of moisturizers!
Step five: Cuticle balm and eye drops
While you are taking care of your skin, don’t forget about other parts of the body that need moisture, too. You can hydrate your eyes with eye drops – Dr. Nikolov likes these hyaluronic-acid enhanced ones – and your hands with a cuticle cream – this Badger one is a classic.
Step six: Post-flight care, exfoliation, and sheet mask
Now that you’re in your hotel room, it’s time to indulge in that hydrating mask! Deeply cleanse your skin again and apply an exfoliating toner before boosting your skin’s hydration with a sheet mask or leave-on moisture mask. Our favorite right now is the YINA Divine Bio-Cellulose Mask.
As always, hydration and sun protection are key to maintaining skin health. But make sure not to stop hydrating and protecting your skin from the sun once you’re off the plane. Seek some shade on the beach, as Dr. Nikolov recommends, and reapply your sun cream every hour when in direct sunlight.