When I fly, the majority of my thoughts usually have to do with the fact that I'm in a metal tube hurtling through the air and at any moment I could be sucked out the window while drinking a Ginger Ale. Rational people have told me this is not an entirely realistic concern. I beg to differ. But even I can admit that my anxieties are better placed on something that I can actually control, like in-flight skin care. Most of us know that planes zap the moisture right out of our skin, but combatting it in flight can sometimes seem like an awkward hassle. Face masks? Applying creams and serums mid-flight? It's a lot of effort — but it's worth it.
I talked to Dr. Dendy Engelman, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, who told me just how damaging flying is for your skin. Spoiler: It's probably worse than you think.
"When flying, humidity levels are less than 20 percent. The average comfortable humidity level for humans is 40-70 percent," Dr. Engelman says. "Plane cabins are pressurized to simulate a 6,000 to 8,000-foot elevation on Earth, and your blood absorbs less oxygen at those altitudes. It can also increase breakouts for people with oily skin. If oily skin is dehydrated, oil production increases to combat dryness. Dry skin can create surface dead skin cell buildup, which, if not removed post-flight by using an exfoliating product, can cause oil and bacteria to be trapped under the skin, resulting in an increase of breakouts a day or two after flying."
Long story short: planes are bad for skin, no matter what skin type you have. As someone with combination skin that can be prone to breakouts, I was determined to find a way around dull skin and new breakouts post-flight. So while flying with French boutique airline La Compagnie, I decided to test out all those skin care hacks dermatologists like Dr. Engelman and bloggers alike suggest for combatting plane skin, and see if it actually made a difference in how I looked and felt at the end of a 7-hour flight
All The Water Before & During The Flight
I've been lucky enough to fly a lot in my lifetime. But even when I was a kid, the idea of going to the bathroom on a plane freaked me out. I avoided it whenever possible, which meant I got into the habit of not drinking a ton of water before or during flights. This worked out in the sense that I never got trapped in the bathroom during an emergency with my parents unable to hear my cries, my Ginger Ale left behind (my main concerns). But it didn't work out in the sense that my skin was always thirsty AF by the end of the flight. Little did I know how much damage I was doing to my skin.
"While drinking water isn't the most efficient way to hydrate the skin, it’s important for the health of your cells, circulation, and renal (kidney) function," Dr. Engelman tells me. "It will also replenish any fluids you lost in flight. Also avoid alcohol intake while flying as this will further dehydrate you."
Before my flight, I chugged mini Evians in La Compagnie's lounge before the flight. When I boarded the plane (photo above), I said no to the pre-flight champagne (honestly a true test of my willpower) and chugged the free water bottle at my seat instead. Hydration was my mission, and you know — I think it actually did help in the end. My skin (not only on my face, but my hands and legs as well) felt less dry throughout the entire flight than usual.
I almost always avoid makeup altogether when going on a flight, as you can see from the photo above (lash extensions are a miracle). It was tempting to slap on some concealer pre-flight since I was breaking out, but I stayed strong. I wanted my skin as gunk-free as possible before carrying out all the other skin care steps.
Of course, even if you avoid makeup, cleansing your skin during a plane ride is a great idea regardless. I usually opt for wipes, because using the bathroom sink just isn't going to happen. I almost always have some face cleansing wipes on hand to do the job from the comfort of my seat. For this flight, I accidentally packed my cleansing cloths in my big suitcase instead of my carry-on, so I had to be creative when it came to cleansing. Luckily for me, La Compagnie that gives out hot towels before meals. Not only did the heat relax my face, but it also opened up my pores, making it easier for my skin to absorb all the serum and moisturizer that was about to get layered on. If you're committed to wipes, though, try out Dr. Engelman's suggestion.
"When I travel, I like having Dickinson’s On-The-Go Towelettes at hand," Engelman says. "It’s great as witch hazel has antibacterial properties — I use it to wipe my hands after I come back from the restroom and clean the trays and arms rests."
Serum & Moisturizer
I wanted to layer up the moisture and product as much as possible before my 7-hour flight, so I started with an antioxidant hydration serum from Derm Institute that was easy and comfortable on my skin. It didn't feel too heavy and absorbed super quickly. If you're new to in-flight skin care and only want to use one product, try this one. After about a minute of letting the serum soak in, I moved on to moisturizer.
"Now is not the time to skip out on your daily moisturizer or serum. These products act as a vehicle to deliver moisture deep within the layers of the skin while providing an occlusive seal to help it retain moisture," Dr. Engelman says of the importance of applying products during your flight.
La Compagnie is nice enough to provide Caudalie moisturizer in each passenger's in-flight bag, so I opted to use this product for my heavier layer of moisture for the flight. The face-lifting moisturizer also had an SPF, which Dr. Engelman tells me is ideal for daytime flights when your face will be exposed to UV rays.
Admittedly it does feel a little weird at first to do a skin care step that you usually do in the comfort of your bathroom at home, but think of it like putting hand cream on (except please don't actually put hand cream on your face). It's dry in there — no one is going to judge you for moisturizing, trust me.
Under Eye Masks
Long flights destroy my eyes. I rarely sleep for more than an hour or two, so I'm always left feeling and looking exhausted by the time I arrive at my destination. These snail mucus eye masks are the perfect cooling layer under my eyes to moisturize and hydrate them as well as relax them. A bonus? They actually stay on without sliding off your face, and they're clear, so if you're self-conscious about masking on a plane, you can do this hack incognito. And if you don't trust me on the masking suggestion just yet, I have an expert to back me up — Dr. Engelman also suggests a clear mask for long plane flights.
Ah, the forehead mask. The most anxiety-inducing part of any intense in-flight skin care routine. The face mask is the beauty equivalent of bringing a tuna salad on board a plane; you're bound to be completely paranoid that everyone around you will notice it immediately and judge you. But the fact is (at least with the mask) that people really don't notice, or at least they pretend not to. And it feels great.
There are those who would argue that a full-face sheet mask is the way to go for a flight, but those don't work for me. Given that there is usually a good amount of liquid product in the sheet mask pouch, it makes application quite messy. When you're just a couple inches away from the person next to you, this isn't ideal. I chose this Musely hydrogel forehead mask because it's specifically made so you can sleep in it. It's completely dry on one side, and is made to stay on comfortably for hours (not just 20 - 30 minutes like most sheet masks). Plus, it looks beautiful. OK, no, it doesn't look great; it's actually a little scary. But here's the thing: The reality is that your face mask isn't going to smell, or bother anyone at all. It may feel like bringing tuna salad on a plane, but it's different, I promise.
What I Didn't Do
Everyone says to bring a mist with you on a flight, right? Just spray that bad boy with wild abandon, they say! But this advice is actually not totally correct, according to Dr. Engelman.
"Don’t mist your skin with a hydrating spray during flight. When the air is dry it looks for water wherever it can. So when you spray your skin with a mist on a plane, the air literally robs skin of the applied moisture," Dr. Engelman tells me. "Basically, misting mid-flight really doesn’t do much at all. Instead, try applying another layer of moisturizer as it is much more hydrating and absorbed into the skin. If you must mist, immediately apply moisturizer on top of the misted skin in order to lock in that hydration."
So, sure, you can mist, but you probably won't be helping things that much. Having said that, for this flight I opted for masks and an extra layer of moisture with serum to keep things hydrated, and avoided wasting my precious mists.
Before & After
While I didn't walk off my 7-hour flight with a brand new face, my skin did feel good. You can see the before and after above. My whole complexion hadn't changed, but my skin felt generally less dull and lifeless. My red spots were little less pronounced and my whole face felt brighter. Usually when I get off a plane and get home, the last thing I want to do is take a selfie, and the first thing I want to do is wash my face. But I felt good when I got home, and my skin felt happy and healthy. I didn't even mind taking the after selfie, even though I didn't sleep a wink the entire flight.
So was it all worth making all that skin care effort in a plane, even if my skin wasn't completely changed? Absolutely. And, hey, if I am going to be sucked out the window while hurtling through the air in a metal tube, I might as well do it with great skin.