My situation is nothing compared to those who work on planes, such as flight attendants and pilots. They are already dealing with the severely dehydrating surroundings of dry cabin air. Then, on top of it, they are working with face masks for sometimes 10 to 15 hours at a time.
It is a harsh combination. So how are they dealing with it? We spoke to them to find out their skin-care tips and tricks.
Drink water like it’s your job
This tip may sound obvious, but every single person we spoke to started with the same advice: Drink a ton of water when you’re traveling to combat the incredibly dehydrating act of flying.
“We are at altitude when we are on a plane; it is drier in the airplane than it is in the Sahara,” says Carole Hopson, a pilot for United Airlines. “I drink as much water as I can, often a gallon a day.”
If you’re consuming alcohol — which is dehydrating — flight attendant Sharmy Aldama recommends making up for it with more water intake.
“The plane is super duper dry, so especially if you’re going to have like a drink — like if you’re going to have some wine or something — go really intense on the water,” Aldama said.
Don’t get stuck waiting for the beverage cart to roll through to get your water for a flight. Pack an empty reusable water bottle in your carry-on bag and fill it after you pass through the security checkpoint.
Oakland-based flight attendant Elizabeth Simpson used to carry a gallon jug with her, and she says a Hydro Flask is a popular choice for flight attendants, who hook them to their luggage with a carabiner for easy transport.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Missy Roemer, a licensed aesthetician turned flight attendant, says dryness is the No. 1 issue for travel skin care.
“We’re up there at altitude, the air is just so dry,” she says. “Not only is that a moisture problem, but it can also cause a break out just from the lack of the oil. Your skin overcompensates [for the dryness] by creating more oil, which is something people don’t realize.”
To deal with that dryness, Roemer recommends using a serum or moisturizer (ideally with SPF protection) that contains hyaluronic acid. It “basically pulls water in from the atmosphere around you and can hold a thousand times its weight in water,” Roemer says. “It’s one of my favorite ingredients and is becoming more and more popular now, which is great because it’s easier to find.”
Hopson is an Aquaphor devotee for both her face and body, while other flight attendants are fans of moisturizers from Pond’s, CeraVe and Cetaphil. For her hyaluronic acid picks, Aldama is a fan of Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Water Gel moisturizer and L’Oréal’s Revitalift Derm Intensives Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum.
If you have enough room in your carry-on, Roemer encourages travelers to pack a portable humidifier. “I’ve been seeing a lot of flight attendants bringing travel humidifiers on the road,” she says. “It really helps with the moisture in your skin and sort of gives you that overall dewiness.”
Although not a specific skin-care tip, Hopson swears by Lumify Eye Drops for moisturizing her eyes while she travels.
Change out your mask between flights
For her skin’s sake, Miller changes her disposable masks religiously. The critical times for her are between every flight, after eating, and as soon as she notices her mask is full of warm moisture, which she’s noticed “that’s when I get a pimple,” she says.
If you don’t want to keep buying and tossing masks, Simpson alternates between using disposable options and cleaning reusable ones with soap and water then air-drying them.
Skip the airplane food
Miller noticed her skin was starting to suffer while she was training to become a flight attendant. Not only was she under physical and emotional stress, she was eating a lot of airplane food to save money. A classmate warned her that the plane food could be causing her skin issues, so Miller began avoiding it. When she would eat some when there were no other options, she would get cystic acne flare-ups.
Roemer says Miller’s experience doesn’t surprise her. Airplane food is designed to have flavor at high altitude, not do your skin any favors. The extra salt, fat and whatever else that you eat on a flight — “that’s going to come out through your skin and your body,” Roemer says.
Try bringing your own food on flights, or stick to healthier options whenever possible.
Double-cleanse at your destination
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, make it a point to clean your skin thoroughly to combat the travel experience. Roemer and others are fans of the double cleanse, which is essentially washing your skin twice.
“That first one is really just getting your day off,” she says. “It’s getting off any sweat, it’s getting off the moisture from being under a mask all day. It’s getting off toxins and pollution in the air and the oil that builds up on your skin.”
The second round of cleansing addresses the skin itself, not just washing off the travel grime. Roemer says people could use the same cleanser for both, or those wearing makeup could start with a creamy cleanser then swap to a gel or a foaming cleanser for the next wash.
Hopson loves Neutrogena and Clinique cleansers. Miller uses a Mielle Organics facial scrub and cleanser in the evenings. Aldama relies on cleansers with salicylic acid to fight maskne.
“If I’m wearing makeup, I’ll use the Aveeno Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Pads with salicylic acid,” Aldama said. “If I’m not wearing makeup very frequently, I’ll probably use Clean & Clear Oil-Free Deep Action Cream Facial Cleanser because it’s a lot more gentle and not as stripping.”
Go the extra mile to fight breakouts
For those really battling maskne, heading to the dermatologist is probably the best way to figure out what is best for your skin.
What has worked for Aldama and Miller beyond cleansing and hydrating techniques is to use a toner and retinol serum in the evenings.
Roemer recommends using a clay-based mask once a week to “detox and balance the oil production while drawing out any impurities,” as well as finding a gentle exfoliator to use two to three times a week.
“Exfoliating is pretty crucial ... especially if you want your skin care to work better,” Roemer says. “It’s scrubbing off the dead skin cells and unplugging your pores, essentially.”
What works for one traveler won’t work for another. Depending on your skin type, you may find that one person’s acne cure-all is your dry skin nightmare. Getting your routine right may take going through many tweaks.
“I was able to get my skin clear basically by trial and error, finding what works for me and just being consistent with it now,” Simpson said. “So now, even with the mask, my skin has actually been probably the best it’s ever been in my life.”