Air travel is largely unavoidable if you are looking to escape the UAE’s scorching climes over the summer months. However, high altitudes combined with cabin pressure can suck the moisture from our skin, leaving it looking dry and dull, and feeling stretched and cracked. Skin typically fares well at a humidity level of between 40 per cent and 70 per cent. The levels of humidity within the sealed steel and aluminium capsule, hurtling along at 40,000 feet, range from between four per cent and 20 per cent – which results in a loss of about 1.5 litres of water over the course of a three-hour flight. It can take days for your skin to fully recover and start the regeneration process.
“The recycled dry air and lack of oxygen owing to the cabin pressure can leave the skin dehydrated and irritated, which is the last thing you want when you step off the plane, in the midst of the excitement of travelling to exotic destinations,” says Bianca Estelle, Harley Street Skin Care clinician and founder of Bea Skin Care.
There are, however, steps that can be taken to help alleviate the damage caused by flying. "Prepping your skin before and taking extra care on the plane can help fight the effects of the dry air, leaving you glowing for your holiday."
We ask Estelle and other skincare experts for their top tips to deal with some of the common conditions associated with taking a flight. Let’s start with your pre-flight ritual. In the days leading up to your journey, keep your skin clean, primed and plumped, with a mild cleanser and hydrating cream, especially overnight. According to the skincare experts at Himalaya: “The point to remember here is that you need to be consistent. Regular cleansing and hydration will help your skin retain its moisture for the days to come. Combine your topical skincare regime with drinking sufficient amounts of water to keep your body well hydrated in the days before your flight.”
Before you board, apply a lavish amount of moisturiser while you’re still on-ground. By definition, this is a product that needs to draw moisture from the air in order to work optimally; once you’re in the air, even the most hydrating cream will not be as effective because the dry air it’s surrounded by does not yield much moisture. Face mists – refreshing as they might feel – are a complete no-no, because these tend to evaporate even faster on-board, leaving your skin more dried out. Above all, eradicate all traces of make-up.
“Make-up on a flight is an unforgivable sin against skin. Wipes, while convenient, can be harsh on your skin’s pH balance,” explains Estelle. Organic wipes, such as Bea’s version with vitamin E and aloe vera or Himalaya’s aloe vera wipes, are a good and gentle alternative for when you want to remove your make-up, but ideally try to fly completely cosmetics-free. For long-haul flights, you can also dab your face with the wipes and pat it dry to get the circulation going, instead of washing it under water.
A must-have ingredient for when you’re mid-air is hyaluronic acid. While a regular cream may not be able to grab much from stale, dry air, a product with “hyaluronic acid offers a juicy boost of intense hydration”, says Neutrogena brand ambassador Mariam Said. Naturally found in the skin, this light, sugar-based molecule is capable of physically encapsulating and binding the water already present in your skin, yet without overloading your pores, so you don’t break out into zits, either. Apply a serum, cream or face mask sheet, such as Skin Republic’s hydrating mask with hyaluronic acid and collagen, immediately after wiping or washing your face.
Although dry skin is a more common condition, a feeling of greasiness will inevitably follow. According to the experts at Himalaya: “People with oily skin will notice their T-zone getting oilier. This is an indication that the skin is trying its best to fight the dry conditions, by increasing oil secretion.” This can lead to breakouts and zits, but a mild product with hyaluronic acid can help counter these, too. A good one for those prone to acne is Bea Skin Care’s 15 per cent Glyco Serum.
An effective sun-blocking product, such as Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost lotion with SPF, is a must if you’re flying in the day, or will pass a time zone when the sun is up. Look for a broad-spectrum product that counters both UVA and UVB rays – protection against the former is denoted by a star rating at the back of the product (five stars being the highest), while the SPF level is indicative of blocking the latter.
“Who doesn’t love a window seat with views of cotton candy clouds and extra space to rest your head? But few people know that plane windows do not protect against UV rays, and at such a high altitude, this leaves the skin vulnerable to sun damage. Make sure to pack [a product] that contains a photostable SPF 25 filter to shield against both UVA and UVB rays,” explains Said.
Five to try:
If you’re flying overnight, touch up your hyaluronic serum or cream every 90 minutes, or at least each time you wake up, and avoid washing your face until it’s almost time to touchdown.
It’s not just your skin that requires TLC on a long flight. Because the mucus membranes dry up over time, the eyes tend to become dry and itchy; the lips and tongue develop fissures (this is also why food tastes different); and even your cuticles peel and the nail bed becomes more brittle. Eye drops, lip balm and cuticle oil – reapplied every two to three hours – can bypass the worst of the symptoms. Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost eye-refreshing gel-cream or Bea’s peptide eye serum are also handy to have.
Upon or just before landing, wash your face with a soothing cleanser and reapply sunscreen and a thin layer of your regular moisturiser, which should activate once you disembark or exit the airport. “Maintaining your skincare routine is essential once you’ve landed and in the days after. This involves cleansing and moisturising as per usual, as well as using an SPF at all times, even under make-up,” advises Estelle.
Skincare strategy aside, a crucial hack is to drink as many litres of water as you can. "If you can manage it, sip on water constantly when you fly – staying hydrated helps your body both internally and externally. Avoid snacks with excessive salt, say no to that second cup of coffee and don't let any number of bathroom breaks deter you from your bottle of water," concludes dermatologist Anita Hiranandani. "And, of course, ensure your containers come in air-travel-approved sizes."