Healthy skin tips for your next flight
Who doesn't love travel? Travel is an adventure but can wreak havoc on our skin. Double Board-certified Dermatologist Angela Casey MD sharse some fundamental tips for keeping your skin glowing after your next flight.
The two biggest factors to consider for your skin when flying on a plane:
The windows on a plane will protect you against the large majority of UVB rays from the sun, but offer little protection against UVA rays. Plane windows are usually composed of layered composite glass or polycarbonate plastic; these windows typically protect against 99% of UVB rays but only about 50% of UVA rays. Therefore, sunlight coming through those windows can expose skin to significant amounts of damage from UVA rays. UVA penetrates to the depth of collagen in our skin and is the major culprit in causing wrinkles and skin laxity. UVA has also been linked to causing some skin cancers (UVB rays are more directly linked with skin cancers). Sun protection is extra important at higher altitudes because the UV index increases as altitude increases. Essentially, the thinner atmosphere at a high altitude filters out less of the sun's UV rays. As a Mohs surgeon and skin cancer expert, I have seen a large number of pilots with skin cancers because of the amount of UV damage that accumulates over a long career of flying planes.
The most intense hours of UV exposure occur between 10am and 2pm. Travelers should select a broad-spectrum sunscreen with comprehensive UVA/UVB protection. SPF should be 30 or higher. Reapplication to all sun-exposed areas, every 2 hours, is important on long flights. Make sure to apply enough sunscreen: generally 1/2 tsp is enough to cover your face and neck. And always protect your lips with a lip balm or product with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Why does our skin feel so dry after a flight? At altitude, outside air is cycled into the plane as part of the normal air circulation process. This is great in terms of replenishing the cabin with fresh, clean air. However, the air that is cycled in is very dry due to lack of humidification. In general, air in the cabin of a plane contains about 20% humidity; compare this with the 30-50% humidity that we typically see in our homes or workplaces.
Through normal breathing and transepidermal water loss, our bodies lose water every hour that we are on an aircraft. That's why it's so important to keep our bodies hydrated by drinking water and to replenish hydration in our skin with proper skincare.
Tools to keep your skin hydrated in-flight
Consider packing a rich and moisturizing face cream, hand cream, and lip product for your next flight. Many of my patients will choose products with thicker formulations when they travel. Richer creams that contain occlusives such as squalene or dimethicone help prevent transepidermal water loss. Lip balms such as Aquaphor are very popular as the petrolatum helps maintain hydration in the lip. Adding a facial oil such as rosehip
or argan oil adds in an extra layer of protection and helps strengthen the skin barrier while minimizing irritation of the skin.
Be sure to choose gentle, pH-balanced skincare products
that work with your skin's pH. Gentle cleansers and consistent moisturizers will support the skin and help maintain the skin barrier and microbiome. Minimizing inflammation and irritation within the skin is an important part of maintaining hydration.
Prior to a flight, eat a balanced diet, limiting alcohol, sugars, and gluten; all of which are inflammatory foods and can contribute to dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of water.
For skincare, err on the gentle side, avoiding any products or procedures that can inflame or irritate the skin. Moisturize your skin and your lips before getting on the plane. And make sure to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to travel; we often overlook the importance of proper sleep in terms of supporting our skin's circadian rhythms and minimizing stress on the skin.
During your flight, have your water bottle handy as a reminder to drink plenty of water and keep your whole body, and skin, hydrated. Avoid alcohol, salt, and sugary snacks while in-flight. Pack a rich hand cream and face cream, or hydrating face mask, that can be applied in-flight. Hyaluronic acid serums are a favorite for bringing hydration into skin; a molecule of hyaluronic acid binds 1000x its weight in water. Always apply a moisturizer after hyaluronic acid serum so that water stays within the skin and doesn't evaporate into the surrounding atmosphere. I also love spring water spritzers, such as Avene Thermal spring water, that can be misted on your skin while in flight; again, it's important to apply a moisturizer right after spritzing in order to lock the moisture into your skin. Pack a lip product that can be applied as needed.
Caring for your skin after a flight
After a flight, your skin may be dehydrated and flaky. Gentle exfoliation, with an alpha-hydroxy acid or poly-hydroxy acid, will whisk away that dullness by breaking up the bonds between the dead skin cells, allowing them to be shed more easily and revealing the healthy, brighter skin beneath. Wash your skin with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser
to clear away any dirt, germs, and debris that accumulated in flight. Finally, apply a moisturizer containing humectants, emollients, and occlusive to hydrate, repair, and seal the skin, respectively. Consider a facial to help with lymphatic draining and support the circulation of your skin as it recovers from flight.
Keep these tips on hand so that your skin will be brilliant, strong, and healthy after your next flight!