This Is Exactly What Happens to Your Skin on a Plane

When it comes to your skin on a plane, let's just say that flying is for the birds. Setting aside the fact that you’re probably wedged into a seat about the size of a toaster and sleeping sitting up is nearly impossible, your skin on a plane can be a serious problem, whether you’re stretched out in first class or fighting for the armrest (and an overhead bin—if your bag can fit inside of one) in economy.


So what exactly happens to your skin at 30,000 feet—and how the heck can you ease the damage from frequent (or not so frequent) flying? Top dermatologists explain the effects of airplane air on your skin, plus how to keep your face moisturized, calm, and, yes, even glowing on long-haul flights.

1. The humidity of a desert = seriously dry skin.

Your skin’s first beef with flying is the dry cabin air. “Typically, skin is comfortable when the humidity is between 40 to 70 percent,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a clinical instructor in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Most airplane cabins are at about 20 percent. That’s less than half of what we are used to,” she says. So along with that lack of humidity comes a dip in the hydration level of your skin on a plane, Elizabeth Tanzi, an assistant clinical professor in dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., explains to Allure. The result: dry, flaky, or red skin.

Your best defense: lots (and lots) of water and smart product picks (that you actually use) in flight. Look for items that contain hyaluronic acid. “When there is no water in the air, moisturizers don’t work as well since there is nothing to grab onto,” says Tanzi. Hyaluronic acid—a sugar molecule found naturally in the skin—has an amazing ability to bind to water. [...]

3. When your skin dries out, it may overcompensate for the dryness, which means one thing: grease.

Need another reason to take your in-air moisturizing routine seriously? Arid air and low humidity have been known to lead to oily foreheads…and chins…and cheeks…and noses. It makes sense. Increased oil production is just your skin’s way of trying to counteract the superdry air, says Tanzi.

4. "Cabin altitude" can steal your glow.

You might be at cruising altitude, but commercial aircraft tend to be pressurized between 6,000 to 8,000 feet, which is the equivalent to what you might feel if you were standing on top of a mountain, says Kanchanapoomi Levin. The higher the altitude, “the less blood flow to the skin, which may make for a dull appearance.

5. Blame water retention for that post-flight puffiness.

Inactivity as well as too much salt intake (thanks, airport snacks) during a long flight causes water retention, which shows up as facial puffiness, says Tanzi, or as we'll call it, bloat. Once you land, aim to get a bit of exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk. Exercise can mobilize the extra fluid, says Tanzi.

6. Repeat after us: Don’t skip sunscreen while flying.

Being physically closer to the sun really does up your risk of skin cancer and sun-related damage, especially if you’re in a window seat. “UV rays are much more intense at higher altitudes, and with thinner air, there is less screening of harmful radiation,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin. If you’re flying during the day (and don’t want to close the shade), sunscreen is a must. [...]

7. Travel stress creates the perfect storm for skin problems.

It’s hard to deny that air travel today is rather stressful. Just getting through security can be panic-inducing. “There is a level of anxiety that happens when we fly, and that can lead to an increase in the stress hormones,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin, “which we know increases redness and any inflammatory conditions of the skin, like eczema or psoriasis.” [...]

Written by Cassie Shortsleeve and published at

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