BMI Healthcare: How does flying affect your skin?

We often think of jet lag as the main bugbear of long haul flights. But in fact, your skin - not just your sleep pattern - can also suffer as you rack up those air miles. There are a number of reasons for this, but luckily there are also a number of methods to deal with it too.

We’ve put together a short guide on the various ways flying can impact your skin, coupled with tips on how to mitigate them.

Under pressure

Air in the pressurised cabins of planes is often less than 20% humidity, according to the World Health Organisation. This means the air lacks moisture, causing your skin to become dry and uncomfortable. The best way to counter this is to moisturise before, during and after the flight. You can pack a small one into your hand luggage, but don’t forget to keep it under 100ml and carry it in a clear plastic bag. In fact, depending on which airline you’re flying, you may even find moisturiser in the bathrooms on board.1

Midnight oil

Sebaceous glands, which produce the skins natural oils (sebum), can work overtime in dry conditions. If you normally have oily skin, this could mean you breakout in spots after a long flight, due to a build-up of oils, dead skin cells and impurities in the recycled air. If you want to avoid this, you can use blotting papers and makeup remover wipes while flying to help keep your skin clear. Exfoliating once you land is also advisable.1

Flying and skin

Stay hydrated

Being cramped up in a tight space, and getting dehydrated, may cause you to retain fluid. As a result, your skin may then appear puffy or swollen, especially on your feet. 

So, if you’re flying somewhere hot and want to sport your new sandals, make sure you stay as hydrated and mobile as possible while you’re up in the air. Say yes to water, no to coffee and alcohol, and get up to stretch and walk around every hour if possible.1

Wear sun cream

According to a review in the Journal of American Medical Association, pilots and cabin crews are twice as likely to develop melanoma (skin cancer), due to regular exposure to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation.2 Whether you have a window, aisle or middle seat, the sun’s rays will still reach into the plane, so keep yourself safe from higher levels of UV light. Before you fly, make sure you apply a sun cream with a broad spectrum SPF - for protection from UVA and UVB rays - and pack some in your hand luggage too.1

A few more tips

    • Moisturise the night before to help prevent your skin drying out through the flight 
    • If you wear makeup, keep it to a minimum, to help keep it clear in the dry, impure air 
    • Use a broad-range SPF cream, as UVA and UVB rays will still reach through the windows 
    • Wear 100% cotton clothing if possible, to help prevent rashes as you’re in a dry, confined space 
    • Drink plenty of water (or green tea if you need something hot) instead of coffee or alcohol, to stay hydrated 
    • Keep your nose moisturised throughout the flight 
    • Exfoliate and moisturise once you land3


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