As a European who lived in New Zealand for seven years and thus flew across half the globe at least twice every year, I’ve had my fair share of long-haul flight experiences. Truly, those two 10- to 12-hour long flights going either through North America or Asia were always torturous, though I have to say flying via LAX airport and having to go through customs there despite only changing planes was probably my most nightmarish experience to date. I had to explain to the customs officer that no, I really, truly do not wish to stay in the U.S. whether legally or illegally, thank you very much. They also took a retina scan and my fingerprints, which made me late for my connecting flight and also means that I am now registered at some obscure U.S. database, even though I have literally not stepped foot on American soil since 2000 (not counting the three steps I took outside of LAX airport in 2006 because I couldn’t find my connecting gate).
Long-haul flights are an absolute nightmare for the skin, with the air on planes notoriously dry and, well, gross. Add to that not being able to properly wash up for up to two days depending on how long your transit times are, and you will be left with skin that is usually either super dry or super oily, and the almost unavoidable post-flight breakout. As a keen skinthusiast and problem skin-haver, I quickly developed a whole array of hacks and flight-specific routines to combat the oiliness, the breakouts, and that awful feeling of tightness you get from the dry air on planes. Given that I basically had to take the longest flights possible for so many years, I feel I am now at an expert level when it comes to dealing with skin issues during long-haul flights!
Long-haul flights are an absolute nightmare for the skin. You will be left with skin that is either super dry or super oily, and the almost unavoidable post-flight breakout.
So, here are my five ultimate long-haul flight skincare tips for that first post-pandemic vacation.
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
When I flew to New Zealand for the first time, my travel-seasoned friend gave me what I still consider the most vital tip of all: “Stay hydrated! I mean it—drink water all the time, not just when it’s offered to you, but bring your own water bottle, have the flight attendants fill it up throughout your flight! Only water, maybe a juice once in a while, but keep drinking that water!” I was so captivated by the urgency with which she said this that I did exactly as she advised, splurging on two huge overpriced water bottles after passing security (they used to take water bottles away even if they were empty—do they still do this at airports?). I got weird looks from my seat neighbor because I chugged those two bottles like a madwoman during the 16-hour flight from Dubai to Christchurch, which also meant that I unfortunately had to ask her to let me pass to use the restroom pretty regularly.
But see, this is why drinking as much water as possible is so ingenious—it actually forces you to get up regularly, which in turn means you move around a lot more, helping to prevent deep vein thrombosis and swollen ankles. It also means that you replenish lost moisture to your skin from the inside, helping to keep it plump, while simultaneously preventing puffiness. And, well, many of you will not like to hear this but—lay off the alcohol! Apart from making your symptoms of jet lag worse if you are also fighting off a hangover, your skin will also not thank you for the extra toxins it has to eliminate. The mix of high altitude, changes in air pressure, and alcohol will put needless strain on your skin (and the rest of your body, mind you), and you will have to work extra hard to get it back to its usual glowy self.
2. Aloe Vera Juice & Gel Are Long-Haul Flight Skincare Must-Haves
Bringing a container of pure aloe vera gel with me and a spray bottle filled with pure aloe vera juice has been a game changer for my skin during long-haul flights. Aloe vera is a humectant, meaning it attracts and binds water, helping to keep skin looking fresh and plump. I basically just apply and reapply the gel generously all over my face every hour or so during the flight, spritzing on the aloe vera juice in-between layers and whenever my skin starts feeling tight. Now, I am not going to lie—the whole thing is a bit of a sticky mess, so don’t expect to look glamorous when you do this. Make sure to choose alcohol-free products with a guaranteed high aloe vera content.
It’s important to keep your skin well-hydrated with an aloe facial mist (any other humectant-rich facial mist will do too, just make sure it’s alcohol-free), because otherwise there isn’t enough moisture to grab for the aloe vera gel, and the dry cabin air might end up drying out your skin even further. If you have very dry skin, consider “slugging” as a way to keep moisture locked in during a flight: Use a thin layer of petroleum jelly or a silicone-based cream to seal in the humectant aloe vera gel, especially before you go to sleep during a long flight.
3. Opt For Cleansing Creams or Micellar Waters That Do Not Need to Be Rinsed Off
It’s hard to predict what the washrooms will be like during a long-haul flight, and airport restrooms are likewise notoriously icky. The water available during flights is also not necessarily something you want to have on your face, and those small sinks are a nightmare to bend over (and they also get progressively grosser with every hour, because people are horrible). So, I usually make sure that I pack a small container of a cleansing cream or micellar water that doesn’t need to be rinsed off to make sure I can clean my face without needing a source of water.
French pharmacy brands have a variety of gentle cleansers on offer that can be used without water, from cleansing milks to balms. Usually you can just remove them with a slightly dampened cleansing pad—if there is no water available, spritzing the pad with a face mist will do the trick. Unlike so many other micellar water brands, Bioderma micellar waters do not need to be rinsed off with water, as they use gentle surfactants that aren’t drying or harsh for the skin.
4. Consider Splurging on Some Pamper Time During Your Transit Period
Now, you might be one of those lucky people who fly business or even first class and thus have access to fancy business lounges with shower areas. But for most of us plebs, economy class means we have to stick to those grimy, rarely appealing public toilets and wash basins at international airports while waiting for our connecting flights. It took a trip to Singapore’s Changi Airport for me to realize that you can actually rent showers or wash rooms for an hour or longer, usually for very little money too! I can’t even describe what a difference that shower made to my physical and mental health, and of course to how my skin felt during that second flight from Asia to New Zealand.
Many international airports also offer massage services or resting pods, where you can lie down in peace for a few hours if you like. Especially after being cramped up in economy class, having the chance to lie down flat, even just for a bit, is so comforting. Pack a hydrating sheet mask if you know you’ll have some rest time, or even a wash-off clay mask in case you can use a shower. Clay helps against the extra oiliness caused by the dry cabin air, while sheet masks can replenish dehydrated and dry skin. Check beforehand if the airport where you have transit time offers these types of budget-friendly pampering services—usually you can find maps with all amenities online. I rather sit out a mediocre airport meal and use the money for a quick massage or a 30-minute shower, knowing I’ll feel so much fresher once I arrive at my destination.
5. Go Low Sodium Before and During Your Flights
I’m not big on any kind of diet restriction, but this one will change your life if you are a frequent long-distance flyer, promise! Just as drinking water like a madwoman was essential in keeping my skin plump and juicy during flights, so was learning to go as salt-free as possible to prevent water retention. I have a tendency to get puffy from eating too much sodium-rich foods in general, so I have to be careful even in my regular life, but about two days before a long flight I will go totally salt-free, opting instead for naturally diuretic foods such as watermelon, cucumber, or red bell peppers.
Now, I am not encouraging you to chug those “detox teas,” and please don’t go overboard with this, as severe dehydration just to look “skinny” really isn’t the goal here. But the dry air and differences in air pressure are known to cause people’s feet to swell and retain water. And your face, too, will start to look puffy, especially around the eye and jaw area. During your flight, remember to keep drinking that water, move around the plane every hour or so and right after sleeping. Many airlines also offer low sodium meals, which you can usually pre-order when you book your tickets.
What are your skincare tips for surviving a long-haul flight? Share with us in the comments!