In-flight Skincare Guide: How To Take Care Of Your Skin Mid-Air?


Summer is here, which means holiday plans are in store for most of us. Travelling is so exciting but my skin doesn’t always agree. I’m sure you’ve been there too—you’ve booked your ticket, packed your bags and you’re ready for that long-awaited journey. As much as you try to prep your skin before the flight, as you settle into your seat, the dry, recycled air of the airplane cabin starts to take its toll on your skin. Flying wreaks havoc because of a combination of factors from the lack of sleep to the flight food. Wondering what you can do about it? We spoke to skincare expert, Dr Kiran Sethi, a trained integrative skin and aesthetic specialist from Columbia University and medical director of Isya Aesthetics Clinic in Dehli, and she has all the answers. Stick to the end for a list of products that will help your skin mid-air.

What happens when we’re flying 30,000 feet above sea level?

When you’re up in the air, several factors come into play that can disrupt your skin’s natural balance, leading to issues like dryness, irritation, and breakouts. Here are the main factors:

1.⁠ ⁠Low Humidity


Flight cabins have low humidity levels, typically around 20%, compared to the average indoor humidity of about 30-60% and an average of 62-75% in India, 60% in NYC and 80% humidity in the UK.

This dry air can lead to dehydration of the skin. Dr. Kiran explains, “As we breathe this air, our bodies become dehydrated from the inside out, and moisture is drawn out of the skin, leaving it tight and lacklustre.”

2. ⁠Recycled Air


The air in the cabin is also contained and recirculated, which means you’re breathing in the same air over and over again. This recycled air can be drying and may contain less oxygen than you’re used to, which can affect your skin’s health making it incredibly dry.

3.⁠ ⁠Pressure Changes


I always leave my flight extremely puffy and after speaking to Dr. Kiran I understand why—as the airplane climbs to cruising altitude, the pressure in the cabin decreases which leads to the expansion of gases in your body, including in your skin, which contributes to puffiness and bloating.

4.⁠ ⁠UV Exposure


Keep the airplane window shut as UV rays are higher during airplane travel – you’re closer to the ozone layer of Earth’s atmosphere so the UV radiation can be more powerful and poses a greater risk of sun damage. Although airplane windows are made to block most of the sun’s harmful UV rays, you’re still exposed to some UV radiation while flying.

Why do we breakout after a flight?

I always broke out mid-air on long flights or an hour into landing at my destination and I never understood why this happens, until now. Dr Kiran explains, “It can occur due to a combination of factors, including dehydration. When the air in the cabin is dry, your skin tries to compensate by producing more oil. This excess oil, along with dead skin cells and bacteria, can clog your pores and lead to breakouts. Additionally, the stress of travel and changes in your skincare routine or the environment can also contribute to breakouts.”

What can you do about this?

Preventive measures are your friend. To combat the effects flying can have on your skin, here are some tips from Dr Kiran:

1. Hydrate inside and out


To avoid dehydration and for an effective in-flight skincare, it is essential to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after the flight. Yep, the prep starts before, so hydrate plenty.

For your skin, use a hydrating moisturiser to lock in moisture and even consider a hydrating mist. Scroll below for product suggestions.

2. Apply a good moisturiser


Apply a good moisturiser that is lipid-replenishing and has anti-oxidants right before your flight. I carry a face cleanser to wash my face at the airport washroom and apply a thick moisturiser minutes before boarding. If you are in a rush, ensure you’ve done this at home. Use formulas with active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin or vitamins C and E.

Dr Kiran adds that you must also moisturise your lips, elbows, knees and feet since the dry air also affects your body. Use some good old Vaseline jelly.

3. Use a SPF 40+ sunscreen


Apply sunscreen. You need high photoprotection against UVA, UVB and blue light as we tend to look at screens more often on the plane. Plus the sun’s rays are higher during air travel and we’re closer to the ozone layer. If the flight is long, it would be ideal to reapply it every two or three hours on the face, neck, neckline and back of the hands, especially if you’re at the window seat.

4. Move around


You have to stay active. Try to move every hour at least. If you can’t get up and walk down the aisle of the plane, stretch your legs or move your feet in circles and raise them up and down to stimulate circulation.

If you’re taking long flights (more than three hours seated) it would be advisable to put on pantyhose of medium or soft compression before boarding to prevent cramps and blood clots from being immobile for too long.

5. Get Some Rest


Try to rest or sleep during the flight to give your skin some time to recover. I know it can be so uncomfortable to sleep on flights. The seats feel cramped and we can’t lean to the sides usually. I hate it. Some things that could help improve this are carrying a soft pillow if you can and considering taking a sleeping sedative. I usually take Ayurvedic Ashwagandha 30 minutes before my flight.

Dr Kiran shares what not to do:

1.⁠ ⁠Don’t Overdo the Makeup


Avoid heavy makeup that can clog your pores. It’s best if you go makeup-free to allow your skin to breathe. If you must wear makeup, consider using a tinted moisturiser or mineral makeup. I stick to a nice moisturising lipstick, eyebrow pencils and brushes, and I use Vaseline as a highlighter (which doubles as a moisturiser too).

2.⁠ ⁠Avoid Touching Your Face


Try to avoid touching your face to minimise the transfer of bacteria and oil from your hands to your skin. Airports harbour so much bacteria and when you’re travelling your hands go everywhere from check-in to security check to tiny bathrooms to baggage claim. Carry a sanitiser to keep your hands clean as much as possible.

3.⁠ ⁠Go easy on alcohol and salty food


As fun as it can be at times to enjoy a drink on the flight, alcohol can dehydrate your body, so limit your intake. The same holds for salty foods. Pack some snacks from home instead.

Here are some products to try mid-air:

Dedicate a ziplock bag or a very cute travel beauty kit to carry all your products. Some countries have limitations on liquids you can carry, for example, the United Kingdom only allows 100ml whereas this is not the rule in India. So read the regulations before you pack. But either way, it’s probably smart to travel light so carry 3-4 products only and invest in minis.

Dr Kiran Sethi recommends:

Peltos Hyaluronic Acid Sleep Mask

Available at:

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

Available at:

The Vichy Volcanic Water Face Mist

Available at:

iS Clinical Copper Firming Mist

Available at:

Colorescience Sunforgettable

Available at:

Heliocare Spray

Available at:

Supergoop Unseen Sunsscreen SPF 40

Available at:

Helpful things I carry in my travel kit:

1. A tiny hair brush or a comb


2. Lip balms

3. Mints

4. Mini-sized or sample perfumes


5. Electrolytes or a Vitamin C drink



We hope this helps you have a smoother in-flight skin journey.


- Intern, Elle India

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