Long-haul flights can leave you feeling and looking a little worse for wear. That’s because there are plenty of factors at play: the recycled air, a couple of hundred people in a small space, and the altitude.
Now that we’re able to visit some of our favourite countries thanks to the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs), flights present another factor that can make our journey a little more unbearable – wearing a face mask.
While they protect us from the virus, face masks can wreak havoc on our skin, especially if they’re on our faces for long stretches at a time. Think dehydration, redness, increased sensitivity, and clogged pores.
To help us combat and prevent those harsh effects, Daily Vanity reached out to three trusted skin experts for advice. Check out their top tips ahead.
Cleanse your skin before boarding
The key to keeping your skin in good condition while flying is to prepare before boarding. This includes taking a shower and going through your entire skincare routine at home.
“It may not be practical to double cleanse or even cleanse your skin on a flight,” Dr Teo Wan Lin, an accredited dermatologist and medical director of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, says. “Get on your flight with clean skin clear of makeup.”
“For acne-prone individuals, use a gentle, soap-free antiseptic wash prior to wearing the mask and moisturise with a light, water-based moisturiser,” Dr Mark Tang, a senior consultant dermatologist at The Skin Specialists & Laser Clinic, advises.
If you’re on a flight for more than 12 hours and your skin starts to feel greasy, go ahead and wash your face with a mild cleanser mid-flight.
Keep your skin moisturised
“The humidity levels on an airplane are considerably lower. This increases transepidermal water loss, which causes a dehydrated skin barrier that can trigger eczema flare-ups,” Dr Teo warns.
She recommends moisturising your skin in layers before you board your flight. That means applying skincare in this order: serum, emulsion, cream, and mist throughout the flight. “The first layer is the lightest (serum) and is readily absorbed, and the last should be convenient to apply and [it will] increase [the] absorption of other products,” she explains.
Aesthetic doctor Dr Rachel Ho agrees, saying we should opt for lightweight, hydrating serums and moisturisers to maintain our moisture barrier. “Non-comedogenic skincare (products that won’t clog pores) under face masks would be helpful,” she recommends. “Look for ingredients that reduce inflammation like niacinamide.”
For those with eczema-prone skin, Dr Tang suggests bringing along medicated creams to soothe any flare-ups. “Eczema can be triggered by cold dry weather, especially in winter,” he lets on. “Start good skincare prior to the holiday to keep the skin barrier in its optimal state.”
Skip the makeup
Dr Tang and Dr Ho both agree that you should also consider skipping makeup as it could potentially clog your pores under a mask. “There will be increased occlusion of the skin [as it traps] more moisture, sweat, and bacteria. This can lead to eczema or acne outbreaks,” Dr Tang explains.
Instead, focus on a skincare-only approach and do spot-concealing if it’s absolutely necessary.
Pack a few extra masks
On a long-haul flight, your mask is bound to accumulate sweat, sebum, and moisture from your breath. Dr Tang and Dr Ho recommend changing your face mask out when it gets dirty to keep your skin clean and fresh.
“Consider wearing different masks during the journey. For example, an N95 mask at the airport or crowded areas, and a more comfortable surgical mask during the flight,” Dr Tang proposes.
“With the advent of multiple infectious variants, the use of the N95 mask becomes critical for protection against airborne transmission,” Dr Teo adds. “The N95 mask, however, is one of the worst masks for the skin microenvironment because of the occlusion which causes changes in the skin microbiome.”
But, during a time of pandemic, Dr Tang and Dr Ho want us to remember that wearing a proper mask is still the best measure to prevent Covid infections, even if you’re vaccinated. So if you have sensitive skin and you want to wear a mask made of satin or silk, you may want to rethink that. “Don’t compromise safety and common sense,” Dr Tang cautions.
As you soar to a cruising altitude, you’re also flying closer to the ozone layer. That means the sun’s UV rays are even more damaging to the skin than when you’re on the ground. Ultraviolet radiation is made up of two types of light: UVA and UVB, which are both detrimental to the skin.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are the primary cause of photo-ageing. Meanwhile, UVB rays target the outermost layers, and cause redness and skin cancer. Most plane windows will block UVB rays but the UVA rays can still penetrate the glass, which is why we still have to apply sunscreen on our flight, especially if you’re sitting by the window.
Now, you may be tempted to slather sunscreen only on your forehead since the lower half of your face is covered by a mask, but Dr Ho has some bad news to share.
“Unless [they’ve] got enough UPF protection, face masks don’t provide enough protection against UV rays,” she says. She also recommends applying a lip balm, preferably one with SPF, throughout the flight to keep your lips moisturised and protected.
- 22 sunscreens that you can comfortably wear indoors without feeling yucky
- 8 sunscreen myths debunked – plus, why you still need to wear sunscreen under your face mask
Stay hydrated throughout the flight
According to the Aerospace Medical Association, you should be drinking about eight ounces of water (that’s approximately 240ml, equivalent to a full standard cup) every hour you’re in the air to prevent dehydration.
It’s a tall order for a long-haul flight, but upping your water intake pre-flight will help give you a jumpstart. You can also balance out the frigid cabin conditions by avoiding cold beverages and drinking warm liquids. In addition, Dr Ho suggests avoiding alcohol and caffeine if possible. “Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which exacerbate ongoing water loss,” she explains.
And yes, we know what you’re thinking. “Won’t I have to go to the bathroom many times if I’m drinking that much water?”
Well, continuous bathroom breaks may be tedious, but they’ll get your body moving, which is essential for maintaining healthy circulation. This way, you’re likely to avoid muscle cramps during a long flight too. If you can, secure an aisle seat. It’ll make toilet trips easier and position you slightly further away from the sun’s rays.
Above all, take the necessary precautions to stay safe so you can fully enjoy your trip!
Featured image credit: Monstera/Pexels