What Happens to Your Skin on an Airplane Flight

22 June 2022



 ‘Tis the season for holidays and… vacations! Some of us may be on well deserved holidays and trips to visit family and friends, after a long hiatus thanks to Covid-19. While flying can be fun; flights are non fun on the skin. Inside an airplane, the air is drier, recycled and pressurised. All these changes can dry out your skin and worsen acne. So before you get on your flight; here’s a guide to help you to understand 5 skin problems that arise on flights and how to avoid them. No on-flight sheet mask selfie required.

dry skin


Dry skin


If your skin feels dry and parched like the Sahara desert- that’s because the air in airplane cabins is much higher. Humidity levels in a plane are approximately 20 to 30%. As a reference, the humidity in Singapore ranges from 60 to 90% over the day. The dry air of airplanes leads to increased water loss from the skin, causing dry, red and flaky skin.


As a result of the dryness, your skin may compensate by increasing sebum production to reduce water loss. This oiliness can transiently worsen acne and maskne (mask related acne). One of the easiest things you can do to reduce transepidermal water loss is to moisturise with ingredients that bind to water molecules and lock them into the skin. My top recommendations are hyaluronic acid (a type of sugar that has impressive water binding properties) and ceramides (a type of moisturiser that strengthens skin barrier). They’re both affordable and can be bought over the counter; so you can reapply liberally as needed.


Related blogposts:

Maskne: How to Avoid Acne from Wearing Surgical Masks

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

5 Cult Favourite Hyaluronic Acid Serums Reviewed

Ceramides in Skincare: A Relief for Dry & Sensitive Skin 


 If you want to wear makeup under your face mask- here are some pro tips from my friend and makeup artist, Airin Lee in Skincare and Makeup Tips for Wearing Face Make Up.


Besides the skin of your face; don’t neglect your hands and lips! The skin of the lips is thinner and lacks oil glands; so your lips are more vulnerable to dryness, chapping and cracking. Remember to use a lip balm and don’t lick your lips. More lip care tips in Lip Care: Do’s and Don’t For Healthy Lips.


With on-going water loss intensified on a flight; you might not want to worsen that anymore with your drink choices. Drinks that contain diuretics such as alcohol and coffee can make you pee more; and leave you feeling more dry. Although a glass of champagne or a cup of coffee is unlikely to do much harm anyway; choosing good ol’ water is a better choice.


Wines and champagne make for a good inflight ‘gram; but water is a better choice for your skin!


Sun exposure and UV damage


UV protection is still necessary while on a flight, especially if you are taking a window seat. At higher altitudes; you’ll be closer to the sun and UV rays. As previously mentioned UVA and UVB rays from the sun can cause skin cancer and premature signs of ageing in the skin. UVA rays can also penetrate glass windows to cause silent, insidious damage to the skin.


As previously explained on the blog; UVB rays cause burns and UVA rays accelerate hyperpigmentation; and signs of collagen loss in the skin such as wrinkles and sagging. You can read about how to choose sunscreens in Sunscreen Reviews 2021 and Sunscreen Reviews 2019. The effectiveness of sunscreens wear off in 3-4 hours; so please remember to reapply sunscreen.



Stress and the skin


Travel plans- flights, hotels, car rentals, restaurants and excel spreadsheets- do they stress you out? Factor in keeping up to date with Covid-19 variants (Omnicron, dang!), travel restrictions, PCR/ART requirements, travel declarations, insurance plans… that’s a lot more planning and anxiety for travelling these days.


As you might have already guessed, stress is bad romance for the skin. Stress causes our bodies to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes several changes in our body to enable us to better function under stressful situations. In the skin, however, cortisol causes the skin to be more oily. If you already have clogged pores or acne, the increased sebum secretion in the skin can worsen acne.


The body’s immune system also responds to stress by increasing inflammation. Inflammation, as part of a healing response, is useful to the body. However, inflammatory conditions such as acne, eczema and rosacea can worsen with flare ups in stressful situations.


Related blogposts:

Acne: Types, Causes, Treatments & Tips for Prevention

Eczema: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments Explained

Rosacea: Symptoms, Triggers, Skincare & Treatments

Water retention and puffy eyes


Sitting for prolonged periods on a flight can worsen water retention in the body including your face. This can lead to temporary puffy eyes and a tired looking face. If you can, get up and take a walk along the aisle to improve your circulation and lymphatic drainage. A cold roller can also improve the circulation and puffiness around your eyes.


Dull skin


Travelling at high altitudes- most commercial planes fly at an altitude of at least 30,000 feet above sea level- is akin to being on a mountain. Even though the air inside commercial cabins is adjusted to reduce this effect; the average air pressure of an airplane is about 8000 feet.


The effect of this elevated air pressure? Reduced oxygenation of blood and decreased blood flow to the skin. These effects steal the glow from your skin. Thankfully, these effects on blood flow to the skin are temporary; and should reverse some time after you land.


Travel plans for me are paused again this year. However, I am grateful to be spending the year end holidays safely with my family!


So here you go- 5 effects (and the reasons behind them) of flights on your skin. I hope that you found this review useful. Have a good holiday and safe trip!



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