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Skin care to use before, during and after your flight, according to a derm

Sunscreen, oils and more to definitely pack in your carry-on.
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

You made it. Another winter is officially in the books. After surviving a rough, cold and brittle season, there's only one way to celebrate: Skipping spring altogether, hopping on a flight and flying until you reach summer (aka, any location with "beach" in the name). Your bags are packed with your cutest warm-weather rompers, bathing suits and the only skin care essential a sunny getaway requires: Sunscreen.

If you're thinking the latter is true, then your getaway is off to a not-so-great start for your skin. In fact, your skin care woes likely started the moment you sat down on that plane. (And, unfortunately, your skin doesn't care if you have an aisle or a window seat.)

While up in the clouds, UV rays and lack of hydration can really take a toll on your complexion, but there are tools to tackle these concerns (ones that can fit in your carry-on). We spoke to a dermatologist to figure out what your skin needs from the moment you go wheels up to the second you touch down.

What really happens to your skin in the air

To understand what your skin needs, you first need to understand what is actually happening to your skin while you're onboard. According to board-certified dermatologist Emily de Golian, the plane creates a very low-humidity environment, which in turn, makes the air dry and almost desert-like.

"[It's] really important to focus on hydration and probably hydration that you want to re-apply in-flight," says de Golian. "So, I find it best to go with clean skin, minimal to no makeup, so that you can be re-applying moisturizer."

She also notes that flyers are exposed to much higher amounts of UV radiation, so prepping your skin with sunscreen is non-negotiable.

"I like a multitasking product that has both SPF and moisturizing properties, so that way you're getting more bang for your buck out of your product and it's easier to apply in-flight. There's [also] less for you to have to travel with."

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Moisturizing Face Sunscreen Lotion

"Aveeno has a protective hydrating sunscreen that's really nice that's a high SPF 60, and so you're going to get your moisturizer and your SPF in a single product."

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

"CeraVe also has an AM facial moisturizing lotion that has a little bit lower SPF 30, but as long as you're reapplying at least an SPF 30 in broad-spectrum, those are the two most important things to look for."

How to create an in-flight skin care routine

When it comes to the products you should be packing in your carry-on or personal item, de Golian says it depends on your skin type. "Some people are just at baseline more dry than others," she explains. For those flyers, she has a layering tip to try: "You can also do an oil on top of your moisturizer to really help seal [it] in. Something more occlusive will help prevent transepidermal water loss so that you're really feeling the hydration."

That is why she suggests applying, re-applying and applying some more. The longer you're in the air, the more in danger your skin is of losing hydration, so de Golian recommends putting on sunscreen about every two hours. For moisturizer, she says to re-apply on an "as-needed basis," but every hour or two is a good target to ensure the occlusive products keep moisture truly locked in.

And if you're asking yourself what the heck "occlusive" means, I did the same thing ... and then I asked the professional, who said, "Occlusion is basically covering the skin surface. If you were to put on some products and then have your mask on top, that's going to help prevent those products from evaporating off the skin or drying out. It’s going to help drive [the product] into the skin, so you can do that with a physical barrier like an actual sheet mask or you can also do that with topical ointments or topical oils." One of them is marula oil.

"I really like marula oil because it's non-comedogenic, so that means it's not going to contribute to acne-type lesions. You have lots of popular facial oils out there, but that's one of my favorites, and it's also anti-inflammatory. Dry skin can get a little bit more red and irritated, so having that anti-inflammatory property is nice."

The Ordinary 100% Cold Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

This $11 virgin marula oil from The Ordinary is said to be packed with antioxidant-rich ingredients (great for hydration and protecting the skin barrier — and it's well below the maximum fluid-ounce amount for planes, so you can take it with you for easy re-application.

TonyMoly I'm Real Sheet Mask Collection

According to de Golian, face masks are another great way to pack in extra hydration "as long as you don't mind looking a little bit silly on your flight." We'll take silliness over dry skin any day, so we recommend reaching for one of these TonyMoly masks. One Shop TODAY editor said the hydrating masks "transformed her skin" and left her with a glowing complexion. Plus, they come in a pack of five, so you'll have enough for the flight there, back and any time in-between.

The "dos" and "don'ts" of in-flight skin care

If you've spent the last two years reading and writing about skin care (guilty!), then you know that certain skin care ingredients are well-known for their hydration benefits — hyaluronic acid is one of them. Obviously, this should be a part of your in-flight skin care routine, right? To my surprise, de Golian says the exact opposite:

"I know hyaluronic acid products are really popular right now because they find a lot of water, but if you're applying it to dry skin, that HA is actually going to pull water from the skin," she says. "That type of product has to be applied to damp skin. So, unless you're doing a facial mist beforehand or going into the airplane bathroom and splashing some of that water on your face — which I wouldn't necessarily recommend — HAs are not going to be your best moisturizer."

Instead, de Golian recommends reaching for ceramides, which can help maintain a healthy skin barrier and are "a lot more effective in-flight."

Byoma Hydrating Serum

This serum's formula features a tri-ceramide complex along with "hydrating heroes" glycerin and squalane to keep your skin plump and moisturized.

Cocokind Ceramide Recovery Balm

For a thicker consistency, with just as much moisturizing properties, this recovery balm is a great choice. According to the brand, it can prevent moisture loss and works to reduce signs of irritation.

Evian Facial Spray

For the germaphobes who refuse to use plane water to refresh their face, this travel-friendly facial mist is great to pop into your bag. It's also useful to prep your skin before applying hyaluronic acid on a flight!

Not all of your trendy skin care tricks are in the no-fly zone, if you will. De Golian says the popular trend, slugging, can offer many benefits to your skin while in the air. She says, "If you're not acne-prone, slugging would really help prevent any hydration from evaporating out of the skin, and keep you very well hydrated." (But if you're prone to breakouts, she says to stick to the marula oil.)

Pre-flight and post-flight tips

To ensure maximum skin health, you'll want to make sure your skin is ready for flight. Dr. de Golian says she's a fan of using vitamin C serums as your first step after you cleanse the skin on the morning of travel days. "Those are great because they're also going to help in an antioxidant capacity to protect against that damage, so particularly when you are flying and exposed to that higher UV radiation, the vitamin C is a great first layer," she explains.

Olehenriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum

This travel-friendly (and budget-friendly, at $15) vitamin C serum is said to firm, illuminate and provide all-day hydration.

Even though you just spend a few hours applying and re-applying some really important products, your post-flight routine, is going to focus on washing everything off.

"Traveling [on a plane] is not the cleanest environment necessarily, so as soon as you’re able to after flying, it’s nice to get a quick face wash — even just a wipe — and re-apply your products on the ground," she says. "Clean your hands first and then get a good face wash in the restroom, that way your skin is going to be a little bit happier."

More products to try in-flight

Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand Wipes

"The first thing I do when I get to my seat is I wipe down every single touch point," says de Golian. "So that includes [the] armrest, the seat belt, buckle, the screen, the tray tables and the headrest on the seat itself to make sure that your environment is clean."

Essentially, if you want your skin to stay clean, you have to make sure your space is, too. These TSA-approved antimicrobial wipes are said to kill 99.99% of germs and keep hands feeling soft to the touch.

Tarte BB Blur Tinted Moisturizer

If you can't leave the house, never mind traveling by plane, without a little coverage, a tinted moisturizer could be your best bet. This travel-size Tarte option quadruples as a moisturizer, primer, foundation and SPF.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment (Travel Size)

Because de Golian is constantly sanitizing her hands, she says she oftentimes packs her bag with a basic hand cream like Aquaphor. "It's a little bit greasy, but [if you] rub it in, it works really well," she says.

Travel Rest Therapeutic Memory Foam Travel & Neck Pillow

"For neck pillows in particular, you always want to look for one that has a washable cover. That is super key so that you're not traveling around with bacteria." Not only does this option have a removable microfiber cover, but it's also made with memory foam cushioning and is 50% off right now. Just make sure to keep it stowed away before using it to protect it from outside germs, and then wash it in between uses.

Brooklinen Mulberry Silk Eyemask

And if your travel must-haves include an eye mask, make sure it's made of a quality silk or satin fabric. The smoother the fabric, the less likely it's going to tug on your skin.

Nakery Beauty 5-in-1 Serum-Infused Cleansing Cloths

These cleaning cloths come highly recommended by associate editor Francesca Sales, who recently used them while traveling. According to the brand, they are designed to cleanse, exfoliate, remove makeup and more.

Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle

Staying (physically) hydrated is also at the top of de Golian's flight essentials list. She skips the coffee and alcohol because they are going to "dry you out." With this collapsible water bottle, you'll always have some water with you to keep your body and skin hydrated.

Meet Our Expert

  • Emily de Golian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon at Forefront Dermatology.