Girl reading a book on an airplane on why skin breaks out when flying on an airplane

Why your skin breaks out when you fly on an airplane

Getting ready to visit family for the holidays or take that epic vacation? You’d better be ready to battle the blemishes then. There’s a reason your skin seems to breakout when you fly on an airplane.

Sure, you could put on a sheet mask and mist your face while soaring above the clouds. For us personally though, we’re not letting anyone see us with a sheet mask on. No way, no how. But before and after your flight? Absolutely! We’re totally into it.

And if you’ve got the good fortune to fly first class, some airlines give you a bundle of awesome skincare products to help you look your most stellar upon arrival. Moisturization is definitely one of the most crucial aspects of beautiful skin, especially miles high in the sky. It’s one of the ways to battle blemishes with success so you don’t have to spend an hour in your hotel room using concealer to cover up those newfound spots before exploring your destination.

Even in cars, trains, and ships, your skin can suffer tremendously when you travel. It’s important to know why this happens and head it off at the pass so you look as effortlessly beautiful as always.

Keep reading and you’ll soon be an expert on how to prevent what dermatologists have been dubbing as ‘airplane acne’ and so much more!

The reasons why your skin breaks out post-flight

You packed your bags all bouncy and bubbly, ready to travel and see new places or old loved ones. While doing so, your skin looked great. But now you stop in the airport bathroom and see blemishes popping up all over. What’s going on? Read on to find out!


Not all stress is bad. Sometimes, we’re stressed for good reasons. Like being excited about flying into Miami to take a tropical cruise in the winter and escaping the snow. Or perhaps heading to Manhattan to see your college bestie, or even going abroad to discover another country. It’s all so exciting!

It’s also all so stressful. All that running to catch your plane, checking and re-checking to make sure you have your passport and itinerary and all those things can really stress out your whole body, including your skin. You can thank cortisol, the stress hormone, for that. When it comes to acne, cortisol makes your sebaceous glands produce more oil. That gives you clogged pores. And if there are bacteria hitching a transatlantic ride on your face, breakouts will be busting out, guaranteed.

Your best defense? We know it’s easier said than done, but try to calm yourself and relax a bit!

The air quality on the plane

We cringe every time we board a plane and hear someone hacking up a lung. It’s not just that we feel sorry for them (we truly do), but it’s also because we fear to catch whatever horrid cold that person has. But even if no one on the plane is coughing or sneezing up a storm, that recycled plane air continues to spread germs throughout the cabin, even from flights before yours.

And then, there’s the lack of humidity inside the airplane itself. It drops about 20% than the normal air. When you have dry air, skin dries out. When skin dries out, your sebaceous glands freak out and go, “OMG we need to make more oil now!” And thus, the oil gets trapped under that dry, deadened top layer of your skin for an unsavory blend of blemishes.

One of the best ways to handle this is to do your skincare routine as close to boarding as possible. When you get on the plane with a clean and fresh face, you reduce your breakout chances. Carry that misting spray with you and a TSA-approved size of moisturizer to help soothe dried-out skin.

Airplane pressure

Dry cabin air can leave you with chapped lips and an oily T-zone. It can also steal your glow thanks to the artificial pressure that’s there to keep you and the other passengers safe while flying. It helps though to think of it as the equivalent of being on a high elevation. We discussed that recently (read about that here!) and how it can do awful things to your skin. The same goes for flying the friendly skies!

When you combat this airplane air with proper moisturization and hydration, your skin will come out looking a lot healthier by the time you arrive.

Climate change

While we could go on all day about climate change problems affecting the world and our skin, what we’re talking about here is the change in the weather. For example, you could be coming from the frigid north and headed into warmer weather. Or the opposite may be true. Perhaps you’re ready to take on the snow!

When you suddenly change from one type of climate to another, it can be harder for your body to adjust. Those going from hot and humid places like Miami or the Bahamas into the cold may find themselves with rough patches of skin. If you have a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema, this might even set off flare-ups. But if you’re going from the cold to the heat, your skin will become more oily and sweaty and easily break out.

Time change

Moving through time zones? That will do it to you too! Hopping from one time zone to another, it causes a lot of confusion for your internal clock. While your body will naturally adjust in a few days, your sleeping habits change leading you to feel tired at times you should be awake and awake at times you should be asleep.

When that happens, your skin gets confused too. It will often look uneven and dull. Plus, if you’re beat from your trip, you might forget to remove your makeup. Those makeup wipes are a wonderful tool to stash in your carry-on so you can clean your face with ease without any fuss.

Hormonal changes

In addition to time changes, flying east to west means you’re crossing over many time zones and then your internal clock goes really batty. Your body gets stressed out and hence, there goes that cortisol again. But that’s not all.

Every time your adrenal gland pumps out more cortisol, it sends out androgen, a male hormone that we also have a little bit of. Normally, when you have low levels of it, it’s not such a big thing. But when your body gets all stressed to the max and pushes out extra, it makes a big difference and leads to acne.

Change of diet

Arguably, one of the best things about traveling is all that delicious food! Trying food in new places is pure heaven! The street food stalls in Asia! All those bowls of pasta in Italy! Tacos in Mexico! Oh great. Now we’re hungry!

Anyway, when you start eating these delicious foods that you might not always get a chance to eat back home, it can cause problems for your skin. Maybe you don’t eat lots of cheese or sugar normally but on your trip, you’re going gung ho for it. And that change will sneak up in the form of breakouts.

That gastrointestinal overload is definitely going to show. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t experience the best foods of the places you visit, but rather, knowing this, try to counter-balance it with proper nutrition and skincare to avoid those blemishes.


As we mentioned, airplane air is really dry. If it causes your skin to dry out, guess what it does to the rest of you? That’s right…it causes dehydration. It’s so important on the plane and once you arrive to drink more water.

It also happens on trains, ships, and cars and buses too. We know that when we hit the road, we’re guilty as charged. We don’t want to make too many pit stops at roadside gas stations. Ew! But we do promptly guzzle more water as soon as we arrive. Drinking plenty of water will help you feel better inside and out, and it will keep your skin from looking dull and dry. Plus, if you want to bust dark circles before they become near impossible to mask with concealer, have more water!

How to prevent post-flight breakouts

Now that you know what causes your skin to go all willy-nilly when you travel, you can do something about it. Keep reading and we’ll let you in on our best travel tips for battling breakouts.

Increase your water intake

When you drink water, it’s not to hydrate your face but rather, to cleanse your system as it responds to stress. Drinking plenty of water starting before your trip and continuing during your travels is the way to go. At least 2 liters of the stuff should do the trick.

And sorry to say this, but you should avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight. Enjoy them once you get where you’re going but while in the air, your skin will bless you with looking vibrant and fresh rather than sallow and dull.

Once you arrive at your destination, take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables at the market, as long as they’re safe to eat. In other countries, particularly of the Southeastern Asian area, you’ll often find coconuts with straws coming out the top perfect for sipping. Fresh watermelon, apples, and other nutritious snacks will taste even sweeter and guess what? Your skin will LOVE it.

Partaking in cocktails on a rooftop bar in Manhattan or some other fabulous city? Switch it up with a bottle of water in between rounds. Not only will your skin stay clean and clear, but it will also keep you from having a nasty hangover that makes sightseeing the next morning painful.

Drinking lots and lots of water in preparation for your travels is a surefire way to prevent unsightly breakouts that could ruin your Instagram photos, so bottoms up on that bottle of water!

Exfoliate before your trip

You should be exfoliating your skin twice weekly on a normal week, but before traveling, you shouldn’t forget to do it. In particular, using an alpha hydroxy acid formula will get rid of that dry outer layer of surface skin, clear congestion in your pores, and help you reveal a fresh face.

By removing the dead skin cells, you can keep your skin’s natural oils from getting trapped. When the dead skin cells are removed, that oil rises to the surface rather than mixing with the dead skin and lodging into your pores for breakouts.

Just prior to takeoff, use a cream cleanser that’s free of detergent or even those peel pads. Whatever you use should be gentle to keep from bringing on irritated, red-looking skin.

Moisturize your skin

After you exfoliate dead skin away, make sure you stick to your proper moisturizing skincare procedures. This will help you keep your skin primed for that drying airplane air. Plus, it feels so good and reduces stress when you focus on the simple pleasure of massaging luxurious face creams into your skin post-exfoliation.

But that’s not enough. Once you’re on your way, make sure your travel-size besties come along with you in your carry-on. You’ll be able to reapply them during your travels to keep skin nourished with exactly what it needs. When skin is properly cared for even in the harsh world of travel, it will look fresh and clear rather than red, splotchy, and blemished.

Experts say light cream moisturizers are the way to go. You might think facial mists or hyaluronic acid creams are your best choice, but not for mid-flight assistance. Stash those in your checked luggage for when you arrive. Mists and hyaluronic acid formulas work by drawing moisture from the environment to your skin. But what happens when you’re on an airplane and there is no humidity for these things to draw moisture from? They pull it from your skin cells and lead you to drier skin. Yikes!

That’s a big one that so many of us do to prevent dried out travel-trodden skin. Spread the word!

Don’t forget your sunscreen

You might be surprised to learn that you’ll need that sunscreen you packed for your tropical vacay sooner than when you land. Take a travel-size in your carry-on to prevent the UV rays from getting to you while flying. You’re closer to the sun and thus, those UV rays are even stronger. The windows on the airplane aren’t designed to block out UV rays either.

It doesn’t matter if you see lots of clouds up there either. They reflect those UV rays in every direction. Think you’re safer from the rays on a road trip? Nope! It’s just like those high altitudes on the mountains! Reapply your sunscreen every few hours of your flight or road trip to protect yourself.

Avoid wearing makeup

If you’re taking a long transatlantic flight, you don’t want to layer on your makeup. Tempting, yes, but you want to arrive with clear skin, don’t you? On a short flight, we see no harm, however the rules change when going abroad. You don’t want to leave makeup on your skin for long-haul flights. Plus, you can set skin off when you don’t wash off makeup and absently touch your skin with airplane-germ-covered fingers.

Stay calm during the flight

It might be challenging, especially if you hit turbulence, but try to remain calm during your travels. Just the stress from traveling will send skin off balance. Add to it the time changes and lack of sleep and you’ve got more cortisol and more sebum being produced.

You can help by staying away from dairy and sugar, taking a nap if you can do so, and packing an acne spot treatment in your carry-on. The spot treatment should have benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for best results. For soft lips that don’t feel parched and dry, use Vaseline all through your travels. You’ll be glad you did when your lips aren’t cracked and peeling.

Cleanse your face once you landed

After you make it back on solid ground, go cleanse your face. Your cleanser should be gentle. Even a non-drying facial wipe can do in a pinch. Then follow it up with the rest of your skincare products, taking special care to moisturize plenty!

Invest in a mud/clay mask

When you unpack in your hotel room, before running off to see sights, sample the food, or do anything else, take a few minutes to relax with a mask that uses clay. It can pull all the impurities from your travel-addled skin and leave you feeling refreshed. With those things out of your pores, you can then go back to skincare as per your usual without travel blemishes popping up unexpectedly!


Because of the stress and the unhospitable air when traveling, it often causes the skin to misbehave. Now that you know what sets it off, you can prevent it by taking proper measures as we discussed. Have safe travels and beautiful skin on your next adventure!


My name is Hajer and welcome to my site. This is my little haven, my outlet, where I can express myself, and show you everything I've learned about makeup, skincare, hair tips, and so much more, as well as the different beauty mistakes I've made so that you can avoid them.

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