Here’s Why That Cabin Air on Your Flight is Destroying Your Skin

Plane flying above trees.

Ever step off a plane after a long flight, look at yourself in the mirror in the airport bathroom, and think to yourself, “Wow, that flight has worked wonders on my complexion. Wonders.” Yeah, we’ve never experienced that either. Unfortunately, while the last thing we want is for the grueling realities of a long journey to show on our faces, it would be a lie to say that our skin has ever come off of a flight looking better – or even just as adequate – as it was before we boarded. But while you may have been thinking that the random zits and dryness that pop up post-flight were products of travel’s natural stressors (or just some kind of luck – err, unluck, really – of the draw), think again.

In reality, the reason that skin has a lot to go up against when you’re traveling, with one of the toughest elements being recycled cabin air on your flight. Because the air is continuously recirculated in the cabin and the humidity on the flight is kept pretty low – the average humidity on a plan is about 12 percent, while the average humidity in the desert, for example, is about double that – it’s normal for your skin to experience some serious setbacks in the face of it.

“Continued exposure to such low levels of relative humidity can be harmful to skin, causing desiccation (extreme dryness) and cracking,” says Frances Thrasher, owner of Kindred Skincare Co. “While dry skin can be uncomfortable, more importantly, it can also cause the skin to lose its ability to create a protective barrier. Exposure to microbes, allergens, and harmful chemicals can trigger possible infections and allergies, and all of those elements can be present throughout the air travel experience.”

To help your skin counteract the harsh nature of cabin air, try applying a light moisturizer or sunscreen (and nothing else) to your clean face before a flight. This will create a barrier in place of what your skin loses due to dryness, which will in turn help protect it from bacteria and other microbes that could, at best, lead to breakouts and irritation, and at worst cause infection. One product that Thrasher recommends, in particular, is Kindred Skincare Co.’s Tamanu butter-based Intense Moisturizer ($75), which not only replenishes dry skin and helps prevent dehydration but also offers up anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties for further protection.

A couple of other things to consider are avoiding caffeine before or during your flight – you might feel like you can’t survive your journey without a cup of coffee, but that will only further dehydrate you – and splashing your face with water frequently throughout the trip to help rehydrate and rinse off.