What happens to your skin on a flight – and how to tackle ‘plane face’

Nothing beats the stomach flips of excitement you experience when the pilot turns on the final seatbelt sign before landing. But what happens to your skin on a flight means it can look a little worse for wear when you arrive at your dream holiday destination, especially if your travel-sized minis aren’t targeted troubleshooters. 

Most of the problems your skin faces are the result of dry cabin air and low air pressure. “At 30,000 feet, humidity in an aircraft cabin drops to around 20%, while the humidity our skin feels comfortable in should be around 40-70%,” says aesthetician Shane Cooper. “This means that the skin on your face and body can become incredibly dehydrated, even on a short flight.” 

The consequences can appear in the form of oily skin, breakouts and puffiness, as the skin desperately tries to hang on to water and compensate for the arid conditions.

But, according to our experts, you can do plenty to keep your skin protected and post-flight breakouts at bay.

Prep your skin with sheet masks

Doused in intensely hydrating serums, sheet masks are the beauty equivalent of a long, tall glass of water for the skin. Diligently applying them for a few days prior to takeoff is like an insurance policy against what happens to your skin on a flight and guarantees it is plump and full of moisture before boarding. 

Facialist Katie England also recommends applying a sheet mask mid-flight to shuttle lost moisture back into the skin. “When we get on a plane, moisture is pulled from the skin as the humidity drops, leaving it thirsty,” she says. “When you place a sheet mask on the face it decreases water evaporation and the hydrating ingredients are absorbed better.” 

Given that 50% of the air in a plane is recycled, Katie’s top tip is to first spritz on a skin purifier to avoid trapping bacteria and other unmentionables under the mask. “I like Clinisoothe+ Skin Purifier as it provides antimicrobial protection and prepares your skin for your chosen mask,” she says. “Leave the mask on for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes, then massage any residue into your skin.” 

Boost your defences

The sun’s UV rays are significantly stronger above cloud level. So sunscreen with an SPF30+ is non-negotiable if you’re departing or arriving in daylight. “Take an antioxidant supplement two hours before your flight to help protect against the cell-damaging effects of UV rays from the inside out,” adds pharmacist and founder of The Organic Pharmacy, Margo Marone

Multi serum mid-flight

Your body loses roughly one cup of water for every hour you’re in the sky. So taking a 360 approach to hydration is crucial. “I always recommend drinking two litres of water before boarding, and then keep topping up during the flight as you need to stay hydrated inside and out,” says Shane. 

When it comes to a fresh-skin glow you have plenty of skincare options. Shane swears by the humectant hyaluronic acid, a molecule that can hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water, for dewiness. If your skin starts to look ashen, you may want to reach for a vitamin C serum. Plane cabins are pressurised to simulate conditions found at 7,000 feet – the equivalent of being on top of a mountain— so less blood and nutrients are transported to the surface of your skin.