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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • I’m a Flight Attendant. Here’s How to Take Care of Your Skin at 40,000ft

I’m a Flight Attendant. Here’s How to Take Care of Your Skin at 40,000ft

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Main image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

We’ve all been there. You step off the plane, ready for your hard-earned holiday or your crucial business meeting. Then you look in the mirror and not only are you dry as a prune, but the person staring back at you is 10 years older.

Your lines look deeper, your lips are cracked. “But it was only a few hours,” you moan, as you brush flakes of dried-out mascara from your cheeks.

I get it. Flying wreaks havoc on your skin. I’ve been a corporate flight attendant for the best part of a decade now, but when I first started out flying commercially, my skin was a disaster. Think terrible sleep patterns, long duty days and mainlining coffee in a desperate attempt to stay awake for landing. Repeat ad infinitum

My skin was always dry, breakouts were common for the first time in my life, and yet I still had to adhere to company standards. So what did I do? Just slapped on more makeup and hoped for the best, of course!

But we learn from our mistakes, and years of experience as both a flight attendant and beauty therapist have taught me how to step off the plane looking just as fresh as I did when I boarded. I have the key. 

I have the secrets and I’ll let you in on them (spoiler alert: they involve ignoring every TikTok that tells encourages mid-air, multi-step routines).

 


What happens to your skin when you travel

First off, let’s look at what’s actually happening to our skin when we fly. A study published by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology showed that the hydration of our skin surface decreases rapidly during long distance flights due to the low humidity levels in the cabin. This process is known as trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). 

So unless you want to give up that week in the Bahamas for a road trip to Devon – or in my case, quit my job – there’s no avoiding these natural effects, but we can minimise them. 

 

Image – Visualspectrum

 


The secret is in your pre-flight prep

Despite what those TikTok influencers tell you about their 10-step mid-air routines, the real key to great skin while travelling is to prep *before* you get on the plane. After all, aeroplanes are filthy and your tray table has *eight times* more bacteria on it than the toilet flush button. 

Your fingers — along with hundreds of other people’s touch everything, from the blinds to the seatbelt to the armrest to the overhead locker. Please do not then dip them in your creams and rub your face, please!

Here’s what to do instead before even getting to the airport.

 

Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

1. Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse

Minimising inflammation and irritation to the skin is an important part of maintaining hydration, says Dr Angela Casey, double-board certified dermatologist and founder of Bright Girl.

“Many soaps and cleansing products have a very high, alkaline, pH which works against the natural pH of the skin, which can cause redness and sensitivity,” she explains. “During a flight, your skin is already experiencing stress.” 

A product that is pH balanced (4.5-5.5 to match the pH of the skin) causes less inflammation and helps the skin to maintain the barrier which stops water escaping. My favourite? A gentle, low-foaming cleanser. I just wash my face with it, and that’s it. No double cleansing, oils, or faff. I’m a huge fan of keeping things as simple as possible, which is especially important if you travel a lot. Who has time or space for a beauty counter’s worth of products?!

 

2. Let it all soak in

“Finding the optimal moisturiser that protects, hydrates, and strengthens the skin barrier is an essential part of the equation,” clarifies Dr Casey. It sounds easy, but it really is trial and error to find out what ingredients suit your skin and I’ve tried countless products over the years, ranging in price from ‘bargain-bin’ cheap to ‘afraid to check my credit card statement’ expensive (I’m looking at you, La Mer).

My favourites generally involve anything containing hyaluronic acid. Before travelling, I apply my moisturiser twice; once immediately after cleansing and then again about 20 minutes later when I mix it with my foundation.  I follow with an SPF and I’m good to go for my 12 hour duty.

I’d always recommend layering makeup on top of this when you fly, but I get it; sometimes you can’t!

 

3. What to do if you can’t break up with your make up 

The dry, itchy eyes and patchy foundation should be enough to deter you and make you put down those brushes, but if you just can’t part with your beauty blender or that signature red lip (mandatory for my first job in the skies to match the red hat!) what can you do to make it work?

My number one tip is mixing your foundation with your moisturiser. It spreads evenly and gives a really subtle glow and lasts longer without drying.

Award-winning make up artist, Rachael Dutton also recommends using other cream-based products, such as blush, bronzer or contour to achieve a dewy finish. “These aren’t too drying or ageing and you can still apply a powder to the T-zone areas.”

For lip colour, she recommends using a tint or a stain, with a gloss on top to stop them looking dry – something I wish I’d thought of all those years ago as I plastered on layer upon layer of Mac’s Russian Red. My current favourite tip though is to use a tinted, hydrating lip balm like Nars Afterglow. It gives a good colour and isn’t drying in the slightest. 

As for the mascara, I tend to avoid more than one coat and just brush the wand lightly over the ends to give the illusion I’ve coated the whole lash. There’s just no way to stop it drying out.

“You could get a lash tint or LVL treatment for fuller looking lashes,” Dutton says, “then you don’t have to worry about it!”

 


While you’re on board

Even though you will have done your prep before takeoff, you can still take some steps to look after your skin while on board, just not in the way you might have though.

I’ll say it again, leave your face alone. If you have to reapply anything, just touch up your lip balm, and even that should be from a stick and not a pot. 

 

Image – Tatjanaslatkovic/Stocksy

 

Your hands, however, are a different story. At the start of my career, I once flew from the Middle East to America and by the time I arrived, my makeup was perfect, but my knuckles were cracked and actually bleeding. The difference? I’d washed my hands so many times during the flight with harsh soaps and sanitisers, without re-hydrating them. 

Dr Casey recommends using richer creams that contain occlusives such as squalene or dimethicone help prevent trans-epidermal water loss. Now, I never go anywhere without a trusty highly moisturising hand lotion. Lesson well and truly learned!

 


Post-flight

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Clean your face the *minute* you close that hotel door behind you, especially if you’re wearing make up! Now is not the time to take a nap or meet in the bar for drinks. 

First, remove all traces of that flight from your skin, then slather on the moisturiser, then do what you’re going to do. Twelve years of flying has taught me to keep it simple wherever you can and to drink more water. Oh, and don’t forget to book the aisle seat…

 

Meet the experts

Dr Angela Casey is a double board-certified Dermatologist and Micrographic Dermatologic Surgeon with a focus on skin cancer and cosmetic dermatology; she is a partner in a suburban private practice in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Casey is also the founder of Bright Girl youth skincare, a collection created to instill effective and consistent daily skincare habits from a young age.

 

Rachael Dutton is an award winning makeup artist based in Manchester and Dubai. She has worked with numerous celebrities and her clients include Vogue, Harvey Nichols and BBC Sport.

 

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Freelance Beauty Writer

Sally is a freelance writer and flight attendant. She graduated in PR and Journalism and is a qualified beauty therapist. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found tinkering in the garden, walking her dogs or with her head in a good book.

Expertise: Skincare, makeup
Education: University of Chester
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