It’s no secret that the recirculated air on airplanes is drying to your skin, but what is there to be done when you can only bring a quart-sized bag of liquids? To help us figure out which skin care products to pack in our carry-on, HuffPost consulted three board-certified dermatologists. Below, you’ll find their product recommendations under three categories: cleansing, hydration and protection.
Since carry-on containers must be 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less, we recommend picking up travel sizes of your skin care staples (if they exist) or transferring them into leakproof containers like these magnetic capsules from Cadence or silicone travel bottles from LiquiSnugs.
For long flights, cleansing your skin — especially if you’re wearing makeup — is a must for Dr. Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. “If I’m traveling for work and wearing makeup, I will remove my makeup using micellar water and a reusable cloth,” she told HuffPost. “One of my favorite micellar waters is Bioderma Sensibio H2O because I find it is very gentle and leaves my skin feeling hydrated and soothed, not tight and dry.” At home, she typically follows this step with a gentle, water-based cleanser (“to remove all the surfactants from the skin”) but skips this step in-flight for convenience.
As far as makeup wipes go, Bowe is not a fan. “They are incredibly harsh on our skin barrier and, despite what they say, are not the best option for the planet,” she said. “Single-use products, whether they claim to be biodegradable or not, almost always end up in a landfill.”
If makeup wipes are a must-have for your on-the-go skin care routine, Papri Sarkar, a board-certified dermatologist based in Brookline, Massachusetts, likes the ones from Clean Skin Club. “They’re not irritating and have multiple sizes,” she said. “My favorite are the really large ones but they can be bulkier for the plane.” She uses them if she feels like she has too many layers of product on her face. “I can wipe everything off and start from scratch.”
To keep her skin nice and hydrated, Janet Allenby, the founder of Allenby Cosmetic Dermatology in Delray Beach, Florida, packs a travel-size bottle of Avène Thermal Spring Water and sprays it all over her face and neck. “The Avène Eau Thermale is a product line from specific mountain springs in France that help restore and maintain the proper skin barrier quality which is needed to conserve our skin’s natural hydration,” she explained. “It has an excellent track record in aiding those with severe eczema and skin barrier problems.”
Next, Allenby seals in that light misting of water with a topical hyaluronic acid; Alastin HA (Hyaluronic Acid) Immerse Serum if she’s staying awake or Avène Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream if she’s sleeping on the plane. “HA Immerse serum by Alastin is one of several excellent topical hyaluronic acids available that immediately pull water into the skin and help retain it,” she said. “I really like the feel and the way it absorbs quickly without feeling sticky.”
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When choosing which moisturizer to pack, Sarkar considers her final destination. If she’s going somewhere warm, a light hydrating lotion like Belif’s The True Cream Aqua Bomb is her go-to. “It never feels heavy and I love it under sunscreen or makeup because it doesn’t pill,” she said. “I hate feeling like I have things on my face and it’s great for that.”
Bowe uses a hydrating serum followed by a rich moisturizer to trap moisture into her skin. Her current favorites are the Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum and Glossier After Baume. “It’s vegan and fragrance-free, and feels rich without breaking me out,” she said. If her skin is feeling especially parched or inflamed, she applies a thin layer of La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5. “It is a soothing, nourishing balm and helps to keep moisture trapped into the skin, protecting our skin barrier.”
For dry hands from frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizer use, Sarkar uses CeraVe Healing Ointment. “It’s a great barrier product,” she said. “It helps to keep the moisture that’s in my skin in and doesn’t ever sting, burn or cause irritation. People sometimes think it’s makeup because it goes on like a gloss but it’s colorless.” In a pinch, she has used it as a highlighter and makeshift mascara.
When talking to dermatologists, sunscreen inevitably comes up, and the same is true here. They recommend wearing sunscreen while on the plane, and even reapplying if you’re on a long flight (especially if you have a window seat).
“A few studies done years ago showed that pilots and cabin crew members have much higher rates of melanoma than the average person,” Sarkar said. “The data is a little old but it makes sense. There’s a lot more UV radiation at 30,000 feet elevation than on the ground!”
Sarkar uses Isntree’s Hyaluronic Acid Airy Sun Stick SPF 50+. “There’s no white cast, it’s less than 3 ounces, it’s in stick form so it never squirts or spills from increased cabin pressure, and it’s easy to apply without using your hands,” she said. “Even my kids don’t mind it.”
Bowe notes that sunscreen is “absolutely critical” during long flights. “I either apply it first thing in the morning on overnight flights, or apply it every two hours during daytime flights,” she said. “I typically prefer lightweight sunscreens because I’m usually layering them over a vitamin C serum and moisturizer, but if I’m in flight I like to reach for a richer, more nourishing option that acts like a moisturizer plus sunscreen in one.” She listed the Kinship Self Reflect Sport SPF 60 as a solid option that is very rich and leaves her skin feeling super hydrated.
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