It always used to happen to me. I would wait months and months for an amazing vacation – pain stakingly picking out cute outfits and paying careful attention to my pre-vacation beauty routine – only to arrive at my destination with a face full of acne. It never failed.
Eventually I had to take it seriously, because airplane acne is very real and very annoying. Who wants to spend their vacation nursing blemishes? Not me.
So, here we go. What it is, why it happens and what you can do to avoid airplane acne!
What causes airplane acne?
Airplanes are tough on our bodies. In order to ensure that we can survive at 20,000 feet a lot has to happen. We are exposed to changes in cabin pressure, de-humidified air, re-circulated microbes, disrupted circadian rhythms and cramped quarters. There’s a lot going on. All of these variables can disrupt our equilibrium, but the one that really wreaks havoc with our skin is the dry, dry, dry air.
The air in an airplane cabin can be as dry as the Sahara desert. We are talking about 3-20% humidity, which is less than half of what we are used to unless you live in an extreme climate. In fact, research has shown that we’re actually losing 1.5 liters of water for every three hours that we travel, just by breathing and sweating (gross fact: most the humidity in the airplane is composed of passenger breath and sweat).
When our damp, moist body encounters the dry environment of the airplane a simple bit of osmolarity occurs. Water molecules will travel from our body into the airplane cabin in an attempt to create an equal moisture balance in both places. Most of this moisture leaves our body through our breath and our skin, which takes us to the reason why airplane acne happens.
When the skin senses that it is dry, it does one thing. It produces more oil to compensate for the dryness. This increased oil production creates a perfect breeding ground for acne. The oil can get trapped in the pore underneath dry skin cells, attract bacteria, and viola! Acne is born.
While increased oil production is a dangerous skin situation on its own, there is more. Flying is stressful. Not only is the thought of travelling through the sky in a metal cylinder terrifying, but when we change time zones our circadian rhythm is disrupted. The stress of these situations triggers a release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Often in acne patients DHEAs, an androgenic hormone produced in the adrenal glands will also be released and acne formation will be triggered. Great.
Other contributors to acne includes the typical airplane diet (pretzels, peanuts and sandwiches) and lack of sleep.
Steps to Prevent Airplane Acne
- Even before your plane takes off you need to take steps to prevent airplane acne. The most important thing you can do is lightly exfoliate your skin to remove dead skin cell build-up that might trap excess oil on the airplane. I am not a fan of over-exfoliation as it can disrupt the moisture barrier (which can make your skin vulnerable and lead to redness, itchiness, breakouts, hyper-pigmentation and scarring), but this is once instance where it is necessary.
Exfoliate the night before you fly. Either use a papaya mask, which is my favourite, or a gently salicylic acid formula that will penetrate into your pores to remove clogged oils and dead skin cells. If your skin is very inflamed and sensitive use mashed papaya mixed with some raw honey, as this will protect the moisture barrier as it gently exfoliates.
- Just before you leave the house ensure that you oil cleanse your skin, apply a hydrosol and an oil serum so that your face is moist and hydrated.
- If possible, do not wear make-up. Not only does make-up become dry and flakey on the airplane, but you will need clean skin on the plane to put the anti-airplane acne regime into effect. If you absolutely must wear make-up then pack a micro-fiber cloth and a touch of oil cleanser to use once you are on the plane to remove your make-up.
- Be sure that you are well-hydrated when you arrive at the airport and stock up on enough water so that you are drinking 2L of water for every 3 hours that you are flying. Since the dry air in the cabin sucks out 1.5L every 3 hours, 2L is the amount that will keep your skin feeling fresh.
- Be sure to pack some healthy in-flight snacks so that you do not succumb to the typical airplane food, which is not clear skin friendly.
- If you are wearing make-up, remove your make-up gently with your oil cleanser and micro-fiber cloth.
- Every hour that you are in the air, mix the following ingredients in your clean hands and apply to your face. You need about a teaspoon in total:
- Colloidal silver hydrosol (I like Argentum 23)
- Rose or lavender hydrosol
- Organic Argan or jojoba oil
This combination provides anti-microbial protection with the colloidal silver hydrosol, hydration with the rose hydrosol and the argan or jojoba oil will lock the moisture into your skin and prevent moisture evaporation. If you follow this routine every hour, your skin will not get dry. If your skin does not get dry then excess oil production will not occur and acne will not develop!
Remember to transfer these ingredients into travel-sized bottles before you board the plane!
- Drink 2L of water every 3 hours that you are flying
- Spray silver hydrosol under your tongue every hour to help protect your entire body from the cesspool of microbes that are floating around in the airplane cabin.
- Move around the cabin often to prevent lymphatic stagnation. When you are drinking 2L of water every 3 hours this won’t be hard to do, as you will likely be making a few trips to the loo!
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
- Upon landing, lightly oil cleanse your face and apply a hydrosol and oil serum. Be sure to lightly exfoliate your skin with your micro-fiber cloth to remove any dry skin that could be trapping excess sebum in the pore.
- Continue to re-hydrate your body with pure water.
- Engage in some light exercise to move your lymph and blood to prevent any stagnation in the body.
If you are ready to get clear skin for good, be sure to check out Naturopathic Beauty’s 7-Week Clear Skin Program here. As a Naturopathic Doctor treating acne for 12 years, I am excited to finally share the program with you that I have been using to heal hundreds of acne patients. It’s time to get rid of your embarrassing acne, reclaim your confidence and start to live your life to its fullest!