Whether you're flying long-haul or just hopping off to a sunnier European destination, flying can leave you feeling a little worse for wear. There are plenty of factors at play: the recycled air, the hundreds of people in a small space, the altitude. Common in-flight complaints include dehydrated skin, which is annoying in itself, but this can cause overproduction of oil, which can lead to spots and clogged pores. Bloating (otherwise known as "plane belly") and nausea are just a few other annoying factors passengers have to deal with.
The thing is that we all want to arrive at our holiday destination looking good, not spotty and bloated. So what's the answer? Well, we figured it made sense to call on the women who spend their lives in the sky, so we asked five cabin crew to let us in on the in-flight tricks they employ to combat everything from the drying plane air to that bloated feeling.
"The main concern is definitely dehydration. Aircrafts are so dry that it makes your skin and lips dry. My main tip would be drink lots of water. Lots! I try to drink at least one and a half litres on a long-haul flight. Drinking water before and after a flight is a must too," says Fay, who has been flying for 13 years and works for British Airways.
Becky, who works for Virgin Atlantic and has been flying for 14 years, says, "I tend to put an electrolyte tablet in my water to rehydrate properly." Moisturizing is key throughout a long flight. "I use Ren Vita Mineral Omega 3 Supreme Skin Face Oil ($46) before during and after my flight to keep my skin hydrated and glowing," says Ellie, who has been flying with British Airways for two years.
Alana, who has been working for Monarch for nine years, finds that when she flies, the dehydration causes her skin to produce more oil: "My main struggle is my oily skin. It's so oily anyway, but when I fly, it's out of control! I survive on blotting papers. I think my skin overcompensates, as it is so dehydrating when flying, so I try to use a hydrating mist before and during the flight. I use Forever Living Aloe Lips ($23), which I now couldn't live without. My lips get so dry on the plane, but that lip balm is amazing!" Jayna, who works for Thomas Cook, swears by Carmex Lip Balm ($4) and Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula ($5) on her hands. "I put Vaseline ($5) on my nose, as it can get quite sore from the dry air," she adds.
Now, while the cabin crew staff aren't drinking, they find a lot of passengers drink alcohol because they are getting in the holiday mood. "Alcohol obviously makes you dehydrated, but the effect of alcohol is also stronger when you're flying due to the altitude. Most people will feel the effects quicker than they usually would," says Fay. "If I'm traveling not for work, I limit my intake to a couple of glasses and drink lots of water at the same time."
During a long-haul flight, the cabin crew get breaks. "I have to wear makeup on the flight, but often after my break, I'll take off my foundation (but leave my eye makeup on) and moisturize. I tend to buy Olay Anti-Wrinkle Instant Hydration Moisturizer Anti-Aging Serum (discontinued), as it's a small bottle and fits in my liquids bag," says Fay. "After the flight, I have a long shower and then use a body moisturizer like a Bath & Body Works A Thousand Wishes Ultra Shea Body Cream (discontinued)," she adds.
Acne and Clogged Pores
Having flown a lot for work and vacation, I can't put it down to coincidence that I can step onto most flights with clear skin and step off with a couple of spots emerging. Unlike the cabin crew, we passengers can remove makeup (or not wear any in the first place) and apply spot-busting serums like Bare Minerals Blemish Remedy Anti-Imperfection Serum ($42) and then layer with an oil-balancing product like Avene Cleanance MAT Mattifying Emulsion ($25). The cabin crew I spoke to minimized the effects of the plane air on their skin by treating it once they land.
"I make sure I give my face a good cleanse and exfoliate after a flight; this helps with not breaking out too much," Alana told me. Ellie also relies on a cleanse and scrub: "When I arrive at the destination, I remove any makeup I have been wearing on the flight and top up my moisturizer and sunscreen again. I regularly use Garnier SkinActive Exfoliating Face Scrub with Green Tea ($9) as I find the aircraft can often clog up my pores," she told us. "The plane is a dirty environment, as there are so many passengers in a small space," says Jayna, who opts for a clearing mud mask.
Bloating and Nausea
Unfortunately, it appears the bloated feeling that comes over us during a flight and lingers afterwards is unavoidable. "Bloating will happen no matter what, as our bodies expand by 30% in the air!" says Henshall. "To minimize it, I stay away from coffee and stick to green and peppermint tea," she says.
One air hostess (who asked to remain anonymous) said, "When it comes to avoiding plane belly, I drink plenty of water, around two liters during a long-haul flight, and stick to decaffeinated drinks. If you move around lots, which we do it helps to reduce the bloating. Passengers seem to suffer more, as they are seated for long periods of time."
Every single person we spoke to said to avoid the in-flight meals where possible. They are high in salt, which can contribute to water retention and that bloated feeling. Ellie relies on a supplement to beat the bloat: "I use charcoal capsules every day to avoid the dreaded bloat!" she told us.
While Fay says it's worth preparing for the bloating, "Be mindful of what you eat before you get on an aircraft. Beans, cauliflower, all those foods that make you bloated because it will become much worse on board! If you are feeling really bloated, I'll have a peppermint tea; this helps relieve it a bit."
While drinking plenty of water can certainly help with bloating, how you drink it is key. "Our training advisor said that drinking water straight out of the bottle bloats you more. We pour water into a cup and sip it," says Jayna. Turbulence on a flight can lead to nausea, but Jayna has a trick for that. "If we ever feel sick, we drink ginger ale. It works really well to cure that sickly feeling. It's not just psychological; it works well for the passengers too."
[Ed note: Last names were withheld for anonymity.]
Sakuma TH, Maibach HI. Oily Skin: An Overview. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. 2012;25(5):227-235. doi:10.1159/000338978