Is Airplane Air That Bad for Your Skin? We Asked Derms the Truth

Byrdie social editor Jasmine Phillips on a flight

Jasmine Phillips

Once upon a time, I had an eight-step pre-flight skincare routine. I'd read how bad airplane air is for the skin and seen countless celebs share their in-flight regimens. So, I thought, I must need one too.

These days, truthfully, I only cleanse, hydrate with hyaluronic acid, apply vitamin C, and then layer SPF. This isn't just for flying— it's my everyday skincare routine. No extras. But scrolling through TikTok, I've seen tons of GRWM videos with thoughtful step-by-steps showcasing how people prep their skin before and during flights.

However, after many years as a beauty editor and traveler, I have to wonder—is airplane air really that bad for our skin? So bad that we have to care for it pre-, during, -and post-flight? To get the answers, I reached out to a couple of experts: board-certified dermatologists Elyse Love, MD, FAAD, and Sarina Elmariah, MD, Ph.D. Keep reading to find out if a flight-specific routine is actually necessary.

Meet the Expert

  • Elyse Love, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at GlamDerm in New York City. She also works with skincare brand Ustawi.
  •  Sarina Elmaria, MD, Ph.D., is a board-certified dermatologist, neuroscientist MPH, and co-founder of skincare brand ARAMORE.

What Can Happen to Your Skin During a Flight?

"Commercial airline flights, and other forms of high-altitude exposure, present our skin with several potential stressors," says Elmariah. These include "reduced humidity, temperature fluctuations, changes in barometric pressure, increased exposure to ionizing radiation, and an altered microbial environment."

However, how these stressors affect your skin depends on a few key factors—skin type, age, and the presence of other skin conditions among them. Additionally, the length of time you're in the air (think: transatlantic flights) can also be a factor.

Many commercial aircraft—including U.S. airlines like Delta, Southwest, American, and Virgin Atlantic—have installed HEPA filters, which Elmariah says capture >99 percent of airborne particles greater than 0.3 microns in size, including many viral and bacterial pathogens. "This doesn't negate the possibility of picking something up during a flight but should make you feel a little better about what you're being exposed to," Elmariah shares.

What Skin Types Are Prone to Post-Flight Skin Issues?

Mature and sensitive skin types are most likely to see differences in their skin after a flight. "More mature skin, which often tends to be drier due to age-dependent decline in natural moisturizing factor and other skin lipids, can become more easily irritated by dry, circulating air," Elmariah tells us.

However, she says the same is true regardless of age for anyone with dry or sensitive skin or skin conditions like atopic dermatitis or other eczematous dermatoses. "In my experience with patients, I know many individuals with acne, rosacea, hives, and psoriasis who mention that their skin conditions worsen soon after a long flight, particularly transatlantic or transcontinental flights," she notes.

Do You Need a Pre-Flight Skincare Routine?

"This is not necessary for most people," Love says of those full-bodied GRWM flight routines. "But the skin can be hydrated with facial mists, sheet masks, and/or a full routine if desired."

"What is 'necessary' [depends] on the individual," Elmariah adds. "For most people, I'd recommend, at the very least, applying a moisturizer before and during a long-haul flight to prevent excess dryness and irritation." But she says what's most important is making sure you've packed any prescription or even over-the-counter medications you're already using before travel to help address any flares you may experience during your trip.

We love to carry Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Sheet Masks to keep skin hydrated during long-haul flights. Apply, enjoy, and seal it all in with an occlusive moisturizer.

How to Build Your Own Air Travel Skincare Routine


Let's start by discussing what ingredients will help the skin thrive even with recycled air. "Hydrating ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid are key pre-flight," says Love. Why? Because these two ingredients are humectants that draw moisture into the skin.

And using these ingredients pre-flight doesn't just apply to the skin on your face: Airplane air can cause dryness and irritation on the body and hands, too. "Applying a thin layer of an occlusive balm (i.e., slugging) can also be beneficial for holding onto moisture," Love shares. I've already put this one into practice: I apply body oil—Oui the People's Hydrating Body Gloss ($65) is my current fave—and layer over it with Aquaphor ($6), especially on my hands, elbows, and feet.

And SPF is—as always—a vital step. "Consider applying a mineral-based broad-spectrum sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, preferably one which also includes iron oxide to protect from visible light, as well as various antioxidants (like vitamins C and E, but there are many others) to help combat free oxygen radicals and oxidative stress," Elmariah advises. Mineral SPFs can sometimes leave a cast, but I've found Supergoop!'s Mineral Mattescreen SPF 40 100% Mineral Sunscreen ($38) to be cast-free and pore-blurring (making it an excellent primer for makeup).

One final in-flight tip from Elmariah: Stay hydrated during your flight by drinking plenty of water.


Once you disembark, Elmariah says those with drier skin types may benefit from gentle cleansers and thicker moisturizers in the 1-2 days following air travel. Alternatively, she recommends those with more oily or acne-prone skin use a gentle astringent followed by the application of an oil-free or non-comedogenic moisturizer.

The Final Takeaway

Overall, a robust flight-specific skincare routine doesn't seem to be a must for most of us. However, if it makes you feel good, look out for products with gentle, hydrating ingredients—and don't forget to wash your hands before touching your face.

Your Guide to On-the-Go Skin

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