Why your skin acts out when you travel — and what to do about it

When traveling, you might notice pronounced changes in the appearance and texture of your skin either gradually after you land or the moment you enter the plane. If the eyes are windows into the soul, skin is a window into our health. That’s why when our skin acts up, we automatically suspect the worst — from hormonal issues to allergies. Unless you’re experiencing physical discomfort, though, there’s probably no need to panic.

Here’s what affects your skin when you travel, and what you can do to put your best face forward.

1. Airplanes

Airplane surfaces are pretty nasty, which is why you never want to rest your face on your seat without a barrier blanket or pillow. The atmosphere of the airplane itself, however, is notoriously a culprit of skin woes.

“Re-circulated air within plane cabins tends to be extremely drying. It’s like sitting under an air conditioner or next to a heater for hours,” said Dr. Tony Nakhla, board-certified dermatologist, surgeon, and founder of EIGHTH DAY.

He recommended powering up your skincare before your flight with a moisturizer with ingredients like ceramide that help skin cells bind to water, and thus stay hydrated. Examples include Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream, Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream, and First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration.

2. Climate

Whether you’re heading on a ski trip in the Austrian Alps, or scuba diving through the Great Barrier Reef (lucky, lucky duck!), your skin is bound to experience an adjustment period.

“Our oil glands respond to hot and cold temperatures to help combat dryness, which is why skin tends to be more dry in the cold weather,” Dr. Nakhla said. “When we move ourselves from one completely different geographic zone to another in such a short period of time, we don’t acclimate so quickly and our skin suffers for it.”

Specifically, wind can cause chapped skin and lips because it evaporates all of the moisture from the skin surface, he said, suggesting serums and oils keep the skin supple and dewy. In hot climates, your skin produces more sweat in order to cool the skin’s surface, he explained, which can clog pores and result in acne. Use a face wash containing 2% salicylic acid like Neutrogena Acne-Proofing Gel Cleanser or travel-friendly Oxy 3-in-1 Acne Pads, which research from the journal Clinical Therapeutics has found to help reduce acne.

Source: Canadastock/Shutterstock

3. Food and drink

Part of the fun in traveling is trying the local cuisine. But there are a number of reasons certain foods may take a toll on your skin. Spicy foods, alcohol and allergies or sensitivities can all trigger atopic dermatitis (known as eczema caused by inflammation), according to research from the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology. To keep your skin (and overall health) in tip top shape, increase your consumption of nutrient-dense plants like green leafy veggies and fruits rich in vitamin C like citrus, said Dr. Nakhla.

4. Stress

Travel can bring on all sorts of stress, whether it’s from disasters like losing your passport to getting robbed or just run-of-the-mill airport anxiety. And recent research from Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology noted a positive correlation between stress and acne — so you might want to take a breather not only for your emotional wellbeing, but your skin as well.

While certain circumstances are out of your control while you travel, Dr. Nakhla suggested taking a few moments out of your busy day to collect your thoughts. Meditation is widely touted an effective stress reliever, but it’s totally understandable if silence and stillness exacerbates your anxiety even more. A 10-minute brisk walk can release mood-boosting endorphins also linked to stress reduction, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Glowing skin and a pep in your step? Yes, you can have it all.