Confession: I always fly in a full face of makeup. Why do I feel guilty? Because I've been made to believe that wearing makeup on an aeroplane is a crime against skin. From celebrities to facialists, everyone I know is dead against it, opting instead for a slathering of antioxidant serum, an entire bottle of hydrating mist, or a Hannibal Lecter-esque sheet mask.
But what's so different about wearing makeup in the air compared to wearing it on the ground? Does it really cause that much damage? Here's what you need to know before jetting off on your January break.
Believe it or not, there are benefits
"One of the biggest differences between cabin air and the air that we are used to is the humidity," explains Dr. Natalie Blakely, aesthetic doctor and founder of the Light Touch Clinic. "Cabin air is often less than 20%, and at home, humidity is 30% or more.”
This simply means that skin will lack moisture, but makeup can come in handy here. According to consultant dermatologist Dr. Justine Kluk, tinted moisturisers and BB creams can make dry cabin conditions a little more comfortable for skin. Try NARS' Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser, £30, for a hit of hydration that simultaneously blurs imperfections or It Cosmetics' CC Cream SPF50, £30, for a little more coverage and a surge of antioxidants and hydrating hyaluronic acid.
This is why you break out
If your makeup doesn't break you out usually, then what accounts for those post-flight acne clusters?
“The obvious reason for getting spots after flying is failure to remove makeup thoroughly,” explains Dr. Kluk. “Grease, dirt and dead skin cells can build up and block your pores, but this is more of an issue for long-haul travel than for shorter flights.”
If you're too exhausted to cleanse, Dr. Kluk suggests avoiding spot eruptions and irritation by choosing mineral or non-comedogenic makeup, as it won't occlude the skin. Dermatologist Dr. Sam Bunting agrees: “If it’s a short-haul flight, it's fine to leave your makeup in place, but make smart choices. I’d recommend non-comedogenic brands like NARS, EX1 and Vichy Dermablend.”
Even more interestingly, makeup might not be the sole cause of spots; the pressure of packing and flying can also contribute, whether you’re wearing it or not. "Passengers are not only exposed to the physical stress of flying but also social, emotional distress before departure," says Dr. Kluk. "The combination of these factors, along with the disruption to your normal skincare routine, may lower your threshold for breakouts."
Will it cause long-term damage?
So we now know that choosing the wrong makeup and lazy cleansing can cause post-flight eruptions, but the question on everyone's lips is whether the combination of a full face of makeup and harsh cabin air can cause irreversible damage like deep lines, especially if you regularly fly long-haul.
The expert consensus? Not necessarily.
“Low humidity levels in the cabin over long distances can lead to a decrease in hydration in the outer layer of the skin,” explains Dr. Kluk, “and this can account for the tightness, dry eyes and peeling some people experience.” But she continues: “I wouldn't, however, expect that wearing makeup on a plane should increase the risk of long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, especially if attention is paid to good skincare, like following a routine and covering up in the sun.”
Your first port of call should be SPF. According to Dr. Justine Hextall, dermatologist at the Harley Medical Group, UV exposure increases significantly at 30,000 feet, and if you're a frequent flyer, Dr. Kluk explains that it could impact your skin health if repeated over many years, especially alongside a disrupted skincare routine and disturbed sleep. So if your foundation or tinted moisturiser boasts SPF 30 or higher, it's another win for your skin. The only major con of wearing makeup, mainly when flying long-haul, is not getting the benefits of hydrating moisturisers, masks or retinoids if you’ve brought them on board. Dr. Sam suggests that removing makeup with micellar water like Bioderma's Sensibio H2O, £5, is better than nothing, especially if you're going to sleep. That way, your skin gets a chance to drink up lost moisture while you catch those Zs.
The ultimate post-flight skincare routine
There's one thing all experts agree on: To counteract post-flight acne, dullness and dehydration, you need to nail your skincare routine once you land. We're talking AHAs to turf makeup remnants out of pores and ingredients that flood the skin with the moisture it's been starved of.
Follow it with an exfoliator like The Ordinary's Lactic Acid 10% + HA, £5.80. It chips away at the paste-like mixture of oil, makeup and dead skin and kickstarts cell regeneration, immediately improving uneven skin texture, while hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet for dehydrated skin.
LixirSkin's Universal Emulsion, £29, shuttles molecular water into the skin and encourages cells to keep that moisture on lockdown. Thought that was clever? It uses an "emulsification technique" to obtain an SPF 10 without the addition of any pore-clogging sunscreens.
Happy skin = happy holiday.