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As exciting as flying to a new destination can be, it can also be incredibly harsh on your skin. “Travel presents unique skin inflammation triggers, with sleep deprivation, stress, changing climates, bacteria, and dry, cold air on the plane,” explains beauty pioneer Dr. Barbara Sturm. It’s an unavoidable part of traveling – even if you’re flying in the lap of luxury in first class, that recirculated air is just as dehydrating.
But it’s not all doom and gloom on the skin front; there are, of course, things that you can do before you board and during the flight to arrive looking fresh. One of Manhattan’s most revered facial aesthetics specialists, Dr. Bill Kestin, often sees clients preparing months in advance for big trips. “People travel for many momentous life events; some may be the mother of the bride traveling for a destination wedding; some may be going to a reunion to see people that they haven’t seen in 25 years, and people want to look their best,” he explains.
Pre- and in-flight skin care routines involve clarifying cleansers, hydrating masks, and serums to lock in much-needed moisture. Similarly, styling your hair while in the air can be a valuable use of your time to help you arrive looking and feeling fresh. Ahead, see our recommendations for creating your own little spa in the sky to help you make the most of your flight.
Tips for the Best In-flight Beauty Routines
Avoid using products with strong odors or that make excessive noise
Allow us to state the obvious: it would be terribly poor etiquette to pull out a pair of nail clippers or toxic-smelling nail polish alongside your fellow fliers – do the mani-pedi before you go. Likewise, using anything noisy, like a facial toning device, would be a faux pas (despite how fabulous FaceGym’s Pure Lift tool may be). Keep any in-flight treatments to the basics – things that won’t disturb other people: masks, moisturizers, serums, lip balms, rich hand creams, and simple hairdos.
Come prepared with the right materials
Unless you’re coming straight from a meeting or event, it’s best to arrive at the airport without any makeup on to avoid the added step of needing to use makeup remover and extra cleanser. For the ultimate hydration boost, apply a face serum and a moisturizer before leaving for the airport, and bring travel-sized products so you can do your routine on board. Dr. Barbara Sturm has an excellent variety of travel-sized products that you can mix and match, or go for the Discovery Kit, which contains everything you could need for an in-flight beauty routine: cleanser, scrub, mask, serum, eye cream, face cream, and body cream. Remember to pack cotton pads for removing cleansers, masks, and applying toners, and be sure to have bottled water on hand (you don’t want to risk using the plane’s tap water on your face and around your mouth).
If you’ll be styling your hair, don’t forget a brush, compact mirror to see what you’re doing, and any clips or other tools you’ll need to complete your look.
Make sure everything is carry-on-friendly
It would be devastating to have invested in beauty products only to have TSA throw them out. Make sure that all of the liquids in your carry-on are travel-sized, which means 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) or less, per TSA requirements. Thankfully, many innovative skincare brands have travel-sized kits with top-selling essentials. In addition to Dr. Barbara Sturm’s selection of travel-sized elixirs, there are other great options including Kora Organics Travel Essentials, Tata Harper’s Daily Essentials, Drunk Elephant’s The Littles, and for a boost before you land, Chanel’s Beauty Essentials Travel Kit.
Style Your Hair on the Go
Unless you have a blowout booked on either side of your flight, you may as well make the most of the time spent sitting idly and style your hair before landing. The key is to arrive with your hair freshly washed and have portable tools on hand. A trend that has been catapulted by TikTok is heatless curlers, and a long flight is a great environment to use them in. Many brands also have portable styling tools you can take on board, too, like the ghd Cordless flat iron (which was named our best overall mini hair tool for travel) or Balmain’s cordless straightener, which is small enough to fit in a handbag.
But remember that like skin, hair suffers the drying effects of flying, too, so it’s worth doing a nourishing mask (like Leonor Greyl’s Masque Quintessence) and applying some oil or heat protectant before you board. There are many great travel-sized hair kits available, including Olapex’s Healthy Hair Travel Trio, Oribe’s Shine and Style Travel Set, and Leonor Greyl’s Luxury Travel Kit for Dry Hair.
Best Heatless Curlers
Silke London Silk Heatless Curler
These heatless curlers are a godsend for people who want style and volume without the damage. Made from pure silk and filled with foam, this heatless curler is effective and easy to use; simply place it on top of your head – like how a hood would sit in an upside-down U shape – clip it in the middle, and proceed to wrap hair around the curler away from the face, from the parting line down to the ends, and secure with hair ties. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes intuitive, so you could easily do it in your seat (perhaps with a hand mirror, like this double-faced one from Chanel, or even just your iPhone camera on selfie mode), or make a trip to the bathroom to put it in.
Best Used: While on board, any time, ideally with damp hair (if it’s dry, apply a spray – something with light conditioning like Moroccanoil’s Frizz Shield Spray, or even an Evian mist would suffice). It’s advised to leave them in for three hours minimum, or overnight for maximum effect.
Price at time of publish: $56
Best Travel Brush
The Yves Durif Petite Brush
With a dedicated salon at New York’s luminary Carlyle Hotel, Yves Durif’s hair brushes are used by some of the most discerning jetsetters (and Met Gala guests). We love this travel-sized brush, which is a petite version of the brand’s coveted classic brush. It is anti-static, which is especially great for traveling in humid climates when hair can become prone to frizz.
Best Used: Any time, but if you’re using a heatless curler, you’ll definitely want to brush your hair into place after it’s removed. Also, if you’re planning on sleeping on board and have knot-prone locks, a travel-sized brush will be a valuable thing to have on hand.
Price at time of publish: $70
Best Portable Hot Hair Tool
ghd Unplugged Cordless Styler
We named this the best portable hot hair tool for good reason: it’s compact, cordless, has ceramic plates that minimize damage, and it reaches the optimal temperature for effective styling (365 degrees Fahrenheit). Having a mini iron on a flight may seem risky, but it cools down within 15 minutes and has a three-minute automatic sleep mode. It also has a compact case to store it in after use, so there’s an extra barrier to keep it from becoming a hazard. However, if you’d rather not use this product in-flight, it’s also a great thing to have on hand for use at the airport before or after your flight.
Best Used: Any time, but be careful not to use it during periods of turbulence; it is hot, and you do not want to risk having it sear your skin (or anyone else’s for that matter). If you’re seated next to another passenger, it may be best to duck into the bathroom to use it for a quick touch up – you may need to raise your elbows when styling the back section and don’t want to intrude on anyone’s space.
Price at time of publish: $299
Best Dry Shampoo
Moroccanoil Dry Shampoo Light Tones
This is a step above other dry shampoos for two reasons: firstly, it’s available in different options for light tones and dark tones, rather than one stock-standard formulation that can leave your hair looking off-color. And secondly, in addition to absorbing oil, build-up, and odor, it provides nourishment with its signature, non-greasy, argan oil-infused formula.
Best Used: In the bathroom before, during, or after your flight – you don’t want to be spraying scented things around other passengers.
Price at time of publish: $25
Best for On-the-Go Styling
Olaplex Iconic Styling Duo
Renowned for its transformative bond-building hair products, Olaplex has a collection that is designed to maintain healthy hair. This styling kit includes a bond smoother and a bonding oil to tame frizzy flyaways and provide heat protection – simply add a couple of pumps or drops to your palm and work through your hair from the ends. Both are within the acceptable size range for flying, so you can pack them in your carry-on. And for blondes, another excellent kit to consider from Olaplex is the Unbreakable Blondes Mini Kit.
Best Used: Pre- or post-flight after washing, while hair is damp.
Price at time of publish: $60
Best In-flight Skin Care Routines
Dr. Sturm explains that “in addition to a good skincare routine, I never drink alcohol on the flight – I will drink a lot of water and will try not to eat too much food, and also try to rest.” She also mentions that it’s also best to avoid wearing makeup on a flight. “The combination of a full face of foundation and harsh cabin air can cause irritation, breakouts, and dryness – especially if it’s a long-haul flight. Instead, you can apply the Glow Drops which hydrate the skin but also contain light reflecting pigments which give subtle glow and help tired skin look more radiant,” says the jet-set beauty mogul.
So, what does Dr. Sturm’s in-flight beauty routine look like? “I’ll re-apply my Hyaluronic Serum and my Face Cream multiple times throughout the flight, and I keep my Hyaluronic Face Mist on hand for regular skin refreshes. If the shades are open, then I use the Sun Drops SPF50, because UVA rays penetrate windows. I also always have my Anti-Pollution Drops.”
Best Face Mask-Moisturizer Hybrid
Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask Mini Travel Size
Certain masks could frighten other people on the plane when the lights are off, but not this one. It has the consistency of a moisturizing balm, rather than the usual zinc-like paste, and you don’t necessarily need to rinse it off, which is convenient when the only option is a tiny bathroom that may have a long line.
Best Used: Any time after cleansing. While it’s not necessary to remove, it is recommended to leave it on for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
Price at time of publish: $26
Best Multi-use Balm
Dior Le Baume Revitalizing Balm for Hands, Lips, and Body
Not only does this Dior balm look chic in its circular compact rendered in the maison’s iconic logomania motif, it’s also a multitasking product that can be used on the lips, hands, and body. The combination of moisturizing shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and soothing centella asiatica provides intense nourishment without feeling greasy. Another highlight is its leak-free packaging – an all-around superstar product to keep in your bag, whether you’re flying or even just heading to the office or out for the day.
Best Used: Anywhere and everywhere.
Price at time of publish: $60
Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Aging Serum
Renowned for innovative products that suit a variety of skin types and tones, Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Super Anti-Aging Serum is a hero product that has become a favorite of beauty insiders around the world. It feels lightweight and silky when applied and provides maximum results when used regularly. Apply a few drops over the face and décolletage before layering the Mini Face Cream and Anti-Aging Body Cream.
Best Used: After cleansing and before moisturizing, pre-, post-, or in-flight.
Price at time of publish: $370
Best Skincare Kit
Augustinus Bader The Ultimate Travel Kit
Augustinus Bader skin care products are worth the investment, renowned for their science-backed, vitamin-filled formulations that have landed in the routines of celebrities, supermodels, and beauty editors that have tried it all. This travel kit contains all the essentials you’ll need on board: cleanser, toner, and a rich moisturizing cream with a nourishing blend of peptides, amino acids, and high-grade vitamins.
Best Used: While on board before you fall asleep, if it’s a long-haul flight. Head to the bathroom, apply the cream cleansing gel and remove it with cotton pads and bottled water. From there, apply The Essence (with either hands or cotton pads), and the brand’s signature Cream. Et voila!
Price at time of publish: $195
Best Sheet Mask
La Mer Hydrating Masks (Set of 6)
La Mer is a revered skincare brand that continues to innovate, and while this product is an investment, it really is the gold standard of sheet masks. Infused with cell-renewing fermented “Miracle Broth” and a blend of skin-plumping elixirs, it is sure to make your skin glowy and energized. There are six sheet masks per set, so you can set them aside for occasions where you want to look your very best.
Best Used: After cleansing and before moisturizing, ideally after you’ve eaten, since you won’t be able to move your face much while trying to keep the sheet mask on during the flight.
Price at time of publish: $280
Frequently Asked Questions
What beauty products can you not bring on a flight?
Any liquids that are over 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) will be tossed by the TSA, so be sure to pack any regular-sized products in your checked luggage (and remember to pack them in a leak-proof cosmetics bag – we love this one from AWAY). Powder-based makeup and makeup removing wipes are permitted to bring in your carry-on. For a more complete list of what you can and cannot bring, reference the TSA website.
Is face cream considered a liquid when traveling?
Yes, it is – as above, anything that exceeds 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) is considered a liquid and will not be permitted in your carry-on, therefore it is best to bring travel-size skin care products only. The TSA’s guidelines on liquids can be referenced here.
How do I prepare my skin for a long flight?
Nourish yourself from the inside out with a healthy, nutritious diet, and consider taking a vitamin supplement tailored to achieving healthy hair, skin, and nails (although, for the best results, you’ll need to take it consistently). As Dr. Kestin notes, there are many skin-tech treatments that may be of interest for people seeking more significant skin enhancements pre-flight. But overall, getting into a good skin care routine involving cleanser, toner, masks, serums, and moisturizers that suit your skin type is going to be beneficial before and during a flight.
Why Trust Travel + Leisure
Travel + Leisure contributors are shopping, fashion, and lifestyle experts who draw on personal experience and market recommendations to curate the best products for shoppers. This article was written by Amy Louise Bailey who has a decade-plus career in the fashion, beauty, and luxury lifestyle industry, and for this article, she spoke with renowned skincare pioneer Dr. Barbara Sturm, and Dr. Bill Kestin, a highly-respected facial aesthetics specialist based in Manhattan, to gain their expert beauty industry perspectives.
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