Spots on a Plane: Dealing With Airplane Acne

Airplane Acne

Blessed are those born with great skin. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people.

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know I used to have severe acne during my teens. You can read all about how I got rid of it with Roaccutane. My skin went from very oily to very dry, then after a few years evened out to what I assumed, normal. I have so many varying products in my bathroom as weather dependent, my skin can be very dry at times or break out in a few spots when I’m hormonal.

Since living in Liverpool, my skin has been at its best. When I lived in London, my skin wasn’t up to scratch as I wasn’t overly healthy with eating and drinking, and the pollution didn’t help either. Around summer, I finally found a skincare routine that worked for me. For the first time I was cleansing, toning and even using eye cream.

I’ve always noticed my skin breaks out with a few spots after flying, as I do fly quite often. Usually though, I’m only in the air for an hour tops between Belfast, London, Liverpool and Dublin. So I usually expect the spots and don’t overly freak out when they appear as they usually don’t take too long to disappear. They’re annoying but I always put it down to the Irish weather change.

However, put me on a plane for 10 hours to Las Vegas and cue a complete skin freak-out.

24 hours of traveling later…

I took off from Liverpool around 7pm on Thursday evening, flying into Belfast. I had been awake since 7am that morning as I had a lecture at 9am. When I arrived to my house in Ireland, we had to leave at 2am to drive to Dublin in order to catch our 6am flight to London. Mistake number one was not removing my makeup from that day. Mistake number two was choosing not to sleep.

When we boarded the flight to London at 6.30am, I had almost been awake for 24 hours and was yet to take off the previous day’s makeup, as I thought it looked ok and I had touched it up with a bit of powder.

After landing in London, we had a short hour stop-over before catching the flight to Las Vegas. I had checked my face in the bathroom and noticed it had started to turn a little red but thought nothing of it. At 9am it was time to board the 10-hour flight to Nevada.

I must say, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to travel on a flight that long again for quite a while. Unless I find the money to afford business-class. It was very uncomfortable, the food wasn’t great and I couldn’t get to sleep whatsoever. When we landed in Vegas, it was 1pm local time, meaning we had the entire day ahead of us, even though I’d already been awake for 36 hours or more at this point.

Orlagh Claire
Face not suitable for the camera…

Who’s face is that?

When I first looked at my face after landing in Las Vegas, I cried. My face had doubled in size with swelling. I also had 100 new spots covering my cheeks, chin and neck. I had noticed my neck becoming rather itchy while I was on the flight but thought it was just because I was wearing a turtle-neck jumper.

I hardly recognised myself. My face was huge and showed me what I would look like if I gained 30lbs, which wasn’t pretty. My skin didn’t even feel like my own skin; it was tight, rough and extremely dry. I had only landed in Vegas and didn’t want it to spoil the holiday, but I was mortified by what covered my face.

We assumed it was an allergic reaction, but as far as I’m aware, I’m not allergic to anything. Was I allergic to America? Who knows. The furthest I’d been from the UK was Italy and had only been on a plane for four hours at the longest. I definitely wasn’t used to long-haul flights.

I headed to the nearest pharmacy (CVS) and the pharmacist just advised me to take an anti-histamine (for an allergic reaction). I took two tablets on the Saturday morning after breakfast and one hour later, I was falling asleep in Ceaser’s Palace. We headed back to our hotel for a nap around 2pm and I wakened on Sunday morning at 7am.

After a lot of Googling, I came to the conclusion that it was severely dry skin, although there wasn’t much written around it. Hence why I’m writing this blog post.

Airplane Acne
48 hours between… Zoom in if you wish to see the spots under my makeup and my red neck

What happens to our skin on a plane?

An airplane cabin has the humidity level of a desert, which causes for very dry skin. It didn’t much help that I was also flying into a desert. Our skin is usually comfortable in 40-70% levels of humidity, but airplanes mostly have humidity levels of 20%. With a decrease in humidity, comes a decrease in skin hydration.

Being inactive for a long time (read: sitting) and high levels of salt in the airplane food, can cause water-retention (read: bloating). This could have been the cause of my face swelling, but I’ve never had that before in my life. The only place I usually bloat is my stomach after a large portion of pasta. My ankles and legs stayed the same size which are the two common areas to experience swelling during flights.

Did you know you can get sunburnt on an airplane? Especially if you’re sat at the window seat. As you’re 30,000 feet in the air, you’re a lot closer to the sun and its UV rays. So you could even need to apply suncream if you don’t want to pull the windscreen down and are flying during the day.

Stress can cause a lot of problems for our skin (and hair, for me) as I notice a lot more spots when I encounter stressful times such as exams or deadline season. With an increase in stress hormones, comes an increase in inflamed skin (redness). My arms and legs were worse affected, but after some more Googling, I found it was something called keratosis pilaris. Like I said, my skin freaked. But stressing over how bad my skin was didn’t help matters.

Airplane Acne
The definition of ‘0 to 100 real quick’

How do I avoid airplane acne?

1. Hydrate

Have you heard the saying, “the best cure, is prevention”? Well it’s true. Before a long-haul flight, or any flight for that matter, drink lots of water. I’m pretty bad for this as I usually only drink coffee and Diet Coke from dawn to dusk. Also keep drinking water on your flight and maybe avoid the alcoholic beverages even if they are free.

One of my 2019 goals is to drink two litres of water every day. I might even stop drinking Diet Coke. Which means I may have to get rid of the Diet Coke pyjamas I bought in Las Vegas…

2. Moisturise

My best friend on my flight back from Vegas was my moisturiser. As I was in America, most of my beloved skincare products had been left back in Liverpool as my face was clear when I left and I definitely hadn’t expected this to happen. The only products I had taken with me were my makeup remover – Garnier Micellar Water (that has sadly been discontinued) – and my moisturiser – Avéne Hydrance Intense Serum. Thankfully the moisturiser I packed was one of my most intense, but it wasn’t intense enough.

I made a trip to Wallgreen’s to buy the most intense moisturiser I could, by a brand I knew (I didn’t want to make my skin worse by experimenting) and bought the Garnier Moisture Rescue Refreshing Gel-Cream for Dry Skin. I had actually never seen this product before in the UK but it sounded like the answer to all of my problems. I slathered this on twice per day and could notice an improvement every morning. I’ve had a look online and it seems it is only stocked in the US but available to buy on Amazon. I also applied this every hour on the flight back to London.


3. Smack those lips

Three days in, my lips had become as dry as my skin. I had all of the reactions of being on Roaccutane; dry skin, dry lips and I even took a nosebleed due to the dryness just like I used to when on Roaccutane. I never use any form of lip balm on my lips in the UK, only ever applying lipstick. But it was back to the CVS store to buy my trusted Aquaphor, even if it did set me back $7 for all 10mls. It’s worth the money.

Not so Instagram

The main crushing point of the whole situation was the lack of Instagram-worthy pictures I was going to get. There was no way my face was going in front of the camera, so most of my pictures are of Las Vegas without me in them. I do have quite a few that I had taken, just so I can prove to myself that I was definitely there, but they won’t be seeing the light of day never mind Instagram.

The day before we left, my face had started to return to normal, but not quite. I was able to get one photo, even though I can see myself that my face looks extra pudgy but it’s from far enough away to not really notice. Plus I hoped the backdrop would be distracting enough. I don’t know if this was a sign for me to enjoy my holiday more and worry less about the shots I could get for Instagram. It did help as I was able to just take it all in without worrying about my outfits, hair or makeup for photo opportunities.

However, it did make me feel like I was 17 again as I was so self-conscious when I walked around, knowing how bad my face must have looked to other people. After feeling good about myself for the past few months in Liverpool for a change, I was straight back down to zero again. The morning we left for the airport, I felt back to normal as my face was its normal size and the spots had faded to just the after-marks which were easily covered with makeup. Typical.

At least I know now that my skin can’t cope in dry situations and to always have moisturiser to hand when I’m in a hot country. The next time I get on a long-haul flight, I’m going to look so extra with my face masks, wipes, lotions and lip balms, applying every hour. But if it avoids the effects of my Vegas flight then it will definitely be worth it. I’m ready.

Blog post all about my trip to Las Vegas should be up in the next few weeks! All my snaps are saved to my highlights on Instagram if you want a sneak peak. 


1 Comment

  1. December 12, 2018 / 4:09 pm

    Aw Orlagh this is such a shame for this to happen to you in Vegas. But you’re beautiful inside & out (and you look fabulous in the pic of yourself that you did upload to Instagram). Good on you for speaking about it, too! Xx

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