Glow on the Go: How to Look Fresh-Faced After a Long Flight

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Woman traveling to Italy

‘Tis the season for holiday cheer, mugs of eggnog, silver bells, and, for those of us with family far away, long flights that can wreak havoc on even the most carefully maintained skincare and beauty routine.

While those in the celebrity set might be able to disembark a plane looking fresh as a daisy, with nary a hair out of place, it’s not an easy feat to replicate for those of us without full-time stylists.

After five years of flying between California and New England, though, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help ensure that I’m not greeted at the baggage claim by my concerned mother repeatedly telling me how exhausted and sallow I look. (Thanks, Mom, it’s nice to see you too!)

Before the Flight

Take It Off

For those who wear makeup every day, it can be hard to put down the creams, powders, and liners. And here’s the good news, makeup junkies: if your flight is relatively short (<3 hours), go ahead and put on your makeup as usual. I won’t stop you. But if you’re in for anything longer than that, bare-faced is the way to go. Airplane air is extremely dry and will suck all the moisture out of your skin. Even if you’ve done an amazing job with your makeup, it’s likely that it’ll be a flaky, patchy mess by the end of the flight.

So, before you even step foot on that plane, remove your makeup completely and wash your face. While your skin is still slightly damp, pat on your most heavy duty moisturizer. I like to use a night cream because they’re usually thicker and I feel like they keep my skin feeling hydrated for a longer time.  Right before you get on the flight, you should also put on some moisturizer with SPF, since you’ll be extra-close to the sun!


Products: Oil Cleanser, Cream Cleanser, Moisturizer

While makeup wipes are convenient, especially for travel, I’m that girl who has to whip out the Ziploc bag full of tiny bottles at the TSA check. In this case, though, I’m a big advocate of going the extra mile and filling up mini travel containers with my most trusted products. I’ve recently started utilizing the Korean skincare technique of double cleansing: I first use an oil cleanser to remove my makeup, then I use a cream cleanser (paired with my trusty Clarisonic Mia 2) to wash it all away.

While putting oil straight on your face might seem like a recipe for disaster, the Skinfood cleanser seen above has done wonders for my dry skin. Oil cleansers contain emulsifiers that make them water soluble, so the oil comes off with a rinse of water. Since I started oil cleansing, my skin has gotten softer and more radiant. Plus, the cleanser doubles as a makeup remover – even my waterproof mascara comes right off!

Squeaky Clean

Shower before your flight. For your sake and for the sake of everyone sitting around you. Just do it.

This is also a good opportunity to slather on some lotion post-shower: that dry cabin air won’t just be affecting your face!

During the Flight

Ah, you’ve finally made it through the long security lines, your boarding group has been called, and you’ve settled into your scratchy seat and put the arm rests down. Time to sit back, put your tray table down (but not until you’ve reached an altitude of 10,000 feet), and do some serious perusal of the SkyMall catalog. But first, make sure you’ve got these essentials in reach!

In flight essentials

Products: Hair Ties, Eye Drops, Lip Salve, Granola Bars

Hair Ties: I have long, fine hair that easily goes flat and gets tangled into stubborn knots faster than you can say “Flynn Rider.” Leaving it down usually results in a limp, knotted, staticky mess. My solution? I put it up into a loose topknot with a couple soft hair ties.

Not only does that prevent the aforementioned hair disaster, it also gives me great volume and loose waves. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of removing that hair tie and tossing your head to unleash waves of goddess/Victoria’s Secret Angel hair tumbling around your shoulders. (This volume typically lasts for about ten minutes on me, but hey, it’s something!)

Lip Balm: You may have noticed a recurring theme of “Moisturize Me!” This is correct. Apply lip balm and hand cream liberally throughout the flight, and you will avoid the fate of looking like Cassandra the b****y trampoline.

Healthy Snack: Okay, so I’m not really qualified to be lecturing anyone on the quality of their air travel snacks, because during my last layover at O’Hare airport, I consumed, in the space of two hours: two Chicago-style hot dogs, one Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dog, and one McDonald’s hamburger Happy Meal. That being said, you will be much happier and much less bloated than I was if you go for a snack with considerably less sodium and considerably more fiber. Granola bars are a go-to since they’re so easy to stow in your bag.

Eye Drops: I wear hard contact lenses and my eyes are always dry, even when I’m on land. Tired eyes = tired face, so help keep your eyeballs happy with some lubricating eyedrops.


Eyeglass/Contact Lens Case, Water Bottle 

For my fellow contact lens-wearers, invest in a dual eyeglass/lens case holder like this one. My optometrist gave me a similar one years ago; I love that I only have to blindly grope around my bag for one case instead of two! I typically remove my contacts during the flight to give my eyes a chance to rest.

If you’re not feeling the beverage cart choices, pack an empty refillable water bottle that you can take through the security checkpoint. It’s important to stay hydrated! (And while it may seem tempting, avoid alcoholic beverages before and during the flight, as they’ll just further dehydrate you. Yes, even if the toddler behind you won’t stop kicking the back of your seat.)


If you have a layover, go ahead and reapply that moisturizer you slathered on pre-flight. If you’re on an international flight, go check out the duty free store and generously sample the super-luxurious, super-pricey moisturizers they have there. When else am I ever going to actually use La Mer face cream?

After the Flight

The pilot’s just made a perfect landing and you’ve been given the all-clear to use your cell phone. If you’re going straight home from the airport, feel free to skip this next part. But say you’ve got a packed itinerary and your mom has informed you that you’re headed to a family reunion immediately after you land. For a fresh-faced glow, duck into the closest bathroom, wash your face, let down your hair, and then whip out these products.


Product Information: Concealer, BB Cream, Blush, Highlighter, Mist, Curler

BB Cream: Apply your favorite tinted moisturizer or BB cream for lightweight, even coverage. Even if you’ve followed all of the aforementioned steps, your skin will probably still be somewhat worse for wear after the flight, so avoid heavy foundations and powder.

Brightening Concealer: Counteract dark circles and any blemishes with a luminous concealer.

Cream Blush: Even if your skin is glowing, you’ll want to inject some color into your face to avoid looking washed out and tired. I like multi-use products, like Stila’s Convertible Color, which you can use on both your cheeks and lips. Since it’s a cream, you can apply it with your fingers instead of having to haul out your makeup brushes.

Those three products are all you really need for a healthy glow, but if you want a little more oomph, add these to your makeup bag:

Highlighter Stick: Ain’t nobody got the time for extreme contouring in the airport bathroom, but highlighting is super easy and quick. Run an illuminating product down the bridge of your nose, around the inside corner and under your eyes, and across the apples of your cheeks, then blend, blend, blend!

Hydrating Mist: If you were on a shorter flight and wore makeup for the trip, a spritz of hydrating mist will help to refresh your makeup. Hint: You know where you can find this Clinique spray? (Answer: at the duty-free store!)

Eyelash Curler + Eyeliner: Nothing opens your eyes up more than well-curled lashes! For an extra brightening effect, lightly line your top lid with a navy blue eyeliner to help bring out the white of your eyes.

What did you think?

Does your skin suffer on planes? What are your best tips for looking refreshed after long flights? Let us know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Glow on the Go: How to Look Fresh-Faced After a Long Flight”

  1. This article is showing up at the perfect time! I’m flying to Bangladesh, via Thailand at the end of the month and needed these reminders! x


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