Skincare at 30,000 feet: a 10-step skincare routine for the skies

I’m currently sitting on flight UA 895: Chicago to Hong Kong, direct. It’s a 16 hour flight.

I’ve taken this flight a dozen or more times, each becoming increasingly aware of what 16 hours in a plane can do to your skin (spoiler alert: it gets dryyyyy).

While your first instinct may be to spritz your face water if it’s dry, celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau advises not to do this (source). The air inside the plane is so dry that when you mist your face with water, the air will literally rob your face of that water, leaving you with, well, nothing.

While Renee Rouleau advises to apply a serum before flight, avoid mists, drink water, and gently exfoliate after your flight – and I don’t disagree with any of that – I do have to say: This is no ordinary flight.

If you’ve flown a longhaul before (LA to Sydney? New York to Beijing?) then you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is WAR!

So here are my best tips that I’ve put together in my – yes, very extra – 30,000 foot skincare routine.


Step 1: Rinse It Off

You might think I’m crazy bringing 10+ products into an airplane bathroom. Who has time for all that?

Me. I do. I have 16 hours.

At the 5-6 hour point, everybody is asleep and done with post-meal bathroom breaks. It’s the perfect time to slip into the bathroom for a little spa time in the sky.

This is the FIRST flight that I’ve remembered to bring an actual face wash and not just face wipes. Face wipes are great for 3 – 6 hour flights. Face wipes, however, are not that great when you’ve sweated it out through the entire stressful check-in process and TSA security bit, hustled through the airport to your terminal, then sat in a metal tube in the sky and ate/drank/worked for several hours. You’ve practically been through a 12 hour day at this point.

My day started at 6am, and here it is, 7pm and I’m only 6 hours into this beast of flight. So, you get me. It’s winding down time. It’s cleansing time.

Today I brought onboard the Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. It was a gentle physical and chemical exfoliant and felt HEAVENLY. I picked this up in the Tata Harper gift pack last Christmas.

Yes, Pro Tip: November – January is the best time of the year to snag minis of virtually every beauty product at stellar prices because they’re all put together nicely in Holiday Gift Sets, so take advantage of the gift sets at Sephora.

I did not remember to pack a washcloth in a plastic bag, but you know what? Who cares. I washed my face with water in the basin and called it good. Onto step 2!

Note: This is a sample size, included in a gift pack.


Step 2: AHA!

I can’t be the only one: in the airplane bathrooms, I can literally see EVERY black head, EVERY pore and EVERY little imperfection on my face. One glance in the mirror and I was acutely aware that I needed to chemically exfoliate – STAT.

Drunk Elephant’s TLC Framboos (12% AHA, glycolic acid) is a little big, but it DOES fit in the TSA Quart-sized bag and it’s – surprise! – only 30ml in size; way under the 100ml limit. A squirt or two goes a long way, and it sinks into your skin quickly.

So glad I brought my TLC because I’m going to need it! Nothing makes my skin more unruly than an abrupt change in location/timezones/diet, and AHAs are just about the only thing that can reliably keep acne and blackheads at bay.

Note: This is the full-sized product.


Steps 3 + 4: Serums and Ampoules

Next I pulled out my serums: Propolis Light Ampoule by CosRx (this K-Beauty brand is the BOMB, btw; totally worth every penny of their affordable price tags!) and the Caudelié Vinoperfect Serum.

I allowed the Propolis serum to sink into my skin before proceeding with Vinoperfect. The Propolis is thick and a little sticky and takes a while to sink in, while the Vinoperfect is creamy, but sinks in quickly. Each serum took about 5 minutes to sink in, so I took a short dance break between layers  ~ wahoo ~ and brushed my teeth.

At this point, my skin is feeling GREAT, but it’s about to get better…

Note: The CosRx product is full-sized. Caudelié sample was free with a Sephora order.


Steps 5 + 6: Spot Treat and Oil

I brought along both SHINE and Tatcha’s Pure Camellia cleansing oil – which YES, is a cleansing oil and should be used as such – but it’s so clean and light that I love using it as a stay-on face oil. There’s no reason why you can’t use it as a face oil.

SHINE is the perfect spot-treatment, so I treated all my acne marks, extracted blackheads, and fading scars/discoloration. Then I followed up with 2 pumps of the Pure oil over my entire face.

Side note: soo sad you can’t bring an extractor on board! I’d be going crazy. I can’t tell you how many the Hong Kong TSA has confiscated from me and thrown away..

Note: Both of these products are full-sized.


Steps 7: Water Pack It

After the oils had a few minutes to absorb into my skin, I followed up with a generous layer Tatcha’s Water Cream. It is HEAVENLY. It feels like water melting on your face. I believe that’s just a really high concentration of hyaluronic acid in the cream (which would make your skin retain its moisture, like the name “water cream” suggests!).

I know it’s only January, but Tatcha’s Water Cream is the best product I’ve tried this year, and the most memorable product in a long time.

Note: I purchased this deluxe sample with points on


Steps 8, 9 + 10: Mattify, then Brighten

I won’t use products 8, 9 and 10 until we get closer to landing, because right now I’m not ready for it. I just want my skincare to do it’s job.

These little minis are Tata Harper’s Illuminating Eye Cream and Illuminating Face cream and Sunday Riley’s Martian mattifying toner. The toner is for oily skin and essentially works like a blotter. I will apply this as soon as we touch down.

The Tata Harper creams are mica-infused brightening creams. They’re not so much therapeutic as they are cosmetic; that is, they don’t necessarily treat your skin, but they do make it look better. The cream is tinted a little golden brown, with visible mica specks. It really does brighten up your look so you’re fresh and ready to roll when you arrive.

Note: The Tata Harper minis were part of a gift set. The Sunday Riley was a deluxe sample from The Tata Harper Winter Wonders set is a great value for those interested in diving into her range.


Takeaways & Extras for the Skies

Typically I also bring the following items:

  • Toothbrush & Paste – Best to bring a disposable kit from a hotel
  • Masking Headband – This is great to wear during the routine
  • Washcloth – If you can remember! I didn’t.
  • Lip balm – After a sad flight where I lost my EOS egg-shaped balm and it rolled to the back of the plane, never to be seen again, I’ve since started packing 2-3 balms each flight. You can never have enough! And your lips will be DRYYYYY! XXBalm is my new cult fav.
  • Tissues – Ya need ’em. Don’t pretend ya don’t.
  • Perfume – I usually bring a 1-2ml vial or a 5-10ml roll-on. I used to bring Elizabeth & James (because their scents are heavenly!), but I’m on to Carta’s extremely unique fragrance Carta Moena 12 | 69. It just gives you that OOMF – because let’s be real, it’s awful when somebody else is wearing your scent, and everyone and their mother is wearing Chanel No 5.
  • Hand Lotion – A little unscented hand lotion goes a looong way!

All the liquids today fit in a single quart-sized bag – Glossier’s signature pink bubblewrap bag to be exact (free with any purchase, or for sale on their site).

That’s a wrap!

I hope you’re all treating your skin like it deserves to be treated: fabulously.



Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links. 

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Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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