Skin Care Blogs

6 Reasons Your Skin Breaks Out When You Travel (And What to Do)

model holding tote bag I Dermstore Blog

At last! You’re finally putting up that glorious out-of-office and closing your computer, with visions of palm trees dancing above your head. As the busiest travel season of the year, summer is the ideal time to check out, zen away and find your bliss on a beach or the charming cobblestone streets of Europe. The only downfall is when your skin starts to rebel against your quest for the perfect vacation pic on Instagram. Though jet-setting has a way of widening your horizons and offering you permission to step out of your time zone, our pores are sensitive and react to all of the various elements traveling presents. From weather changes to time zone switches and dehydration, here’s how to keep your skin healthy, vibrant and ready for wherever the wind—or ahem, your GPS—takes you.

1. Weather

Depending on which direction your wanderlust tempts you toward, your skin has to adjust from cooler temperatures to warmer ones, or vice versa. Board certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar explains that when you go from hot and humid to cold, your dry skin pays the price. You might experience rough patches, and if you suffer from eczema or psoriasis, you could also have a flare-up. Going the other way? “Traveling from a dry cold environment to a hot and humid one, your skin can produce more oil and sweat and you’re more likely to get acne,” she explains.

How to Deal: You can combat both of these by consistently washing your face and applying a daily moisturizer. If you’re someone who breaks out easily, Dr. Sarkar recommends traveling with an acne spot treatment. Some good ones are a benzoyl peroxide cream or the clear salicylic acne pads, she shares. As an extra layer of protection, you might be able to fight against the bacteria that’ll find its way to your sensitive forehead, cheeks and chin.

Try: Sanitas Therapy Cleansing Pads 

2. Air Quality on a Plane

Dr. Sarkar explains that the air on planes has notoriously lower humidity, around 10 to 20 percent less than what you breathe standing on the tarmac. She explains that this can wreak havoc on your skin by drying it out. To give your pores a fighting chance as you reach cruising altitude, board with a clean, fresh face and apply moisturizer and a face mist throughout the flight—especially a cross-Atlantic one. Dr. Sarkar says that this offers a double-whammy dose of hydration.

How to Deal: There are plenty of mists on the market and she says most will do. How come? Their purpose is simple. “What you’re trying to do is add a layer of hydration—even plain water and aloe can do that—and immediately apply a moisturizer on top, so the hydration doesn’t instantly evaporate,” she explains. If you don’t have a favorite face mist, or have sensitive skin, she recommends going for a gentle formula that’s non-irritating to the skin.

Try: La Roche Posay Thermal Spring Water

3. Stress

If you’re not used to running to catch a boarding flight, translating every sentence into a new language or planning a packed itinerary that ensures you see all the sights, travel can be stressful. Though hiccups are bound to happen, when you fret continuously, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol. Dr. Sarkar says this can exacerbate acne, eczema, psoriasis and other conditions. “In acne, cortisol causes the sebaceous or oil-producing glands to make more oil, which can clog pores. That plus or minus bacteria can cause breakouts,” she continues.

How to Deal: In this case, Dr. Sarkar recommends a few tactics, including packing noise-canceling headphones for the flight or downloading a meditation app for some much-needed zen vibes. Another solution is aromatherapy. For best results, try spritzing your neck pillow with lavender (but only if you know your skin doesn’t break out to the scent). “It helps to prevent neck cramps and encourages good in-flight sleep,” she adds.

Try: This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

4. Time Change and Jet Lag

Ever wake up in a new destination, after countless hours of travel, and wonder “Where am I?” When you dance between time zones, hopping from Europe to Asia, Australia and beyond, your internal clock becomes a bit rewired. It isn’t dangerous for your health since most adjust within a few days, but it does interrupt your sleeping habits—meaning you don’t collect Zzzs as easily, or you’re tired at odd times. “Your skin can often look dull or uneven in these cases and often people forget to wash off their makeup upon landing,” Dr. Sarkar notes.

How to Deal: Her best solution is to travel with a clean face and exfoliate mid-flight. “Eye patches or an eye cream kept in the fridge with caffeine is a great option to help decrease puffiness and dark circles as well,” she adds.

Try: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Dew It All Eye Gel 

5. New Cuisine

The captivating aroma of the night markets of Thailand, the endless selection of tacos in Mexico, the cheese, pasta and bread of Italy. Ask any frequent flier and they’ll say that one of the best parts of escaping your home country is sampling the cuisine of the world. But the kicker, according to Dr. Sarkar, is that not everyone can adjust as easily to these foreign concoctions. “Some people can happily eat dairy or sugar without it affecting their skin, but studies have shown that high levels of dairy and especially sugar cause some people to break out,” she explains.

How to Deal: In this scenario, it might feel like you have to make a choice: suffer the zits or avoid the food. But instead of skipping out on these flavors and dishes, be proactive by carrying a spot-treatment and being selective about your meal choices. How so? Give yourself one or two “cheat meals” a day and the rest of them, eat smartly. “Having one healthy meal to anchor my day around often helps me choose a little more wisely for the other meals,” Dr. Sarkar shares. And of course, drink plenty of water to keep your pores healthy and also to keep you fuller so you won’t eat or drink quite as much.

Try: PCA Skin Acne Cream 

6. Dehydration

Your normal diet experiences a major shift when you travel. You’re not around the joints you’re used to, you aren’t sitting at a desk with a water bottle handy, you aren’t sleeping and waking up at the same time—and the list goes on. This is why most people experience dehydration when they’re on vacation. Dr. Sarkar says when this happens, you might feel like your skin is dull and your dark circles are more pronounced.

How to Deal: “I recommend drinking lots of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages on the flight. You’ll feel much better upon landing and your skin will thank you for it,” she says. This is tried-and-true advice, but not always easy to follow when you’re constantly moving from one city to the next, hopping on and off a bus or getting lost in the fascination of a new country. Another way to stay hydrated is to, well, enjoy the street food! As long as you’re in a place where the fruits and vegetables are safe to consume, buying a coconut from a vendor with a straw through the top, a tub of freshly cut watermelon or apple slices will serve as a healthy snack and a source of H2O. When you’re boozing at a cocktail bar, you can also keep your hydration levels high by alternating a full bottle of water between each round of drinks.

Try: bkr Tutu Glass Water Bottle



Writer and Editor

Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle journalist who contributes to a myriad of publications—from Travel + Leisure and Vogue to Glamour and countless others. She's a digital nomad who works from every corner of the globe, scoping out the best coffee, collecting artisan crafts and testing every beauty product she can find. You can find a collection of her work at LindsayTigar.com.