I have a mild obsession with watching airplane beauty tutorials. There's just something so soothing about the methodical way skincare experts follow a mid-flight routine and then arrive at their destination looking fresh-faced, as if they've emerged from a five-star spa treatment rather than a 10-hour red-eye. Products tumble out of their carry-on as comically as a clown car routine, and before you know it, they've applied no less than 15 serums, masks, lotions, and potions to their plump, dewy skin. It makes for great Instagram fodder—but does a lengthy in-flight beauty routine actually work?
With a boarding pass from New York to Rome in hand, I decided to find out. Referencing the detailed skincare routines of beauty experts like Eleanor Pendelton and Byrdie's editorial director, Faith Xue, I packed the products they swear by and noted the various order each item was applied. Here's what happened when I tried an edited nine-part travel skincare routine, plus the product that made me a convert.
Step 1: Hand Sanitizer
Airplane tray tables have more than eight times the amount of bacteria per square inch than a toilet flush button, TravelMath found, so it's important to clean your hands before applying products to your face. I start with Byredo's rinse-free handwash, a gentle product that's moisturizing and has an amazing scent. This is certainly more luxurious than your typical hand sanitizer, but it does make economy feel a bit more special.
Step 2: Makeup Wipes
Most beauty and skincare experts recommend packing face wipes, but I just can't justify the space an entire packet takes up in my dopp kit. These Recess wipes are a great travel alternative—they are individually wrapped and contain eucalyptus to stimulate skin repair and aloe to soothe and calm.
Step 3: Sheet Mask
I was most nervous about this part of the routine. Faith Xue swears by this jelly sheet mask to hydrate her skin, but given I was flying in coach, not business, I was definitely self-conscious about applying a mask. As soon as the lights dimmed, I slipped on the translucent product and waited for 15 minutes. As the temperature dropped on the plane, it had a cooling effect, and I was surprised by how hydrating it was. Next time, if I were to only pack one product for a long haul flight, this would be it.
Step 4: Serum
Next up: serum. Vitamin C helps brighten skin, and I like that Dr. Dennis Gross's formula is lightweight and sinks in quickly. In hindsight, I probably didn't need to apply this straight after the mask, which was also super hydrating. Next time, I'd reach for one or the other.
Step 5: Moisturizer
I've been eager to try products by Cotarde, which is the first beauty brand developed by a pilot and dedicated to frequent travelers. I packed a few of the mini products from its "Take It Light" set, a sample pack of moisturizers in TSA-approved packaging. The Day Dream Mousse Cream is hydrating but not too heavy—I'd definitely use it again.
Step 6: Lip Balm
My lips always get dry and cracked on planes, and I've struggled to find a product that stands up to cabin conditions. I discovered LipSmart via Orchard Mile and was pleasantly surprised by how effective it was. It promises "powerful hydration," and when I woke up from a two-hour sleep, my lips were still glossy and plump.
Step 7: Melatonin
Getting quality sleep is crucial to avoid jet lag and these mini powder sticks are my go-to. They contain melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep and wake cycles that have been shown to reduce the effects of jet lag in travelers crossing multiple time zones. Bonus: Unlike pills, you don't need water to swallow this supplement. Just tear the packet open and pour the powder into your mouth—it'll dissolve in seconds.
Step 8: Eye Mask
I prefer to use this eye mask over the ones they provide on planes. It's made from high-grade silk, which doesn't cause friction or "drag" skin like cotton does. There are no crease marks on my face when I wake from my nap.
Step 9: Tinted Moisturizer
Though not an essential part of my routine, this tinted moisturizer was the perfect last step before my flight touched down. The pigment adapts to your skin tone and has a subtle airbrush effect.
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