Why Breakouts Happen When You Travel (and How to Prevent Them)

Vacation is all smiles and selfies... until that annoying pimple pops up. We asked Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, why breakouts happen at the most inopportune—and picturesque—out-of-town moments.

woman-laying-clear-skin
Photo by Patricia Heal

Why does skin tend to act up when traveling?
“Low humidity on airplanes dries out the skin, leads to barrier disruption, and causes skin irritation. Oil glands may go into overdrive in response to loss of skin oil and dryness during your flight. In some people, this means dry itchy skin, in others, it can be a flare of conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema.”



Is there anything you can do to prevent it?
“Make sure to keep hydrated—both inside and out. Look for products that contain skin-plumping hyaluronic acid. It’s a super humectant that pulls in water to the outer skin layer and prevents it from getting dried out, helping to maintain a properly functioning barrier. Apply before getting on the plane to keep the skin in good shape during your flight. One to try: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel SPF 15 ($20, drugstore.com). Zeichner notes that the SPF will also protect against UV exposure if you’re in the window seat.

What about makeup?
“Rather than your normal foundation, choose a tinted moisturizer, which will keep skin hydrated while also offering coverage.”

How should you fight back to a breakout if you’re not prepared with your usual arsenal?
Drugstore brand products are a great way to treat pimples that pop up. Salicylic acid helps remove dead cells and excess oil, while benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria. Have a big pimple? Try OTC 1% hydrocortisone cream to cool down inflammation. If nothing else, apply a dab of toothpaste on the zit. Triclosan in the toothpaste can help kill acne-causing bacteria and clear the pimple.” For salicylic acid try: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($5.50, amazon.com). For benzoyl peroxide try: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo ($37, amazon.com).