Oily skin, red eyes, and greasy hair: That paints a pretty accurate picture of what many of us travelers look like when we step off the plane for vacation. On the return trip, add sunburn, exhaustion, and blisters.
Making sure you’re armed with the right travel beauty products might not seem like a trip-planning priority, but living out of a suitcase shouldn’t mean neglecting your skin and hair. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with your regular beauty routine when on the road, especially during days-long continent-crossing trips to the far side of the planet. But with the right assemblage of packable beauty products, you can maintain a fresh and bright appearance no matter where your travels might take you.
Travel Beauty Tips Experts Swear By
You don’t have to pack your entire medicine cabinet to maintain a beauty regimen on the road. These multiuse packable products are your best bets for keeping beauty pitfalls at bay while traveling. Here are travel beauty tips experts and other frequent travelers told us they swear by for all types of skin and hair, as well as the right products to use when traveling.
Before you even head out for vacation, stop to think for a few minutes about what beauty pitfalls may lie ahead for your specific trip. Will you face dry cabin air on a long overseas flight? Are you going to a sunny beach destination during long summer days? Will you be crossing multiple time zones?
Joanna Schlip, a celebrity makeup artist, says the most important thing travelers need to know is their skin. “There is no one fix-it-all for everybody … you have to know how you’re going to react.” And that means picking products you’re used to using and that work with your body. Dr. Joseph Kvedar, a board-certified dermatologist and Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School says, “What I tell my patients is, it’s most important what feels good on your face and what you feel comfortable wearing, rather than a specific brand.”
Travel Beauty Tip: Pare Down Your Routine
Let’s face it: on travel days, the chances that your makeup is going to look as fresh on your arrival as it did when you began your trip are slim to none. The dry air and close quarters are just waiting to wreak havoc on your skin, not to mention the mascara smudges that tend to happen if you nod off. Instead, board the plane not sporting makeup, and wait until you reach your destination before applying makeup. At the very most, Irene Hatziantoniou and Mary Ditto, aestheticians and owners of North Coast Aesthetic Center, recommend wearing a tinted moisturizer instead of a heavy foundation, or a tinted lip balm instead of lipstick if you want a little color.
“Having a touch-up bag is key,” says Schlip. By packing a small, 3-1-1 compliant bag that you can pull out as soon as you arrive at your destination, you can head out on the town without missing a beat. Hatziantoniou and Ditto recommend including eye drops for red eyes. Schlip recommends combating oily skin with blotting papers, and to apply powder when you reach your destination. A little shimmer powder on your cheekbones can brighten up your complexion, and if your hair looks a little greasy, tap in some translucent powder or dry shampoo to absorb the oil. Other quick fixes to include are mini emery boards, nail polish remover wipes, and nail polish strips for broken nails; and moleskin for shoes that pinch and rub your feet to avoid blisters.
Put together a small carry-on kit comprised of a few key cosmetic items in a quart-sized zip-top bag. This kit should have everything you’ll need to freshen up before you land. The exact items to pack depend on your skin type and the kind of makeup you like to wear, but, generally, you’ll want to pack a cleanser or pre-moistened makeup-remover wipe (we like Olay 4-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths for Sensitive Skin and cut these in half to double the usage), a moisturizer, and whatever basic cosmetic essentials you think you might need.
Travel Beauty Tip: Wear Sunscreen
If you’re going to a hot, tropical destination, chances are you’re already packing the sunscreen, and with good reason. “The closer you get to the equator, the stronger the sun is and the shorter amount of time you can stay out [without getting] serious sun damage consequences,” says Kvedar. But your UV exposure might be happening while you’re still 30,000 feet above the ground. Kvedar notes that windows don’t block all UV rays, so “if you’re in a window seat on a long flight, and there’s a lot of sunshine, you could get a lot of exposure to UVA. The higher you go the more intense that is.”
In order to protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun, Schlip recommends products with SPF already included. “Sunblock is hard to reapply, and most people, when they’ve done their makeup, they don’t think to reapply in the middle of the day. You feel like it’s going to take your makeup off.” But new technologies have allowed for SPF in powder form, from mass-market lines to department store products. “It’s awesome because it’s so easy to reapply a bronzer or powder,” she says.
There are also plenty of oil-free options that you can apply under makeup or mix with your favorite tinted moisturizer. Dr. Yadav pairs SPF 30 with noreva Exfoliac Tinted Anti-Imperfection treatment for a skin-benefiting concealer, and recommends Neutrogena’s Dry Touch sunscreen for a matte-finish SPF. If oily skin is more of a problem for you, Yadav suggests Avene’s Cleanance Expert cream, which exfoliates and reduces oil production.
Travel Beauty Tip: Oils Can Be Your Friend
For those with dryness issues, winter travel can be harsh on hair and skin. Don’t be afraid of oils, which do wonders and pack small. Skip clunky moisturizer and hair treatment bottles in favor of a travel-sized dry oil. A dry oil is a non-greasy oil that hair and skin can easily soak up without leaving residue behind—oils that are classified as dry include argan, jojoba, and rosehip seed.
SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon always packs a small bottle of rosehip oil, which has brightening and rejuvenating benefits for skin and goes a long way in dry hair. Rub in a few drops where you need it, and apply to the face and neck before bed every night for anti-aging benefits. It’s effective at removing makeup if you use a little bit extra and wipe the excess away with a tissue, and it’s also great for men as a beard oil.
Travel Beauty Tip: Combating Jet-Lag
It’s no secret that being rested reflects in the way you look. “Sleep is critical to your appearance,” according to Kvedar, “and there’s no better way to mess up your sleep than crossing time zones.” When you’re trying to adjust to a new locale, avoid drinking caffeine after 2:00 p.m. local time and forgo heavy alcohol use. Combined with good hydration, staying rested will also help you to prevent jetlag. Also, if you wear contacts, consider wearing your glasses while you travel so you can take a quick nap without irritating your eyes or risking an eye infection.
Maybe you have a favorite eye cream that you swear by. If you’ve found a product that works for your skin, invest in a travel-sized version, ask for a sample from Sephora or your department store’s makeup counter, or pour some into a tiny, packable pot. To de-puff your eyes while on the plane, scoop some ice out of a cup of water, wrap the ice in a napkin, and hold it on your eyes. Anything chilled, whether it’s a refrigerated face cream, ice, or a cold cucumber slice, will shrink swollen tissue and aid in reducing inflammation of the eyes.
You can also bring a packable or single-use mask to restore what your skin loses on a dry flight or to calm irritated skin after days of traveling. SmarterTravel’s Ashley Rossi recommends these 20, including packable no-rinse versions like 100% PURE Bright Eyes Mask.
Travel beauty experts sing the praises of spring-water mist as soothing jet-lag relief. And it’s an oil-free option for travelers with sensitive or oily skin. Travel and lifestyle writer Jeanette Zinno says, “Travel-size facial mists are perfect for refreshing after a long dry plane ride or to freshen up after a day of exploring a new country.” She recommends La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water Face Mist. Hydration and cleansing relief will help you leave the plane feeling fresh-faced.
Travel Beauty Tip: Find Products That Do Double Duty
The trick to including everything you’re used to using, according to Schlip, is to choose items that have multiple uses. For example, pick a lip tint that is also a blush or eye shadow, or a cleanser that also tones and moisturizes. “If you can find a bronzer that can go as an eye shadow and SPF, perfect, slam dunk,” says Schlip. Brands like Dr. Bronner’s and Thayers offer products that can be used in several different ways, from shampoo to shaving cream, making them favorites among travelers.
One of the most versatile and inexpensive travel beauty products gaining steam these days is micellar water—or oil molecules suspended in soft water. It doubles as a makeup remover and cleansing toner, and requires no rinsing so it’s perfect for on-the-go use. Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Sonam Yadav swears by the same micellar water as SmarterTravel’s Ashley Rossi: Bioderma Sensibio H20. “I am obsessed with Bioderma’s Sensibo H20 in travel-size,” Rossi says. “Two dabs on a cotton ball will leave your skin feeling refreshed and clean, and you can actually see the dirt and makeup removed.”
Travel Beauty Tip: Pack Smart
Packing right is just as important as the specific travel beauty products you’re packing. SmarterTravel’s Christine Sarkis recommends using multi-use containers to stash all your necessities. “I use contact-lens cases to hold smaller amounts of face moisturizer and sunscreen for shorter trips,” Sarkis says. “It helps me maximize my 3-1-1 toiletries bag, since it takes up only a small amount of room.”
If you’re bringing a bag of toiletries on the airplane, make sure you know what’s allowed—and what’s not. Things you should pack in your checked bag include liquids— including but not limited to gel deodorants, toothpaste, perfume, and liquid makeup—in quantities of 3.4 ounces or more. According to TSA guidelines, you can pack lipsticks, disposable razors, cuticle cutters, eyelash curlers, nail clippers, tweezers and small toiletry scissors (less than four inches) in your carry-on.
Another useful travel beauty packing tip: powders. Not only are they 3-1-1 compliant (so you can take as many as you like in your carry-on), but they’re also practical in other ways. “Powder not only gives you coverage, but it also gives you SPF protection and it can absorb excess oil,” Schlip says. Be sure to pick a product that is buildable, like a compact powder, so that you can reapply. Before leaving the terminal, you can make a quick stop in the restroom to touch up with powder foundation, bronzer, and blush. Other products that come in powder form include dry shampoo and sunscreen.
Relying on free hotel amenities for your travel beauty routine can save you a lot of packing space, but be sure to bring necessities hotels might skimp on. “I’ve been noticing more hotels only provide shampoo or a terrible shampoo/conditioner hybrid these days,” SmarterTravel’s Caroline Morse Teel says. “I hate being caught without it, so I refill one of these travel bottles with my favorite conditioner just in case.”
Travel Beauty Tip: Don’t Forget About Your Physical Health
After all, beauty comes from within. The best way to keep your skin soft and healthy is by staying hydrated—and it’s even more important when you take to the skies—so pack a water bottle. Sure, flight attendants hand out water on the plane, but usually it comes in those little plastic cups or mini bottles, and it’s not as if the economy-class beverage service arrives at your beck and call. The easy solution is to pack a squishy, foldable, reusable Vapur Anti-Bottle and to fill it with water after you’ve passed through security. The BPA-free container holds 18 ounces of liquid. Kvedar says that people don’t think enough about the dehydration they will face on airplanes. It’s a good idea to drink eight glasses of water the day before your trip, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Wash your hands with soap and water, especially before you apply makeup. Not only will this help you avoid getting sick on vacation, but it’ll also keep your skin looking fresh and breakout-free. And while this tip may seem basic, it can often be a challenge to find a reasonably clean sink with soap in places like buses, subways, and at germy tourist attractions. For those moments, make sure you have a small bottle of hand sanitizer readily available. During cold and flu season, take extra precautions when disinfecting your airplane seat and avoid touching your face as much as possible.
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- 16 Packing Hacks That Will Change How You Travel
- 15 Tiny Travel Products to Help You Stay Healthy on Vacation
- The Ultimate Packing List
Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Shannon McMahon, Caroline Costello, and Jaclyn Liechti contributed to this story.