Preparing for your next trip? You might want to prepare for the fact that your skin’s condition could change as you travel — for the better or for the worse.
Whether you’re traveling to a different country or state, you’re most likely changing the environment for your skin. Since your skin is your barrier to the outside world, if your environment changes – so do challenges to your skin’s defenses. You may experience a negative change like a flare-up of a chronic skin condition, or, you may actually notice an improvement in your skin’s appearance. Here are all the reasons why:
How You Travel
The first way traveling can change the environment for your skin may be your means of travel: Are you in a stuffy car or is a dusty wind blowing in through the open windows? Is the dry air on the airplane making you wish you’d brought more moisturizer in your carry-on? Is the refreshing salty sea breeze on your cruise ship actually giving your skin a healthier glow?
To help skin changes caused by how you travel, be sure to keep at least small bottles or several swipes of tried-and-true moisturizer, sunscreen, and a gentle cleansing product handy, as well as products you use to manage your skin condition, such as anti-itch cream, drying creams or whatever will soothe your symptoms during a flare. Don’t pack them away where you can’t access them until your arrival.
Also, stay hydrated! Airplanes and artificial heat and air conditioning in cars can be very dehydrating for you and your skin.
When You Travel
Did you just endure a trans-Atlantic flight with no sleep and now your days and nights are upside down? Maybe you’ve been so excited for your trip, or stayed up late at night packing and planning, that you haven’t slept well for a few days.
Travel can affect how you sleep both before, during, and after your trip. Whether it’s excitement or jet lag, travel can scramble your body clock, also known as your “circadian rhythm.” Lack of sleep and changes to your internal and external schedules and routines can stress out your body. Even if you feel relaxed and happy about your trip, this invisible physical stress can trigger a flare-up of a skin condition or leave your skin looking dull, pale, or tired.
Don’t count on sleeping on the plane, train, or bus, as you might have a noisy neighbor or other interruptions that prevent sleep. Do a bit of research on coping with jet lag if you are crossing over several time zones. Timing your meals – like making sure you have breakfast at breakfast time in the new time zone — and surrounding yourself with natural daylight every morning on your trip, can help your body adapt.
To help skin changes caused by when you travel, start planning your trip and packing well in advance that you can be well-rested and ready to go the day of your trip. Eat as healthfully as possible to build your wellness and resilience pre-trip. Keeping the pre-trip weeks restful, healthy, and low-stress will also go a long way in preventing a flare-up.
Where You Travel
Every new region you visit may have different allergens, pathogens, and particulates from air pollution than what your skin or your immune system is accustomed to. Or, you may have allergic reactions to new foods that you are trying for the first time.
Don’t forget that each area you visit may have different humidity levels. Consider how your skin responds at home when the air is humid or dry and plan accordingly for your destination.
At your hotel, not only could you experience a rash from the cute little sample shampoo and soaps, the hotel might also launder its linens with harsh detergents that irritate sensitive skin. If you know this is a possible trigger for you, packing your own bedsheets might be a vacation saver.
It helps to choose a hotel room, rental car, and other means of travel, where you have some control over the thermostat. That way you can stay cool and comfortable, or warm things up if your skin is sensitive to temperature triggers.
Altitude changes can also impact your skin, and especially your risks from the sun’s UV rays. If you know that you are visiting a higher altitude – even in the winter — be sure to bring sunscreen. Skin damage can occur more rapidly the higher you go. Also, take into account whether the heat of the sun – either on a mountain top or a beach – is a trigger for you. Make sure you have access to the shelter or shade you need to keep cool. The last thing you want is to be stranded somewhere with no relief for your heat-sensitive skin.
Altitude changes can also affect your hydration level. Not only are higher altitudes usually drier, but your body also uses more water to internally adjust to the stress of altitude changes. Staying hydrated will help your skin cope with the dryness, and help prevent altitude sickness. Be sure to apply moisturizer generously or more often in high altitudes.
Skin Trouble While Traveling
Even if your skin feels and looks great the day of your trip, if you suffer from periodic flare-ups of a skin condition, bring along the products you might need to manage skin troubles in an emergency. The pharmacies where you are traveling might not have what you need.
Compromised skin is more vulnerable to outdoor exposure, new allergens, and irritants. You’ll need to take extra precautions if you have a flare-up mid-trip. Be sure to bring protective apparel you might need, like a sun hat, or a long-sleeve shirt, or even gloves if you know that these help you protect your vulnerable skin when symptoms are at their worst. Keep the clothes you pack soft and comfy, and bring any self-soothing necessities that help you cope when your skin flares up at the worst possible time.
Proactive Travel for your Skin
Does every February cause your eczema or TSW to rage out of control? Does a hot and humid summer make your acne or psoriasis worse? Are you wondering whether the heavy air pollution in your urban neighborhood is the cause of your dermatitis?
Why not schedule a vacation away from seasonal, weather, or allergen triggers? When it’s cold and dry in February, you can go to a tropical shore and give your skin a break. When it’s ragweed season, you can go to the Labrador islands where there is no ragweed. Humidity got you down? Take a hike in the mountains or visit a desert in the southwest. Does your skin need a breath of fresh air? Plan a road trip out to the countryside.
Be Sure to Pack a Smile
We hope this information helps you with the confidence you need to plan a skin-safe trip. Travel is one of the most beneficial and life-enhancing experiences we can have. With a bit of care and pre-planning, you can take advantage of the joy of traveling while keeping your skin in a healthy balance. Happy trails!
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.