The best beauty products to pack in your carry-on, according to flight attendants
With COVID-19 travel restrictions easing and Americans eager to log off Zoom meetings and explore the world (or at the very least, the country) again, it’s time to toss the beauty products that have remained untouched in your toiletry bag since the last time you boarded a plane.
With new brands emerging at a seemingly-constant clip, though, the beauty industry is awash in skin care, makeup and bath products, and it’s hard to know where to start when rebuilding your cache of serums, sunscreens, and sheet masks. For the inside advice on the best beauty products out there, we turned to the experts. Flight attendants spend hours in the air, battling dry, dehydrating cabins, and relentless jet lag.
“Between varying climates and intense air-conditioning, traveling is generally tough on the skin,” says Archontoula Protopapas, a cabin crew member of Emirates. “So I put extra time into keeping my face clean and hydrated.” Protopapas, along with fellow flight attendants, shared their travel must-haves.
Whether you’re hitting the road, or just hoping to refresh your beauty and skin care routine ahead of seeing people in person again, read on for 19 flight attendant-approved beauty products worth stashing in your suitcase.
It’s more important than ever to stay germ-free while flying, but constantly dousing hands in alcohol-laden sanitizer can quickly dry out skin. Annemarie Stella, director of guest experience for Tradewind Aviation, recommends Touchland. “Its hard plastic, flat packaging makes it leak-proof (and overflow-proof!) when you’re at a high altitude,” says the one-time flight attendant, who curates the amenity kits available on the airline’s shuttles and private charters. “The watermelon scent is fresh, and it’s also moisturizing—and is a current celebrity favorite.”
To stave off dry hands caused by excessive (if totally necessary) hand washing, the cabin crew turns to rich hand and body creams. Annemarie Stella stocks travel-sized tubs of The Righteous Butter by British beauty beans Soap & Glory. “Sometimes those small bottles of lotion explode at altitude, and this creamy, fig-scented body butter keeps my hands soft through an entire flight—even after washing dishes and cleaning the galley.”
Lauren Winant, the flight attendant behind DrinkAroundTheWorld, recently purchased Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve and reapplies it throughout the flight. “The soap and sanitizing wipes on the plane leave my hands looking like I’m 100 years old, and I’m only 30, not to be too dramatic,” she says. “My hands are no longer cracking and finally hydrated again.” Simran Cheema, a member of the British Airways cabin crew, relies on CeraVe Reparative Hand Cream, formulated with moisturizing hyaluronic acid and restorative ceramides. “It keeps my hands well-nourished, and I love the fact that it is free of grease and fragrance, which is perfect for my sensitive skin.” Plus, she says, the small tube fits perfectly in her liquid travel bag.
The secret weapon of the skin care regimen, face mists can deliver a quick boost of hydration to dull, dry skin, and even an aromatherapy-driven boost in mood, in just one spritz. That is likely why several flight attendants we polled mentioned using one. Annemarie Stella taps Kiehl’s Cactus Flower and Ginseng Hydrating Mist, which, she says, “is a must when you need a quick face refresh and can’t pack an aerosol.” British Airways’ Simran Cheema relies on Clarins Hydra Essentiel Hydrating Multi-Protection Mist, noting “I love that it can be used before and after makeup, as well as throughout the flight. It makes my skin feel so hydrated and gives it a dewy, fresh look.” Also lending a rosy glow: the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs & Rosewater. “I love to give my face a spritz of this throughout my workday,” says Lauren Winant. “It’s so refreshing.”
The extra step of dabbing on under eye cream may seem unnecessary, but the experts say the delicate skin around your peepers can use the added hydration to help combat puffiness and dark circles. (Both are a dead giveaway that you’re tired and jetlagged.) Lauren Winant loves Kiehl’s Avocado Eye Cream, which she applies in the morning pre-makeup, and also after washing her face before bed. “I love how hydrating it is, and how it de-puffs my eyes after a long day of flying,” she says.
Speaking of extra steps, do you really need a lip mask? If you suffer from dry lips—which can happen when you regularly wear lipstick, spend your days at 35,000 feet above the ground, or both—the answer is yes. Winant discovered the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, and says she’s a convert. “B.C. (before COVID) I loved using a matte lipstick for a long day of work, but unfortunately this type of lipstick would leave my lips very dehydrated,” she says. “I apply a gracious amount of the Laneige before bed, and I wake up with luscious, hydrated, smooth lips.” To maintain the hydration, member of American Airlines cabin crew Amy Santana uses Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment, which she says delivers “long-lasting moisture to soothe dry, chapped lips.”
Serums—or lightweight, gel-based moisturizers that provide a high concentration of active ingredients—are versatile and effective for a wide range of skin concerns. Use one after washing and pre-moisturizing, like The Ordinary “Buffet,” which Winant applies both morning and night. “An affordable serum that actually works, quite the game changer,” she says. “It leaves my face feeling extra smooth and brighter.”
Sheet masks seem like they were made for flying, offering a healthy boost of hydration in just a few minutes, and nothing to wash off in a tiny airplane sink. “I love Tatcha’s Luminous Dewy Skin Sheet Mask after a long flight,” says Tradewind Aviation’s Annemarie Stella. “It packs right into your purse and helps hydrate skin after spending so much time in a dry pressurized environment.”
Any dermatologist will tell you sunscreen is an absolute skin care essential for preventing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Lauren Winant applies Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30 daily to help prevent UV exposure on the plane, noting, “yes, this is a thing—don’t forget your SPF when you fly!”
Meanwhile, British Airways’ Simran Cheema swears by La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Invisible SPF 50. “This bottle of sunscreen is without a doubt the most important beauty product I own,” she says. “It feels so light on the skin, yet it moisturizes, leaving my skin looking hydrated and glowing. I also love the SPF mist by La Roche-Posay, which you can apply over your makeup to top up the SPF throughout the day.”
Choosing a face cream is all about skin type and personal preference, but flight attendants we talked to mentioned RetrinAL DAY Cream from French beauty brand Avene, the classic, ultra-rich Crème de la Mer, and CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream, which one called “an essential travel item” for its replenishing, grease-free moisture boost.
Emirates cabin crew member Archontoula Protopapas relies on an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory oil for layering under her moisturizer. “For me, moisturizer and lotion are absolute musts to keep my skin from drying out,” she says. “I recommend argan oil as a base for protecting the face.” Try 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan argan oil from The Ordinary.
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