Turns out it's a lot more complicated than just airport germs.
It would be easy to blame your breakouts on the unsanitary conditions of your plane, train, or bus this season, but it turns out the biggest reason your skin is going berserk is more linked to stress than transportation. "We each have our own individual Achilles' heel around the holiday season, and oftentimes, the anticipation of the stressor begins a stress cascade in our bodies before the event has even happened," Melanie Herring, a licensed aesthetician and Reiki practitioner based in Brooklyn, New York, says. "Anticipatory stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, which then activates hormone floods to, in effect, keep us alive. These higher levels of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can lead to breakouts."
Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D., of Mudgil Dermatology, P.C., agrees. "Cortisol is basically fuel for acne," he says. "This is tough to prevent, particularly if you're bouncing between time zones." The best ways to prep your skin for such stressors is to practice some healthy habits in the weeks leading up to your travel. Get enough sleep, follow a healthy diet, and avoid high-glycemic foods like processed sweets and candy, Mudgil recommends.
And while stress plays the biggest role when it comes to breakouts, travel can play a part, particularly if you're flying. "Bad skin begins on the plane—the unnaturally dry air saps skin of moisture, which compromises your barrier function and kicks oil glands into overdrive," says Merrady Wickes, head of education and content at The Detox Market. Make sure to drink lots of water before and during the flight, says Mudgil, and pack a TSA-approved moisturizer in your carry-on to help quench skin midflight.
Another thing to keep in mind is where you are traveling to. "Sudden changes in temperature and humidity and even the contents of the tap water can cause breakouts, so your regular skin routine may not cut it," says Wickes. Make sure to pack accordingly. If you're going skiing, or somewhere with dry, harsh air, you'll need a rich, velvety moisturizer. Humid locations (like a beach) will need a lightweight or serum-based product to keep pores clear, Wickes says.
Here's what you can do.
Even with the best-laid skin care plans, if you're not controlling your emotional stressors, no product is going to keep you blemish-free while traveling, says Herring. "Emotional stress leads to tension and holding patterns in the body, oftentimes in our necks and jawline, where you will find lymph nodes," she says. "Where there is tension, lymph cannot flow, creating stagnation. When stagnation exists, toxins and waste are not released, leading to buildups and ultimately breakouts." To keep your emotions in check, Herring says to breathe and practice gratitude.
Acknowledge the feelings you have, whether you're stressed about getting to the airport with enough time or spending a week with your parents, and notice where your body is holding that tension. Give yourself a self-massage, and once you notice yourself feeling calmer and more relaxed, find a reason to feel gratitude (things like, you have money to fly instead of taking the bus, or you're looking forward to your mom's homemade pancakes). "Each acknowledgment of gratitude will open your heart just a bit and release tension in your body," Herring says. "By releasing tension, you are quieting your nervous system and inviting flow throughout your system." The result? Clearer skin and, most importantly—a clearer mind.
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