If there’s a downside to going on vacation, IMO, it’s packing. And I don’t just mean clothes and shoes—for me, packing skincare products can be one of the toughest parts of the process.
The obvious issue is lack of available space to transport a bunch of lotions and potions, which begs the question: Which ones are essential? And does the answer to that question change depending on the travel destination?
Luckily, we’ve got the answers to these questions (and more!), just in time for any winter season trips you might have planned. Below, two derms weigh in on taking care of your skin while traveling and tailoring your regimen to your trip, whether you’re hitting the snow or the sand. Of course, for personalized advice, you can always consult your derm with specific questions before taking off.
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A quick note before we dive in: Some of the product recs below are full-size, so you might want to transfer them into your favorite travel containers. And pro tip—try out your travel containers at home to see how much they really hold, dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, advises. That way, you won’t unexpectedly run out of something while you’re away.
Why should I switch up my skincare routine while traveling?
“Adapting your routine will help give your skin what it needs to stay calm and balanced in a different climate, and help avoid dryness, breakouts, sunburn, and other unwanted reactions,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.
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Plus, tweaking your regimen might just make your life easier. “Most people when traveling don’t want to carry as many products,” Jaliman says. So, she recommends simplifying your routine. After all, she points out, you’re on vacation. It’s OK to relax—even when it comes to your skincare regimen.
What products should I consider essential when I’m packing?
In general, both experts agree that it’s important to pack something to cleanse your face (at least cleansing wipes, micellar water, and/or toner to remove makeup and impurities, according to Engelman), moisturizer, and sunscreen. Engelman adds that you can seek out multitasking products like combined moisturizer and SPF if you really want to pack light.
And if you aren’t already familiar with micellar water, take note: Jaliman loves how it isn’t irritating but it takes everything off (like eye makeup), so you don’t need to bring a separate remover. Plus, it doesn’t block your pores, she explains, and it’s great for oily skin as well as sensitive skin. One of her favorite options? Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O Micellar Water.
You’ll also want to consider what else your skin might need. Know what “emergencies” you’re likely to encounter (think: what happened on your last trip?) and pack accordingly, Jaliman advises. For instance, if you’re likely to break out, you’ll want to bring the acne product you use at home, too.
Then there’s skincare for air travel to consider: “I recommend packing some extra soothing and hydrating products to use during and after your flight to refresh your complexion and restore any moisture that may have been lost during travel, as airplane cabin air is extremely dehydrating,” Engelman says.
That could include a face mask, eye cream, hydrating toning mist, eye masks, and lip balm. In particular, she loves Derm Institute’s Anti-Oxidant Hydration Gel Masque, ROC’s Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream, Lumion’s Miracle Mist, and Sara Happ lip balm.
What’s best for beach vacations?
If you’re heading to a hot and humid climate, you might make a few tweaks to that list of essentials. Jaliman recommends using cleanser, micellar water or toner (Engelman recs Humphreys Witch Hazel Toner), and water-resistant sunscreen (like EltaMD UV Sheer) in the morning. In the evening, she suggests using an exfoliating cleanser (like No7 Beauty’s Radiance+ Daily Energizing Exfoliating Cleanser), toner, and a light lotion instead of moisturizer.
“A lot of people in a hot, humid climate tend to be oily,” Jaliman explains. An exfoliating cleanser balances the skin and makes it easier to remove the oil. Meanwhile, a light lotion hydrates your skin without being greasy and lets your pores breathe. Alternatively, she says you can use a hyaluronic acid serum, like La Roche Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
You could also consider a multi-tasker like Glo Skin Beauty’s C-Shield Anti-Pollution Moisture Tint SPF 30, a three-in-one moisturizer, SPF, and tinted mineral makeup recommended by Engelman.
What’s suitable for a ski trip?
To keep your skin from becoming dry and irritated, Jaliman suggests packing a moisturizing cleanser and hyaluronic acid serum to use morning and night, plus a hydrating sunscreen (like EltaMD UV Clear).
Engelman, too, suggests bringing nourishing and moisturizing products—like hydrating serums, facial oils, and thicker creams—along with you. “Look for ingredients like ceramides, peptides, and hyaluronic acid for nourishing, barrier-strengthening benefits,” she explains.
She recs Elizabeth Arden’s Hyaluronic Acid Ceramide Capsules Hydra-Plumping Serum, biodegradable capsules that are easy to use on the go. And if you’re in the market for a thicker, hydrating cream, she suggests Glo Skin Beauty’s Bio-Renew EGF Cream. It’s designed to moisturize, repair skin, and prevent signs of aging, she says, so it’s another great multitasker.
Finally, Engelman suggests packing a multipurpose ointment for areas like hands, cuticles, lips, and ears. “Exposed skin tends to become red, cracked, and dry in cold climates,” she explains, adding that Lano’s Original 101 Ointment Multipurpose Superbalm can offer that extra hydration and protection.
Jaliman also has a tip for these kinds of trips that goes beyond what you bring in your suitcase: If you’re staying in a hotel with a humidifier, use it! You might even ask if they have a humidifier that’s not already in the room.
What if my excursion isn’t to a different climate?
“If you’re traveling somewhere with a similar climate, you don’t need to make many adjustments,” Engelman says. She notes that you can probably continue with your regular skincare routine.
But if you’re looking to cut down on the number of products you’re packing, Jaliman suggests picking a favorite active ingredient (like vitamin C or niacinamide) out of your rotating products. And if you usually use more than one kind of sunscreen (*raises hand*), you might bring just one that works for you in different scenarios.
How should I handle returning home?
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for whether you should immediately return to your regimen once you get home from vacation, according to Engelman. “If you’re experiencing breakouts, irritation, or excess dryness from the effects of travel, you should listen to your skin and tailor your routine to addressing these issues,” she explains.
What else should I keep in mind?
Jaliman and Engelman have a few other ideas to help you keep your skin at its best while enjoying your vacay:
- Jaliman loves the Foreo, a facial cleansing device, for deep cleaning (think: a great option if you’re out all day at the beach and coming back to your hotel room sweaty and dirty). She notes that the tool comes in a travel size and holds a charge for a long time. You can use it every day, she explains, but if you have sensitive skin, you might stick to just a few times a week.
- Stay hydrated and limit caffeine and alcohol, Jaliman advises. “Dehydration is not only bad for your body, it’s also bad for your skin,” Engelman explains.
- To avoid transferring germs and bacteria, Engelman says, try not to touch your face too much.
- You def don’t want to have an allergic reaction while you’re away, so try products at home before you pack them. And take hotel products home with you to try, Jaliman says.
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Erin Warwood is a San Francisco-based writer, runner, and sparkling water enthusiast. She holds a B.B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University. In her free time, you can find her watching Survivor, trying new Peloton workouts, and reading Emily Giffin novels. Her ultimate goal: become a morning person.