10 Skin Issues That Come up During Traveling and What You Can Do About It

Do not let skin issues prevent you from traveling

#1: Dry Skin from Recirculated Air

One of the most common complaints among air travelers is dry skin. This occurs from the unnatural environment of a plane. Pressurized air has very little humidity, so skin becomes depleted of its natural moisture, leaving the skin dry and dehydrated.

This is especially problematic for people with naturally dry skin, such as those with eczema. When skin becomes too dry, it can easily become more irritated, brittle, scaly and tight, which can lead to an eczema flare.[1]

What you can do

To help prevent moisture loss:

  • Drink plenty of fluids before and during your flight
  • Apply moisturizing creams to add extra moisture to the skin

 

#2: High Altitude

The mountains generally have a low quantity of oxygen, high ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, low humidity, high wind velocity, and freezing temperatures in winter. These conditions make skin more susceptible to many adverse reactions:[2]

  • Dry skin: also known as xerosis, results from low humidity coupled with high wind velocity. Excessive dryness can lead to itchy skin, cracks in the skin, and chapped lips.
  • Sunburn: higher altitudes means closer proximity to the sun which increases the likelihood of sunburn and associated pigment changes. Additionally, UV rays will reflect if there is snow, resulting in double UV penetration.

What you can do

To avoid dry skin and sunburns while visiting the mountains:

  • Drink plenty of fluid to stay hydrated
  • Apply moisturizers all over the body throughout the day
  • Use a facial moisturizer containing sunscreen
  • Reapply sunscreen frequently

 

#3: Influences of Humidity

Traveling to new places often means changes in climate. As the climate changes, so can your skin. Humidity or the amount of moisture in the air is often the culprit behind changes in skin while traveling.

In general, the skin is composed of mostly water. When our skin is exposed to low humidity, the natural water in our skin evaporates which can lead to dryness, itching, peeling, and may even exacerbate preexisting skin conditions, such as eczema.[3]

In high humidity environments (increased moisture in the air), there tends to be more moisture in the skin. While this may be advantageous for naturally dry skin, it can wreak havoc for naturally oily skin types. With increased moisture and oil, acne may exacerbate.

What you can do

Before departing, familiarize yourself with the destination’s anticipated climate. Also, consider your skin type and how it responds to humidity.

If traveling to an area known for high humidity, consider packing items such as:

  • Blotting papers to remove excess oil throughout the day
  • Facial cleansers to wash away excess sweat and oil
  • Exfoliators to help get rid of dead skin cells and reduce clogged pores
  • Toners to help remove any excess dirt and oil
  • Moisturizers to keep skin hydrated despite the excess water in the air

However, if going to a low humidity climate, avoid dryness by frequently applying moisturizers and drinking lots of fluids.

 

#4: Breakouts

There are many reasons why travelers break out:

  • Stress: can cause an imbalance in hormones, which in turn, can cause an acne flare.
  • Climate: skin that cannot acclimate quickly to changes can lead to breakouts.
  • Mineral content: water around the world has varying levels of minerals that can be irritating.
  • Hotel products: often contain harsh ingredients that are not compatible with your skin.
  • Diet: indulging and trying new foods can lead to breakouts
  • Alcohol: alcohol consumption naturally dehydrates the skin. As the skin becomes drier, there is an increase of dead skin cells on the top layer of skin that can contribute to clogged pores.

What you can do

To prevent breakouts while traveling:

  • Pack your own skin care products and avoid using complementary products provided by hotels
  • Use bottled water to wash your face
  • Gently exfoliate your face to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores
  • Drink plenty of water and apply a daily moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated
  • Avoid excess dairy, sugar dense, and processed foods
  • Limit the amount of alcohol consumption to reduce dehydration

 

#5: Heat Rash

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat or miliaria, is a mild inflammation of clogged sweat ducts.[4] When sweat ducts become clogged, sweat cannot leave the body and it becomes trapped under the skin. This results in a fine, bumpy, itchy rash that often times will feel “prickly”.

Heat rash commonly occurs in hot and humid environments. It will typically appear on sun-exposed areas, such as the hands, face, and neck. But it can also occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun and are covered by tight clothing such as the stomach, groin, thigh creases, buttocks, and under the breasts.[4]

What you can do

In most cases, heat rash will resolve without treatment within several days after changing to a cool, less humid environment. Management of miliaria requires heat control to reduce excessive sweating.

To avoid heat rash:

  • Avoid warm and humid environments
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Wear loose clothing made of breathable fabric
  • Remove wet clothing

In severe cases use:

  • Cool water compresses
  • Calamine lotion to relieve discomfort
  • Mild topical steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Topical antibiotic and/or antiseptics to reduce secondary infections

 

#6: Contact Dermatitis

Often while traveling, contact with many new things such as foods, materials, scents, and other forms of allergens and irritants can cause skin inflammation called contact dermatitis which can appear in two different subtypes:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: caused by an allergic reaction to a material, called an allergen[5]
  • Irritant contact dermatitis: non-specific dermatitis active by the immune system in response to an irritant

Common causes of contact dermatitis:[6]

  • Metals, especially nickel
  • Fragrances
  • Antibacterial ointments
  • Formaldehyde
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine- detergent used to thicken shampoos, soaps, and lotions
  • Isothiazolinones- found in many personal care products to prevent bacteria from growing and protect the product from oxygen and light damage
  • Pasaphenylene-Diamine (PPD)- a chemical used in hair dye

When exposed to either an irritant or allergen, your body reacts by developing an itchy red rash. It is not contagious or life-threatening, and will generally resolve without treatment.

What you can do

If you can pinpoint the cause, the best thing for preventing another rash is to avoid exposure to the culprit.

Treatment for contact dermatitis is generally aimed at symptom management. For the most part, contact dermatitis will heal without treatment, but mild cortisone creams can be applied to help with any inflammation or itchiness.

 

#7: Bug Bites

Traveling to a new environment may bring about new scenic views, but also unwanted critters. Insect bites are a very common complaint among travelers. Bites generally occur when an insect is trying to feed off the host’s blood, which typically results in itchy red bumps.

Not only can bugs buzz around and bite, but they can also crawl around in beds! It is not uncommon for bedbugs to be present in temporary and shared living spaces, such as hostels and hotels. However, despite their name, they are not limited to beds. Bedbugs can also be found anywhere humans sit, rest, or sleep, including theaters, workplaces, schools, and airplanes. These bites are painless and typically occur on exposed skin, such as the face, arms, and legs. Linear bumps or bites, along with blood speckled sheets are suggestive of a bedbug infestation.[7]

What you can do

To avoid getting bitten, educate yourself on the types of critters likely to be encountered during vacation and select the appropriate insect repellants and protective clothing.

To prevent climbing into a bedbug-infested bed, check for bug droppings on the sheets beforehand which may indicate their presence.[7] If you become a victim of bedbug bites, complete eradication may be difficult. In general, insecticides can be used as well as washing all bedding and clothing in heat as bedbugs cannot tolerate temperatures above 122°F (50°C).

Most types of bug bites are generally self-limiting. For symptom control use:

  • Calamine lotion to relieve discomfort
  • Mild topical steroids to reduce redness, inflammation, and swelling
  • Oral antihistamines to help with itching

 

#8: Sunburn

Whether you are off to a tropical getaway or exploring the streets of a new town, it is easy to forget the importance of sun protection. Often, travelers don’t anticipate the changes in climate and elevation that make sunburns easier and faster.

While a sunburn might seem like a temporary problem, it actually has long term effects. Chronic sun exposure leads to premature aging (wrinkles), pigmentary issues, and can also cause skin cancer.

What you can do

To prevent uncomfortable and unsightly redness on your vacation, as well as long term skin damage, sun protection is critical!

  • Apply sunscreen every two hours. Layering sunscreen is even better!
  • Make sure your sunscreen is labeled as a broad spectrum
  • Use sunscreens containing zinc oxide are the most effective
  • Wear clothes that block sun rays – darker colors, thick material, tight weave

 

#9: Swelling

Edema, another word for swelling, commonly happens after a long flight. After sitting for a long period of time with minimal movement, blood begins to pool at the feet which causes excess fluid to leave the blood and accumulate within the surrounding tissues.[8] This results in swollen, puffy legs.

In extreme cases, the combination of pooled blood with little to no movement can cause a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVTs are small blood clots that are formed when blood becomes static, also referred to as venous stasis.[9] If swelling does not go away after a few hours of the flight, and there is associated pain and warmth of the legs, it could be a sign of a DVT and warrants immediate attention.

What you can do

Swelling is not a permanent or serious condition, but it can definitely make walking and readjusting after a long flight uncomfortable. Simple tips and tricks to avoid swelling:

  • Wear compression stockings that help reduce blood from pooling at the legs[10]
  • Walk around during a flight to avoid blood accumulation
  • Elevate legs after the flight to get the blood recirculating
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption and sleeping aids that may reduce your ability to move around throughout the flight
  • If not at risk for bleeding, take a baby aspirin (81mg) before the flight to help prevent DVT formation
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and during the flight, and avoid salty foods that may result in fluid retention

 

#10: “Hot Tub” Folliculitis

While soaking in a hot tub is certainly relaxing, it can come with some unsightly complications. Hot tub folliculitis, also known as, Jacuzzi folliculitis or Pseudomonas folliculitis is a skin infection that arises several days after exposure to warm bodies of water or contaminated swimwear. It can occur from swimming in a pool or lake but is more commonly contracted in warm water, such as hot tubs.

Hot tub folliculitis is a skin infection caused by the bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterium thrives and grows in warm environments. When exposed, the bacteria get trapped in hair follicles causing an itchy red and bumpy rash. More severe symptoms include fever, upper respiratory tract infections, and inflamed or tender breasts.[11]

Anyone can get hot tub folliculitis, but not everyone exposed will get an infection. Some individuals that may be at a higher risk include:

  • Those who are immunocompromised, such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV patients
  • Anyone who has shaved or waxed recently

What you can do

Luckily, hot tub folliculitis usually clears spontaneously without treatment. However, to minimize symptoms:

  • See a healthcare professional, as you may need oral antibiotics
  • Avoid waxing or shaving any part of your body prior to warm water exposure
  • Inquire about the cleaning policy of the hot tub to ensure proper disinfection

 

Key Takeaways

  • Many skin reactions can arise while traveling. The best thing is to be prepared and pack accordingly
  • Climate changes are commonly the culprit behind adverse skin reactions

* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.

References

  1. Link to research. Eczema Causes and Triggers. Accessed June 22, 2019.
  2. Singh LC. High Altitude Dermatology. Indian J Dermatol.2017;62(1):59-65; PMID: 28216727 Link to research.
  3. Katagiri C, Sato J, Nomura J, et al. Changes in environmental humidity affect the water-holding property of the stratum corneum and its free amino acid content, and the expression of filaggrin in the epidermis of hairless mice. J Dermatol Sci.2003;31(1):29-35; PMID: 12615361 Link to research.
  4. Oakley A. Miliaria. 1997; Link to research. Accessed July 16, 2018.
  5. Nosbaum A, Vocanson M, Rozieres A, et al. Allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. Eur J Dermatol.2009;19(4):325-332; PMID: 19447733 Link to research.
  6. Link to research. Contact Dermatitis. Accessed July 19, 2018.
  7. Vasievich MP, Villarreal JD, Tomecki KJ. Got the Travel Bug? A Review of Common Infections, Infestations, Bites, and Stings Among Returning Travelers. Am J Clin Dermatol.2016;17(5):451-462; PMID: 27344566 Link to research.
  8. Trayes KP, Studdiford JS, Pickle S, et al. Edema: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician.2013;88(2):102-110; PMID: 23939641 Link to research.
  9. Adi Y, Bayliss S, Rouse A, et al. The association between air travel and deep vein thrombosis: systematic review & meta-analysis. BMC Cardiovasc Disord.2004;4:7; PMID: 15151705 Link to research.
  10. Partsch H, Winiger J, Lun B. Compression stockings reduce occupational leg swelling. Dermatol Surg.2004;30(5):737-743; discussion 743; PMID: 15099316 Link to research.
  11. Zacherle BJ, Silver DS. Hot tub folliculitis: a clinical syndrome. West J Med.1982;137(3):191-194; PMID: 7147933 Link to research.