Acne and Foreign Travel

You save and save for months to go on that exotic vacation, or your honeymoon, or to meet relatives from the “old country.” You spend hours at airports and more hours in the plane. And about a day after you arrive, your face breaks out in zits.

This doesn’t have to happen. Here are ten tips about acne and foreign travel that may prevent the cosmetic emergencies you don’t know how to treat.

1. See to your limits with seafood.

If you have never, ever eaten a particular seafood item before, chances are that it won’t make your skin break out. Generally, the immune system has to have prior experience with a marker protein on a food before it starts generating hypersensitivity reactions. But if you don’t eat seafood on a regular basis, overindulgence can flood your body with iodine. There can be temporary fluctuations of thyroid hormone that make your skin especially sensitive to irritants and especially likely to break out.

2. If you are a woman who takes oral contraceptives, remember to readjust your schedule.

Progesterone-only birth control pills have to be taken on a strict schedule adjusting for time differences. It’s possible that a woman will need to take a progesterone-based oral contraceptive in the middle of the night to avoid getting pregnant while on vacation abroad. The estrogen-progesterone pills most often prescribed to women who have acne offer a little more leeway, but skipping pills entirely can not just greatly increase the chances of pregnancy, it can also make your face break out.

3. Don’t forget the moisturizer.

The air in flight cabins is usually bone-dry. It can desiccate your skin and leave it whitehead-prone. A dab of moisturizer, especially along the jaw line and on your temples can make a big difference in your complexion for the first few days of your trip.

4. If you are having fun in the sun, use sunscreen.

Sunburn predisposes the skin to various kinds of skin cancer, although they may take many years to show up. But suntans can darken blemishes as they heal, leaving permanent hyperpigmentation that can be very hard to remove. If you use any kind of acne treatment, especially if you have Asian skin, be sure to use sunscreen as needed at your vacation destination.

5. Shower within the hour of getting hot and sweaty.

Another skin care problem that pops up on active vacations is acne mechanica. It’s a pimply form of acne that is a reaction of the skin to trapped sweat. Wherever constricted clothing holds sweat against the skin, these pimples can break out. Acne mechanica can occur on the forehead under a headband, on the arms under wristbands, and underneath tight fits in shirts, blouses, slacks, and jeans. Making sure you shower in warm water as soon as you can after getting sweaty—and gently rubbing wrinkly skin with a clean sponge (don’t use someone else’s sponge)–is a must for preventing acne mechanica.

6. Plan ahead to prevent jet lag.

Jet lag can disturb sleep for weeks—and lack of sleep quickly shows up in your skin. Try to choose flights that have early-morning arrivals. Then try to stay up through the day your first day in your new location. You’ll probably be bone-tired, but you can take 1 to 3 mg of melatonin to help you get to sleep. You may still have some jet lag while you stay at your vacation spot, but if you don’t make an effort to adjust your sleeping hours even before you touch down the problem will be a lot worse and it will show in your pores. And on a related note,

7. Don’t sleep too rough.

The standard travel advice is to eat like a king but sleep like a pauper, don’t spend too much money on your hotel. There are limits, however, to how much you should rough it. If you are staying in 1-star hotels and hostels, you need to make sure you sleep on clean lines. It’s not just the icky matter of picking up oils from someone else’s skin. It’s not even just the matter of having to think about whether the bed bugs bite. Unwashed comforters and ancient mattresses can harbor mites that activate rosacea and that aggravate all the other kinds of acne by triggering an immune response. Spending a few extra dollars on your hotel may not only help you feel better, it may also help you look better.

8. Keep your face warm.

If you are going skiing or you are enjoying wintertime travel to cold-climate destinations, make sure that you keep your face warm when you go out. It’s not the cold itself that causes problems with your complexion. It’s sudden changes in temperature from cold to warm or even hot. Rapid changes in temperature can literally burst capillaries underlying your skin, making pimples redder and aggravating irritation.

9. Enjoy chilies and curries in modest portions.

The chemical capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot. It activates the vagus nerve to slow down digestion, making you feel fuller, and to increase tears and saliva, helping you taste the food that makes you cry. But both chilies and curry peppers can also increase the flow of blood into the skin of your face. This increases circulation to your pores, and that’s not necessarily a good thing if you have acne. The bloodstream carries white blood cells to the pores that attack acne bacteria—but the assault of the immune system on acne bacteria always does more damage to the skin than to acne. Hot foods are fine, but maybe you don’t want to go to a chili pepper buffet.

10. Be careful with complimentary toiletries.

All the but the least expensive hotels will usually provide complimentary shampoo, soap, and lotions. It’s tempting not to use your own, especially if you are on a budget. But if you don’t know what is in that “free” soap or lotion, don’t put it on your skin. It’s always better to carry travel-size bottles of your own skin care and acne care products to avoid irritating your skin.


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