You Need Help: Look and Feel Less Gross After Flying

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you seek advice and we try our very best to give it.

This has traditionally been done by way of individual Formspring accounts, Autostraddle’s Tumblr and a Formspring Friday column, which has all been very fun and insightful. But, because Formspring has a character limit and we’re wildly optimistic w/r/t our time-management skills, we thought we’d go one further and let you use our ASS private messaging to share advice-related feelings, too.

For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Now let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today we’re talking about being gross on airplanes.


Q: Lizz, could you provide some advice on how to look and feel less gross after spending the night on a plane? I’m flying to visit a potential ladyfriend in September and would rather not meet her at the airport looking like an oily zombie. Thanks!

A: It is so funny you should ask this! I was recently picked up at the airport by my person after a monthlong trip. I was coming off eight hours of flying and had a sneaking suspicion there might be flower giving involved (which there totally was) and was highly concerned that I might look totally gross. I was semi-successful in my grossness prevention, so I have some good tips. Well, enough about me. What are YOU gonna do?


You’ll want to start by getting plenty of sleep the night before your flight. You probably won’t sleep well during your overnight flight and at the very least you’ll have one good night of sleep under your belt. Some people will tell you to stay up the night before so you can successfully sleep all night on the plane. Some people are wrong. You’re either going to sleep on the flight or you aren’t — staying up all night will only make you look worn out.

Make sure you drink lots of water and moisturize daily leading up to your flight. Flying is really dehydrating and can leave your skin feeling just awful. In fact, if your skin gets dehydrated it will counteract this by producing oil making you look greasy.

Finally, in order to look your best post-flight, you need to forgo putting on any makeup the day of your flight. You’re going to sit in a gross plane for hours and sleep and all make-up is going to do is get oily and runny and leave you with raccoon eyes. Wash your face before you leave and that’s it. No makeup. (If you absolutely must wear makeup, pick up some Neurogena Makeup Removing Cloths for when shit goes bad.)


During the Flight

The most important thing you can do during your flight is try to relax. I know you’re going to be all jittery because you’re seeing someone who gives you butterflies, but read through Long-Distance Flying 101 for relaxation/amusement ideas. If you can just relax you can probably sleep, and if you can sleep you’ve won half the battle. If you’re of age, have a glass of red wine or three and read a tragically boring book. That ought to knock you out. As someone who stayed up with those pre-cutie butterflies myself, I can tell you that avoiding sleep will just make you crazed.

When you are awake, it’s important to maintain self care. Bring both facial cleansing wipes and a high quality oil-free moisturizer. If you start to feel oily, give your face a once over with the facial wipe and then lightly apply your moisturizer. If you tend to have dry skin, bring a heavy night cream moisturizer. Bring lip balm and apply liberally, as dry and cracked lips are no good for reunion kissing. As for your hands, you should be sanitizing hourly anyways because airplanes are fetching gross. Layer a good hand cream on top of that because dry and cracked fingers are also no good.

But seriously, mostly just try to get some sleep.



Post Flight

Your inclination might be to try to get yourself put together in the last few minutes of the flight in the bathroom. Avoid this. Now that people can’t go up to gates without a ticket, you will certainly pass a bathroom before seeing your honey. Duck in to the restroom and wait for a larger stall to open up. Strip completely down and clean your whole body with body cleansing or isopropyl wipes make sure to get behind your neck, under your arms, your inner thighs and under your breasts. Reapply deodorant under your arms (duh) and feel free to stick some wherever you feel dirty (previously mentioned locations). If your hair gets greasy, this is a good time to dust your hair with dry shampoo. Now, redress in all new clothing (including undergarments) and exit the stall.

Now that you have a mirror, you can wipe down your face one last time with a facial cleansing wipe and moisturize. If you wear makeup go ahead and apply it now, but keep it light/natural so as not to be too obvious. I suggest just mascara, eyeliner (if you wear it), some lip balm and a little blush. Sanitize and moisturize your hands again.

Evaluate your hair. Depending on your hair, the dry shampoo will have varying levels of effectiveness. If you’re still looking a bit greasy, fold a bandana like a thick headband and tie it up like a pin-up/Tupac. This will cover your roots without obviously trying to cover your roots. It also gives you a sort of adorable traveler look. If your hair is long and mostly just unruly, a bun is your best shot (with or without the bandana). Short hair should respond well to the dry shampoo, but bring a styling product that can be applied to dry, dirty hair just in case.

Finally, brush your teeth. Actually, you might want to do this first. You’ll feel worlds better.

Packing List:

This might seem like a lot, and it sort of is. But flying all night and still looking hot is serious business. Here’s your best-to-have packing list for your carry-on. Don’t forget to pack liquids in 3oz or less!

+Facial cleansing wipes
+Oil-free moisturizer.
+Dry Shampoo
+Body cleansing wipes or Isopropyl wipes
+Lip balm
+Travel sized deodorant
+Tooth brush
+Mouth wash
+A full change of clothes including bra and underwear
+Hair product

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Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 261 articles for us.


  1. Holy. Do people really feel this dirty after travelling, or am I just gross and nobody told me???

    • I feel even worse, tbh. But it happens to me on anything that moves, trains, buses, etc – maybe I overthink things…

    • I feel completely grotesque until I’ve showered post-flight. I’m talking anxiety-ridden, jittery, and uncomfortable in my own skin.

      • I can relate to that! It’s especially worse if the flight is long (8+ hours) but even shorter flights leave me feeling icky and self-conscious and panicky. And I LOVE flying!

    • I don’t know what this means in the context of flying but I think it’s probably really good life advice.

    • *weeping* I haven’t been so scared by a news story since the bath salts guy. I’m never eating food from an airplane again.

  2. I might reapply some deodorant and I appreciate the sleep advice, but stripping down and wiping yourself all over and putting on new clothes you’ve had to carry all through? I don’t have that many fucks dude.

    No one expects you to be pristine after an eight hour flight, my best advice is to drink water, remember to get up and walk around a bit if you aren’t sleeping (wiggle your toes! your legs are all the way down there all squashed for so long) and definitely moisturising is key.

    They don’t let people into baggage claim or near gates anymore, you can hit any number of bathrooms to wash your face/brush your teeth, apologise for your state, ask for a shower when you get to hers.

    • Actually I flew into Chicago on Saturday and saw my family before baggage claim. But you’ll probably want to freshen up before you have to lug around your checked luggage anyway.

      Also if anyone has a layover in Seoul, there are AMAZING free showers there. They only provide small towels and generic shampoo but still, bigger than my shower at home.

    • This article reminds me of when I slept through my alarm and had to mad dash out to the airport to see my lady, having no shower and stayed up the night before cleaning. I was a greaseball and was wearing socks from the night before. I kept texting her how nasty and gross I was and how she wasn’t allowed to touch me until after a nice shower and such. Yeah, that didn’t happen. At the end we were just happy to see each other, stank included.

  3. My eye moisturiser came with these instructions, it really works for undereye puffiness:

    1. Apply a small amount of cream with alight, dabbing motion to the eye area
    2. Gently massage cream into the eye area. Repeat until product is fully absorbed into the skin.
    3. To reduce puffiness, continue to massage the lower eyelid, from the inner to the outer corner. Finish by applying light pressure to your temples to activate lymphatic circulation.
    4. To smooth dehydratedfine lines, perform a series of light tapping motions around the eyes.

  4. If your hair is long enough, pigtail braids are a great way to keep hair out of the way, relatively neat, and not on the back of your neck where you’re trying to lean back and get some sleep! Also your hair will be pretty and wavy when you take it out of the braids.

    Also, speaking from experience, DO make sure you hit up a restroom before you just start following signs to the baggage claim willy-nilly. My first face-to-face meeting with my <3 was kind of flaily because I half stumbled over them and had to interrupt the hug to dash into the bathroom.

    • Pig tail braids ftw!!!

      Also sometimes sleeping on an alternative lifestyle haircut actually just makes it more alternative amirite?


    I cackled, but then I wept since I will never look that good strutting off of a plane. I will never look that good even after 8 hours of sleep and plenty of water and a great workout and a massage and a hot shower and a professional haircut.

    Mrs. Obama, y u so fly?

  6. Great ideas for w when you’re on that pesky red-eye and have to stay up all day to avoid extreme jet lag! Putting these in my pocket Liz, thanks!

  7. Will definitely be using some of these when I have to fly to A-camp. Nothing worse than feeling like a ball of slime after a flight, regardless of who you’re meeting at the airport.

    • good point! I have a feeling a lot of people will be saving these tips for flying to camp.

  8. “Some people will tell you to stay up the night before so you can successfully sleep all night on the plane. Some people are wrong.”

    Oh I should’ve been told this before my recent 5 flights in 4 days. Flirting with cute girls is hard when you’ve been up for 40+ hours straight.

  9. Also, if you wear contacts, I recommend not wearing them while you fly. It can really dry your eyes out, and I’m sure you don’t want dry, itchy eyes when you see your lady. Bring a small container of lens solution and your contacts with you, and then wear your glasses on the flight. You can change right before & after the flight.

  10. I was listening to a radio documentary a while back about people meeting and falling in love on planes. I was pretty much dumbfounded as I’m always a greasy mess when I’m travelling and try to avoid socialization at all costs!
    Hopefully these tips will work for me, and I can see what all the buzz is about

  11. If the Marine Corps taught me anything it’s bring baby wipes and speed stick deoderant everytime you’re going “in the field” well that’s not all they taught me but I feel like that particular lesson applies here for us kids who feel we’re too cool for all that other makeup stuff and whatnot

  12. If you’re in a pinch and forgot to keep toiletry items handy, brown paper towels (like the kind you find in most public bathrooms) make excellent facial oil-blotters.

    My tip for hair, as someone whose hair becomes hopelessly greasy within mere hours of being washed and is not going to look good post-flight no matter what I do, is to wear a cute hat. Problem solved.

  13. when worst comes to worst, at the very least PACK A TOOTHBRUSH AND DEODORANT. i learned this the hard way after a 6 hour international flight. remembered the tooth brush, forgot deodorant. miserable for the rest of the nearly 8 hours before we got to the hotel.

  14. This is pretty great.

    Unfortunately, I’ve done enough international travel to learn that after 30 hours of traveling, everyone just smells like poop.

    I always appreciate it when airlines give you a travel toothbrush and tiny toothpaste, though. It’s like “Ohey there. Your teeth probably feel like they’re growing fur right now. Let me help you with that.”

  15. I love your words Lizz, I am a fanesbian of yours !!!
    I take every month at least one 5-11 hours flight and I don’t care about all that any more. Somehow I can’t sleep on planes, trains and cars yes but in planes no luck for me. So just watch movies, read, music and games with the iPhone and stretch my legs.
    During the flight just clean my face and hands every time I can and then the pit stop on the airport restrooms … wash all I can and off ….
    I guess I am tired of that but put my hands together for your advice

  16. Ugh, I read the title as “feel less gross after crying.” what is wrong with me. why. :(

    The hot towels that airlines hand out during those long flights are really nice too. Makes you feel less icky.

  17. I shall be using these same tips for the fringe. This is primarily because I have to spend like, 8 hours on a train, and then go and look like a functioning professional technician straight away. Full change of clothes it is.

  18. Another piece of advice: I know it sounds silly/annoying but stay closeted on an airplane. I accidentally told the guy next to me I had a gf and he spent the 20 mins trying to tell me all his thoughts on homosexuality. I am one of those people who, if the person next to me wants to have a conversation, I happily will. I’ve met some of the most interesting people traveling on coaches, trains and planes. I know it’s not for everyone and some people prefer to plug their iPod in but yeah. If you do have a conversation try and stay away from homo-ness (I prob sound like an ass saying this, sorry, just speaking from experience).

  19. Bringing deodorant and facewipes (and makeup, if you wear it) and toothbrush and hairbrush is smart. So is bringing an extra change of clothes in your carry on (in case you get to the airport and are told your suitcase weighs too much and has to be checked). That way when you land (after spending 22 hours on 3 different flights) you can change and look all cute/less gross walking together (silently rejoicing that you’re back from your trip and gloating about all the people who soon have to get on planes).

    Equally useful is bringing a neck pillow so you can sleep if the flight is particularly long. The pillows they give out are frequently useless, at least for me.

    But for serious, guys. Those little hot towels on various flights are awesome.

  20. Drinking alcohol before or during a flight is an absolute no-no. You will not look refreshed!

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