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Road trip skin: how to prevent acne while traveling

A no breakout how-to for summer wanderlust.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
The Curology set sitting on top of a boogie board with sunglasses. A swimming pool is in the background.
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Vacation might be all I ever wanted, but getting acne after traveling is literally the worst. Vacation acne can happen to anyone. Skin problems after traveling are usually caused by the short-term lifestyle changes you make while on the road, including diet, increased sun exposure, and disruptions to your daily skincare routine.

The bright side? Going into a summertime — or winter tropical — trip prepared can save you from experiencing bad skin after traveling. Whether you’re ISO glamping or airplane skincare tips, or just wondering how to prevent acne breakouts after the beach, here’s some quick advice that may work for you:

The essential traveling tips

1. Be a makeup minimalist

The best thing to wear on your face while you’re traveling is a moisturizing sunscreen, and you should re-apply it throughout the day. Of course, heavy makeup is fine once you get to your destination. (Check out our no breakout makeup series if you need product recs!) Personally, I always seem to pack way more makeup than I’ll need (or use!), so my vacay mantra is “less is more.”

Custom superbottle for breakouts | Free Trial button

2. Bring a good SPF

Sun damage can trigger acne-causing inflammation and irritation in the skin, which means sturdy sun protection is even more essential for summer-time traveling. When I’m on the go, I prefer to use a physical sunscreen (i.e. titanium dioxide, zinc oxide). Because these sunblocks don’t need time to absorb into the skin in order to block out UV rays, they’re good insurance against sun damage. Avoiding sunlight by seeking shade and wearing hats/sunglasses/etc also helps. (If you don’t own a novelty baseball cap, are you even a tourist?) Remember: use sunscreens with SPF 30 or better and reapply at least every 2 hours — I’ve suffered through enough beach-induced sunburns to know.

Your search for your new favorite facial SPF is over. Meet Curology’s sunscreen: A dermatologist-approved formula that’s designed especially for acne-prone skin. If you're looking for more SPF options, Curology's dermatology providers put together a list of over 10 Face Sunscreens for Every Skin Type.

3. Wash your hands

Yes, mom. But, real talk? Touching your face can expose your skin to bacteria that causes breakouts. If you’re traveling by air, you’ll be exposed to even more bacteria. Wash your hands frequently, and also bring a travel bottle of hand sanitizer — that way you don’t have to climb over your airplane neighbors every time your hands need to be cleaned.

4. Pack bite-sized bottles

My lowest low: throwing out full-size products at the end of the airport security line (on multiple occasions — for shame). Not to mention that keeping my moisturizers on me can really help when air travel dries out my skin.

So here’s the deal: if you want it in your carry-on, it needs to be a container that holds 100ml (3.4 ounces) or less. Thankfully, a lot of my favorite skincare products already come in this size (including my Curology custom cream). I also keep (and refill) a lot of reusable travel bottles from the drugstore — they also come in handy for saving space in my medicine cabinet at home!

The Curology set in a transparent travel bag, floating in a pool

5. Come on in, the water’s fine

Some people notice that their skin gets a little clearer when they’ve been swimming in the ocean. This might be because of the salt water, though that’s not backed up by hard data. However, there is another potential reason your skin might benefit from a swim in the ocean (or a salt water pool): reduced stress levels. As a Chicago-to-Miami transplant, nothing has changed me for the better more than impromptu trips to the beach.

6. Get hydrated, stay hydrated

Start clocking your water intake the night before you leave, since things like the recirculation of air in planes can really dry out your skin. You’d have to be SUPER dehydrated for it to show on your skin, but using extra moisturizer the night before you leave isn’t a bad idea. My sensitive skin tends to get super dry whenever I leave the damp air of the Everglades, so I always bring multiple types of moisturizing products to use all over my body (don’t forget your chapstick).

Woman with red lipstick and red glasses drinking from bottle

7. May I offer you a mist, Miss?

Facial misting sprays are a soothing treat for dry, flaky, or easily irritated skin. It also can be incredibly soothing/cooling on sunburnt skin. Spray a spritz or two before applying moisturizer to help lock in more water. Brands like Evian and Avene sell water sprays for the face, but you can make your own with a spray bottle + mineral water.

8. Feeling fancy? Wear a sleep mask

If you’re prone to dry skin caused by air travel, doing a sleeping mask in-flight can help! Sleep masks (or “sleep packs”) that have sodium hyaluronate and butylene glycol can be ultra-hydrating, helping to reinforce your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

Check out our non-comedogenic face masks for dry skin 👉

9. Eat mindfully

I don’t know about you, but for me, eating is half the fun of going on a trip. But, if you find there’s a correlation between a change in diet and a change in your breakouts, being discerning about the snacks we grab while out and about can make a difference for our hormones and skin.

If you have oily, acne-prone skin: foods high on the glycemic index can trigger oil production in the sebaceous glands; without getting overly sciencey about it, be aware that high-sugar snacks such as granola/energy bars, soft drinks, fruit juice, potatoes, and white rice are culprits you’re likely to run across during your journeys.

Check out these seasonal summer foods for healthier skin 👉

Before and after image Curology Micellar Makeup Remover

10. Micellar water > everything

Our skin experts agree: skip the makeup wipes. Micellar water is the Swiss army knife of makeup removal: it cleanses, removes makeup, and moisturizes all in one step by using tiny molecules—micelles — that pull the dirt and oil out of your skin. 

Curology makes a micellar makeup remover that’s pretty great. The micellar makeup remover by Curology is designed by dermatologists to be defiantly gentle, while removing even the most stubborn of eye makeup. Curology members can add it to their box for $8.

Live life like a vacation: 24/7, 365

Catching a case of bad skin on holiday can really put a damper on what is supposed to be a fun and stress-relieving experience — but good skin doesn’t have to be complicated. At Curology, our philosophy is to keep it simple and minimalistic — sure, there are tons of products that can be fun (and beneficial!) to use, but when it comes to maintenance, a 3-step routine is all you need.

Image of Curology Cleanser Custom Formula Moisturizer and Micellar Makeup Remover

Struggling to pack all you’ll need for your last summer vacay? Consider signing up for a free trial of Curology* and get a custom skincare set — including the micellar makeup remover — for just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling. *Subject to consultation. Subscription required. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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