Have you ever noticed that when you travel, your skin ends up looking dry and dull for the first few days you’re away? There’s a reason why this happens, and it all has to do with what’s known as your skin’s natural moisturizing factor, or NMF.
Natural moisturizing factor is a naturally occurring substance primarily made of up amino acids and is typically located in the stratum corneum, which is the topmost layer of the epidermis. NMF does the following:
- Keeps your skin hydrated by drawing in moisture from the air and sealing it inside
- Keeps potentially harmful pollutants and bacteria out
- Aid in the natural process of desquamation, or the shedding of old skin cells to make room for new ones
One of the amazing things about NMF is that your skin can adjust how much of this substance it produces, depending on how much you need. Therefore, if you live in an area like Miami, where the air tends to be humid, your skin will naturally produce less NMF than it might if you lived somewhere drier.
This is why your skin often feels dry and itchy when you travel to a different climate, or even when you fly on a plane. Both have to do with changes in air humidity. Let’s say, for example, you travel from Miami to Colorado. The humidity in Colorado is going to be much lower than your skin is used to in Miami, which means that there is less moisture available in the air around you for your skin’s NMF to absorb. This will cause dry, dull-looking skin.
Here’s where it really gets interesting, though. For the first three days in Colorado, you’ll notice dry or even flaky skin. By day four, however, your skin will have produced enough NMF to account for the drier climate and effectively rehydrate on its own.
How to Keep Skin Hydrated While Traveling
Even though your skin has the ability to ramp up NMF production when you travel to a lower-humidity environment, this process will take about three days before you notice a difference. Because of this, it’s a good idea to bring along a barrier repair moisturizer like Zerafite to help diminish dryness while you wait for your skin to adjust. You can also use a creamy cleanser like Nia 24 Cleansing Cream, which can help to resupply your skin with lipids.
As always, no matter where you are or what skin type you have, remember to pack plenty of sunscreen, even if you’re headed to snowy mountains in Colorado. Studies have shown that bright white snow can reflect up to 95 percent of the sun’s UV rays and enhance their negative effects, which include worsening dry, flaky skin.
Finally, make sure the products that you’re using are the correct formulas for your skin type. Using the wrong ingredients can contribute to dry skin, even if your skin is producing an adequate amount of NMF.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.