A Beauty Obsessive’s In-Flight Entertainment


Photo: Greg Lotus/Trunk Archive

We all have our ways of coping with the indignities of airport travel. Some of us seek solace in Snickers bars and complimentary iced beverages. Others depend on potent cocktails of Ambien and resolute denial. For a long time, I relied on such cinematic masterpieces as Rush Hour 2 and the magazine trifecta: Vogue, the New Yorker, and In Touch. But while I continue to be a firm believer in the therapeutic qualities of chocolate, caramel, and Kate Middleton, I no longer resort to such passive forms of distraction.

These days, not even the dreaded middle seat is a match for my fortitude. Screaming children cannot bring me down. Armed with my TSA-approved Ziploc bag and intrepid spirit, I buckle up, break out the goods, and endure.

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On average, I spend between 40 minutes and several hours of every flight I’ve been on since the ninth grade engaged in some kind of wellness ritual. After I’ve safely wedged myself into my assigned crawl space, I lay out my supplies. First, I cleanse. While I refuse to wear mascara in airports, I do need to remove the concealer, highlighter, and blush I applied in anticipation of Terminal B’s fluorescent lights. Running water is in limited supply on board, so I tote along a sleeve of Yes to Cucumbers Facial Wipes. (Any drugstore brand will do, but I’m partial to these because they smell like Swiss spa-induced-contentment.)

Once I’ve erased the residual traces of Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage and RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, I whip out either Bliss’s Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Eye Mask or Ren’s Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask. You can wipe both off with a damp cloth while the gentleman to your left looks on in amazement.

Eventually, I’ll smear on a thick layer of Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, slather my heels in Weleda’s Skin Food, and settle in as my pores soak up the fragmented hyaluronic acid that Kiehl’s claims is “able to penetrate deeply and fill water reserves in skin.” Before touch down, I’ll approximate clean teeth with a Colgate Wisp and spritz on the single greatest breakthrough in skincare since Vaseline: Caudalíe’s Eau de Beauté. On some level, I understand that luxury mists are a late capitalism invention. I do not care.

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At 32,000 feet above sea level, I have administered: face masks, serums, eye cream, toning mists, all manners of gooey unguents, and nail polish (which a German flight attendant en route to Berlin told me was illegal). I have coated split ends in viscous (yet fragrant!) green goop and once slathered my entire face in mud from the Dead Sea. That was a bad idea.

After I heard a rumor that chamomile could reduce swelling, I convinced a kind steward to furnish two tea bags, dunked them in almost boiling water, and brewed my very own tonic. Several lukewarm minutes later, even the surly man across the aisle had to admit that my eyes looked brighter than ever. (“More awake? More alive?” I prompted. He grunted.)

Last year, I donned gel-lined moisturizing socks to travel from London to New York. As soon as I landed in Manhattan, I ordered four more pairs and the “Professional Heated Beauty Booties” that I had seen advertised in SkyMall. I regret none of it. They are hydrating and delicious and make me feel like Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.

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I know that this sounds insane and obsessive and vain. I understand that it mortifies more civilized travel companions and confuses the cabin crew. But I like the ceremony of it all.

For all the small humiliations of twenty-first century travel, airplanes are one of the last places on earth to be alone and selfish and anonymous. Despite their many, many shortcomings, they sanction a kind of personal indulgence that we too rarely grant ourselves. I really believe that treats and treatments make the weight of carry-on luggage easier to bear. They reward us for the long lines, the burnt coffee, the TSA. At their best, they do not only make us feel good. They make us radiant.

Or at least that is what a nice co-pilot told me last month.