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Do pilots get wrinkles?

Pilots are exposed to various environmental factors that can potentially lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling. Some of the key factors include high altitude exposure, cosmic radiation, circadian rhythm disruptions, and lifestyle factors like poor sleep and nutrition. In this article, we will explore the evidence around whether pilots are in fact more prone to developing wrinkles and how they can protect their skin.

Do pilots get more wrinkles than the average person?

Several studies have looked at wrinkling and skin aging among pilots compared to control groups:

  • A 2010 study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology examined facial wrinkling in 102 male airline pilots compared to 102 age-matched controls. They found that pilots had significantly more wrinkling, especially around the eyes.
  • Another 2010 study in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine looked at skin aging in 54 male airline pilots vs. 50 controls. 62% of the pilots showed accelerated facial aging versus only 14% of controls.
  • A 2015 study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery evaluated wrinkling in 67 male Air Force pilots. They found extensive wrinkling and skin damage was common, particularly on sun-exposed areas like the forehead and neck.

Overall, the research suggests pilots do develop more extensive wrinkling and premature aging of their skin compared to those in other occupations. Let’s look at why this effect is seen.

Factors that contribute to pilot’s wrinkles

Ultraviolet radiation exposure

Cockpit windshields filter out most UVB radiation but still allow significant UVA penetration. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are a major contributor to skin aging.

One study found UVA exposure inside airplane cockpits to be 2-3 times higher than on the ground. Pilots may be exposed to high UVA levels for years over their career.

High altitude exposure

Airplane cabins are pressurized to mimic conditions at 5,000-8,000 ft altitude. However, pilots go through frequent takeoff and landings experiencing pressure changes.

Studies show even brief exposures to altitudes as low as 6,000 ft can increase facial wrinkling by dehydrating skin cells. The hypoxic environment at altitude likely accelerates aging.

Cosmic radiation

Cosmic ionizing radiation increases at higher altitudes. Pilots are exposed to greater levels than people who predominantly stay at ground level.

There is some evidence cosmic radiation can increase free radical skin damage. It likely contributes to pilots’ accelerated wrinkling.

Circadian rhythm disruption

Pilots frequently travel across time zones and work irregular schedules. This chronodisruption can affect skin function.

Studies show circadian rhythm plays a key role in skin regeneration. Disruption from shift work may allow more skin damage to accumulate.

Lifestyle factors

Frequent travel and changing schedules also impact healthy lifestyle habits. Many pilots suffer fatigue and poor sleep. In-flight dehydration and irregular nutrition are also common.

These effects may promote skin aging by slowing cell turnover, reducing antioxidant capacity, and increasing inflammation.

Which areas are most affected by wrinkles?

Some parts of a pilot’s face appear more vulnerable to wrinkling:

  • Forehead – Direct sunlight exposure through cockpit windows causes heavy wrinkling here.
  • Eyes – Squinting against sun glare and exposure to UVA rays lead to premature crow’s feet.
  • Neck – The neck lacks the protection of the scalp and hair making it prone to sun damage and leathery texture.

In general, sun-exposed areas like the forehead, neck, cheeks, and back of hands tend to show the most accelerated aging. Deeper facial wrinkles are also frequently seen due to dehydration at altitude.

Can pilots minimize wrinkles?

While pilots are inherently exposed to some pro-aging factors, there are strategies to protect their skin:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection every day.
  • Wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses when outside.
  • Moisturize frequently, choose thick emollient creams and ointments.
  • Apply retinoids to increase collagen production.
  • Consume antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E.
  • Drink more water, avoid alcohol and caffeine during flights.
  • Try to maintain good sleep hygiene despite hectic schedules.
  • Don’t smoke, which accelerates skin aging.

Making skin protection a priority and leading a healthy lifestyle can help minimize unnecessary wrinkling.

Should pilots get cosmetic procedures?

Many pilots end up seeking cosmetic treatments to reverse skin damage:

  • Laser resurfacing – Ablative lasers remove damaged outer layers and stimulate new collagen. This can reduce fine lines, deeper wrinkles, and sun spots.
  • Photorejuvenation – Intense pulsed light targets pigment and stimulates collagen without ablation.
  • Radiofrequency – Heats dermal layer to tighten skin and smooth wrinkles through collagen remodeling.
  • Injectables – Neuromodulators like Botox relax wrinkles. Fillers replace lost volume. Both help smooth facial lines and folds.

The appropriate treatment depends on the extent of damage, areas to be treated, downtime limitations etc. Most pilots need multi-modal therapy for optimal rejuvenation.


In summary, there is strong evidence that pilots are at increased risk for premature skin aging and wrinkling:

  • UV exposure through cockpit windows is a major factor, especially on the face and neck.
  • Frequent altitude changes lead to dryness and may accelerate intrinsic aging.
  • Irregular schedules and lifestyle factors also likely contribute.

Pilots can benefit from diligent sun protection, proper skin care, and lifestyle measures. Cosmetic treatments are also frequently needed to help reverse accumulated photo and chronological aging. Addressing skin health is important for maintaining a youthful appearance over an aviation career.