NASA Astronaut Joan Higginbotham’s Space Skincare Routine Involved 6 ‘Bare Minimum’ Products

Blasting off into space is a truly out-of-this-world experience only a few astronauts (and a handful of billionaires and celebs) get to experience. But, the little routines from Earth are still important while exploring the galaxy. (Eating healthy and working out regularly are non-negotiables for astronauts on long space stays.)

Another must on missions for astronauts is taking care of their skin.

Former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham knows all about the quirks of outer space skincare routines. She became the third Black woman to go to space when she spent just shy of 13 days outside of the Earth’s atmosphere in 2006. She also learned some surprising lessons in cleanliness sans gravity along the way.

Here’s exactly what her skincare and beauty routines looked like in space:

Astronauts can take regular skincare products on a mission.

But the weight of your personal items is tightly regulated. “We only were allocated so much space for our personal items and then you had to include your clothing,” she recalls.

Higginbotham prioritized her products and a few “get you out the door” necessities made the cut. “I took just the bare minimum,” she says. “I took a face soap, moisturizer, foundation—which you will never see me without except in one clip on a mission—blush, mascara, and lipstick.”

She opted for bar soap instead of a liquid facial cleanser. “I wouldn’t have to worry about the liquid somehow getting out of the dispenser and releasing a bubble of soap that I had to go chase,” she says.

She didn’t wear SPF, though.

That’s one regret Higginbotham shared. “Shame on me,” she says. “That was something I didn’t really think about at the time.”

She certainly saw and felt the sun, though. “We get to see 16 sunrises every day. It is hot, and it is so bright that you actually have to put your sunglasses on. I cannot imagine how much sun was coming, just baking my skin.”

Products really stick to your face.

No gravity, no problem for skincare. Moisturizer, foundation, powder, and pretty much all products apply and stay on as usual in the space station “as long as you didn’t have anything that was sheer liquid, like really lightweight like water or a beverage,” she says. “Everything else is kind of sticky like it is here on Earth; it was no problem adhering to my skin.”

Applying her makeup daily went as usual, but she was intentional about holding onto each product. “The only thing that I really had to think about was when I took a top off and where I was going to put it. If you just let it float around, God only knows where it was going to go, and then you’d have to find it.” FYI: Astronauts use a ton of Velcro to secure stuff down.

Washing your face in space requires a “choreographed” routine.

Higginbotham explained how she coordinated her own “hygiene routine” with her allotted two washcloths a day. “I had to choreograph my whole routine. First, I would wash my face. I put in my contact lenses, and wiped down if I was going to bed. I would brush my teeth last, so that I could spit the toothpaste out into the washcloth.”

Washing her face took some finesse, too. “There are little holes that we had to dispense water. We had to actually put the washcloth up to the holes and let the water soak into it. Otherwise, you would get little bubbles of water that would float around the cabin—that’s not really good.” Higginbotham added her bar soap to the saturated washcloth before scrubbing her face.

She missed splashing her face with water (skincare commercial-style) the most. “I missed water a whole bunch. When you’re up in space, those were creature comforts that you take for granted.”

Showers were nonexistent and more like a “bird bath” situation, according to Higginbotham. She used her washcloth to wipe herself down for 12 days straight. That was all any of the astronauts could do, even after their daily sweaty workouts.

“I don’t glow when I work out; I just full-on sweat and get my clothes wet,” she recalls. “You can imagine after I’m done exercising and I have to hang my clothes to dry, and then six of the crewmates doing the same, it gets a little gamey.”

That’s why she’s stoked about the new Tide and NASA partnership to make cleaning in a resource-constrained environment easy and effective. Astronauts are testing Tide To Go Wipes and To Go Pens on the International Space Station as part of Mission PGTide to learn about laundry solutions in space and more sustainable laundry back on Earth.

“It would be an absolute game-changer as we think about the future and long-duration missions to the moon and Mars,” Higginbotham says. “Mars is right now is nine months one way. Not only does it have implications for space missions, but it also has implications for how we use our water here on Earth and it’s just a whole big sustainability thing.”

It’s much drier in the space station.

That environmental shift didn’t occur to Higginbotham until she was floating around in the International Space Station. “One thing that I didn’t realize that was going to happen is that we control the humidity (about 70%) on the shuttle and the space station and so it’s a bit drier than what I was used to when I was living in Houston, where every day you wake up at five in the morning it’s 100% humidity,” she says.

As a result, her skin felt and looked drier. “I had to take that into account and moisturize more often,” she adds.

She got a giant pimple on her forehead after liftoff.

And it grew and grew while she was in the rocket heading to space. “I had a small breakout on my forehead,” she recalls. “As you’re laying on your back for three hours ready to launch, your fluids shift upward. By the time I got to space, everyone has what I call the ‘Charlie Brown head.’ Everyone’s head gets a little bit larger. Along with that larger head, the pimple erupted into a goiter on my forehead. That was really attractive.”

Higginbotham came prepared. “I did actually have some zit cream with me,” she says. “I put a little bit on there and in a couple of days it dried up. The lack of humidity did help to dry out my skin a little bit and the pimple.”

“You don’t know these things until you get to space,” she says. Well, now you do.

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