Skincare Basics For Fieldwork

Fieldwork can do a number on your skin. A lot of friends, students, and colleagues often ask me, “How do you take care of your skin in the field?” This post offers a guide for skincare basics for fieldwork. 

Before we get started…

YOUR Skin

This post covers general skincare basics that I feel are the foundation for protecting your skin during fieldwork. Still, what works for me, might not work for you. Also, while I am a skincare aficionado, my doctorate is not in the medical field. At the end of the day, it is YOUR skin and you should do what you (and perhaps your doctors) feel will work for you.

Product Recommendations

Throughout this post, I will mention products that worked for me, my friends, or that I have seen to be popular in the skincare landscape. I definitely try to keep in mind a range of budgets. While I don’t have any sponsorship ties to the products mentioned, I do use affiliate links for many of the products that are linked (see my Affiliate Disclosure for more information). This means that if you click on one of my links and buy the product, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance for supporting this site 🙂

Not just for Fieldwork

While this post covers skincare basics for fieldwork (archaeological or otherwise), the tips here can be used if you are:

  • travelling to new destinations
  • spending a significant time outdoors
  • at the early stages of developing a basic skincare routine

Questions to Keep in Mind

As mentioned before, it’s YOUR skin. Skincare is deeply personal and certain materials, ingredients, or climatic conditions can have different effects on different people. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you figure out what might work for you.

  1. On a normal day, what are my typical skincare concerns? (e.g., dryness, oiliness, redness, light sensitivity, allergic reactions, etc.)
  2. What has caused my skin to act up in the past? (e.g., hormonal acne, change in weather, diet, stress, certain ingredients, etc.)
  3. What are my skincare goals? (e.g., budget-friendly maintenance in the field, improving my skin, preventative care, etc.)

Keeping these questions in mind will help you build a skincare routine in the field (and at home) that works for you.

Skincare Basics for Fieldwork

This section covers 5 areas that I feel are skincare basics for fieldwork. Each area (except the first one) will be broken down to cover skincare recommendations for the body (neck down), face, and head (scalp).

1. Clothing

This team picture in Oman displays a diversity of fieldwork clothing. Photo Credit: E.N. Dollarhide

Field clothing can greatly help to protect skin.

There are 3 things to keep in mind when figuring out what to wear in the field to protect your skin.

  1. Environment
  2. Culture
  3. Materials

Knowing the environment you will be working in will greatly help you as you figure what kind of clothing you might need. Personally, my field sites are quite hot during the day with extended periods of direct sun exposure. I opt to wear lighter materials and long shirts and pants to protect my skin from the sun, while staying cool.

Check out these blog posts that discuss field clothing for cold weather and different water situations.

Being cognizant of local cultural norms surrounding clothing is also important when making clothing decisions. Sometimes this can be tricky to navigate and since each project is different, I would definitely consult with your team if you’re unsure about certain apparel items. I work in countries where it is the norm to have your skin covered. As mentioned above, I opt to wear long shirts and pants that are made with light, breathable materials. This helps me stay cool, protect my skin, and respect my host country’s culture.

Finally, knowing which materials (e.g., cotton, polyester, nylon, etc.) work well for your skin type under various climatic and environmental condition can greatly help you find the best clothing option for you and your skin.

Check out these blog posts comparing fabric characteristics and fabrics based on the season.

Field clothing is a huge topic and probably deserves its own post (let me know if the comments if you want this). At a minimum, I make sure to pack the following to protect my skin:

For more suggestions for field clothing, I would recommend checking out the following posts:

It should be noted that while I linked to specific products, many archaeologists find their field clothing in thrift stores. Some choose to invest in certain items (e.g., shoes), while cutting costs with other items (e.g., tops). Whatever your budget or preferences, clothing is one way to protect your skin while in the field.

2. Cleansing

Cleansing is like cleaning pottery. It’s the last thing you want to do after a long day, but it needs to be done and it’s best to be gentle.

Cleansing is the process of removing dirt, pollutants, oil, etc. from your skin. I treat the skin on my body, face, and head differently, but there is one rule of thumb that I apply to ALL parts: gentle cleansing.

I do not like using harsh cleansing products that strip my skin and leave it feeling dry and tight. I tend to gravitate towards cleansing products that are in a pH range of 4-6.5.

To give you a quick background, the pH scale ranges from 0-14 and measures how acidic or basic a substance when compared to distilled water (pH = 7). This is important to know because we don’t want to disrupt our skin’s acid mantle, which is essentially our skin’s protective barrier against unwanted agents like pollutants and bad bacteria, by using products that are basic or too acidic.

Want to know more? Check out this post on why the pH of your skin and products are important.

Cleansing products normally take one of two general forms:

  1. Solid (e.g., bar soap)
  2. Liquid (e.g., gel, milk, oil)

Solid options are things like bar soaps. Traditionally, bar soaps have been quite harsh on the skin, but now there are formulas that are more gentle.

Liquid options generally come in the form of gel, milk, or oil cleansers. Each type of cleanser has benefits and trade-offs. For example, gel cleansers are popular amongst people with oily skin, while milk and oil cleansers provide added moisture which can be helpful for people with dry skin.

Body

Cleansing your body often happens when showering.

I personally lean towards liquid body cleansers for both the field and at home. Traditionally, liquid cleansers like body washes were more moisturizing than shower gels, but these categories have been blurred in recent years. I would recommend looking at the ingredients, consistencies (e.g., gel, milk, oil, etc.), and pH levels to find the best fit for you.

Below are body cleansers I would recommend:

  • Sebamed Liquid Cleanser for Sensitive Skin (Sebamed, Amazon, Walgreens): Since I have lived in Germany for a number of years, my go-to body cleansers come from Sebamed. Sebamed claims are their products have pH of 5.5. I find that the body cleansers do not strip the skin of moisture, but I definitely feel clean after using them. If you’re in Germany, it’s worth stocking up on these body cleansers there.
  • SebaMed Cleansing Bar (Sebamed, Amazon): Sebamed also makes a bar soap. I haven’t used it, but I would be willing to try it.
  • CeraVe Hydrating Body Wash (Amazon, Target, Walgreens): They make solid affordable products and their body wash is one that friends have used.
  • L’Occitane Cleansing & Softening Almond Shower Oil (Amazon, Sephora): This is a luxurious formula and definitely a splurge. I have used it before and I was really happy with it.

If electricity or water is limited at your field site, having a stash of cleansing wipes might not be a bad idea. I used to take baby wipes into the field as an emergency measure, but these Yuni shower sheets might be a more effective option.

Face

When it comes to cleansing my face in the field, I double cleanse. Double cleansing is a popular skincare method (originating in South Korea and Japan) where you cleanse your face twice:

  • 1st Cleanse: aims at breaking down and drawing out surface pollutants, dirt, sunscreen, etc. by typically using an oil-based cleanser.
  • 2nd Cleanse: aims for a gentle, but deeper clean by typically using a water-based cleanser.

Once I started double cleansing in the field, I noticed that I didn’t break out as much in previous field seasons. Here are some products that I recommend if you want to try double cleansing

For my first cleanse, I prefer using oil-based cleansers. Here are some suggestions:

  • Heimish All Clean Balm (Amazon, OhLolly): This oil cleansing balm starts as a solid and turns to a liquid on your face. It’s great for travelling and it’s my go-to oil cleanser. In terms of oil cleansing balms, I have friends who like Banila Co’s Clean it Zero balm (Amazon, Soko Glam) and Enature’s Moringa Cleansing Balm (Amazon, Soko Glam).
  • Face Shop Rice Water Bright Light Cleansing Oil (Amazon): This cleansing oil comes in a pump bottle and claims to good for oily skin types. I use this at home after working out. This could work well in the field too. The DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (DHC, Amazon) is a long time fan favorite in the pump cleansing oil category.
  • Acure Incredibly Clear Cleansing Stick (Amazon, Target): My online go-to skincare curator – Gothamista – recently posted about this affordable cleansing stick. Cleansing sticks are like self-contained bars soaps (ideally pH balanced) for your face. This one is filled with various oils and I think would be a great oil-based cleanser for the field.
  • Coconut Oil (or others): If you don’t want to buy a dedicated product, many friends (and myself at times) go into their pantry. Coconut oil is quite popular and often the base of many oil cleansers.

If you’re hesitant to put oils on your face, micellar water (originating in France) is a popular non-oil based option for the first cleanse. Micellar water is a mix of water and surfactants that can draw out dirt and oil from your skin. Like oil-based cleansers, it’s a popular makeup remover (eyes too!).

Want to know more? Check out this post on how micellar water works.

In using micellar water, you will need a cotton pad (or these reusable options) to absorb the product and wipe your skin. Here are some suggestions for micellar water products:

  • Bioderma Créaline/Sensibio (Amazon): I stock up on this when I am in France, but it’s getting to be more affordable elsewhere too. It has a cult following and it’s my go-to micellar water product. It doesn’t feel drying and it’s effective at dissolving and removing grime from my face.
  • Simple Micellar Water (Amazon): Friends rave about this product and the price point.

For my second cleanse, I’ve tried a variety of cleansers and these are some suggestions:

  • Neogen Green Tea Cleansing Stick (Amazon, Soko Glam): This cleansing stick is especially handy when travelling and a great option for the field. My husband travels a lot and I got this for him. I really enjoy the specks of green tea leaves in the stick
  • La Roche-Posay Effaclar Gel Facial Wash (Amazon, La Roche-Posay): This is a French brand and their Effaclar line is popular amongst those with oily, acne-prone skin. I find this face wash gentle and refreshing. I keep a travel size version at my inlaws.
  • CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser (Amazon, Target, Walgreens): This is an affordable drugstore favorite. The value sizes are useful because you can decant them into travel containers.
  • Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser (Amazon, Soko Glam, Ulta): This Korean brand makes an affordable and gentle cleanser that my friends rave about.

I should mention that I tend not to use cleansing wipes. I have found that they don’t effectively remove dirt and pollutants from my skin. However, if you feel like face wipes are the best option for you, I would suggest the Neutrogena Cleansing Towelettes or the Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes.

Head

Cleansing your head has traditionally meant using shampoo. In terms of scalp and hair health, a big concern is over shampooing. Typically, I only cleanse my head and hair 1-2 per week and simply rinse with water on the other days. I understand that this might not work for everyone and especially difficult when in the field.

In general, I recommend gentle cleansers and shampoos. For me, that also means avoiding sulfates because my scalp easily gets irritated by this ingredient and opting for options that are geared towards curly and wavy hair. The skin on my scalp is far more sensitive and irritated than on my body and face. Here are some suggestions:

  • DevaCurl Low-Poo Delight (Amazon, Ulta, Sephora): My go-to shampoo for years. It gently cleanses and does not strip my hair. My curls have never been happier.
  • L’Oreal Ever Pure Shampoo (Amazon, Target, Ulta, Walgreens): This product was recommended by Gothamista. I think it could be a good affordable, sulfate-free option.
  • Lush Shampoo Bars: Though not sulfate-free, friends rave about these bars and their portability. I can see how they would good for travel. Lullaby seems to be good for sensitive scalps and Godiva is a 2-in-1 option.
  • Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk – Natural Tint (Klorane, Amazon, Sephora, Ulta): This is one of my favorite dry shampoos (definitely cheaper in France). Dry shampoos soak up excess oil without having to rinse your hair with water. The natural tint version is great for those with dark hair. The original formula (Klorane, Amazon, Sephora, Ulta) is great too and works well with lighter hair colors. They also have a non-aerosol version (Klorane, Amazon, Sephora, Ulta), which would work better if you are just travelling with carry-on luggage. While Klorane is my go-to, I have used Batiste (Tropical and Divine Dark) in the past and I know people rave about Dove’s Dry Shampoo.

3. Exfoliating

Brushing is a form of physical exfoliation. As with human bone, it’s best to be gentle and not overdo it. Photo Credit: I.A. Dumitru 

Exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. In general, there are two main types of exfoliation methods:

  1. Physical (e.g., scrubs, brushes, sponges, shaving)
  2. Chemical (e.g., AHA and BHA acids)

Physical exfoliation involves manually scrubbing away dead skin cells. Physical exfoliants range from products with larger, gritty particles in the formula, brush tools (e.g., Clarisonic brush), sponges and cloths, and even shaving.

Chemical exfoliation employs acids to dissolve dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants are commonly either AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid).

Want to know more? Check out this post on the difference between AHA and BHA.

There are products that combine physical and chemical exfoliation. The key is to NOT overdo it. Too harsh of a physical exfoliant can cause skin tears and too harsh of a chemical exfoliant can cause burning.

Body

I tend to exfoliate my body once a week. I haven’t kept up that habit too well in the field, but it’s definitely worth it. I tend to opt for slightly heavy duty physical scrubs that not only scrub away dead skin cells, but moisturize the skin at the same time.

Here are some product suggestions:

  • Balea Dead Sea Salt with Lemongrass Scrub (Amazon, eBay): This is my go-to body scrub from Germany’s DM brand. It’s worth picking up in Germany because it’s less than 5 euros there. I first learned about this product from a friend (now living in Graz) and quickly learned that many of my German friends love this drugstore find. The scent is mild, the salt is effective, and the oils are nourishing.
  • Lush Buffy Body Butter (Lush): My friend Brooke brought this for us a gift and it did an excellent job of exfoliating and moisturizing my body.
  • Dove Body Polish in Kiwi/Aloe, Pomegranate/Shea Butter, and Macadamia/Rice Milk: This body exfoliator is both popular and affordable. It’s on my list of body scrubs to try.

There are gentler exfoliators out there that you can use more frequently (e.g., Caress Evenly Gorgeous Exfoliating Body Wash) if my preferences might be too harsh for your skin.

Also, for a simple DIY option you can simply mix some sugar or salt with oil (e.g., coconut oil) or water to create a paste that you can use to exfoliate your body.

Face

In the field, I tend to exfoliate my face 1-2 times a week. I have used a mix of physical and chemical exfoliators. The results of a physical exfoliator are pretty immediate. I tend to use chemical exfoliators at night and see the results in the morning. There are many products that contain both physical and chemical exfoliators.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Kate Somerville ExfoliKate®Mini (Amazon, Sephora, Ulta): This is one of the first exfoliators I used. You definitely feel a tingle when you use it. I have used it off and on for years and I find the mini version has enough product to last me for some time. I use this in the shower after cleansing.
  • Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% (Deciem, Amazon): The Ordinary is a brand that makes super affordable skin care products (buy directly from Deciem for the best price). I use a number of their products and their Lactic Acid 5% is my go-to exfoliator. I put this on at night after cleansing and before moisturizing. In the morning, there is a difference in my skin.
  • Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser (Kiehl’s, Sephora, Macy’s, Nordstrom): This cleanser has been a staple in my shower for the past couple of years. I like the clay texture and I find it refreshing. I often use it after working out as a second cleanse and exfoliator in one. It could be a solid option for the field. While I don’t use it daily, I think this is a solid, gentle exfoliator.
  • First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads (First Aid Beauty, Sephora 28ct and 60ct, Ulta, Amazon): These are one of the first disposable exfoliating pads I used in the field. The scent is mild and they travel well. While you can use them daily, I preferred to use them 1-2 times a week. I think they are gentle enough for sensitive skin as well.
Head

Exfoliating my scalp is a habit that I am currently incorporating into my skincare routine. Awareness surrounding scalp exfoliation is increasing as it is important for overall scalp and hair health. I try to do this 1-2 times a month. The following DIY option works best for me at the moment:

  • DIY Scalp Exfoliator1 part apple cider vinegar, 3-5 parts water, half part of coconut oil, and 1-2 drops of tea tree oilMix together and massage into scalp. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before showering for better results.

As you can see, this isn’t an exact formula, but I try to keep the following points in mind:

  • Make sure the apple cider vinegar is diluted enough so it does irritate the scalp.
  • Just a few drops of the tea tree oil works for a bit more exfoliation and that refreshing tingling sensation.
  • The amount of coconut oil can be lessened, but I always keep some in my batch because I feel like it soothes my scalp and helps with shine.

This DIY technique might not be feasible in the field. I don’t have a ‘go-to’ scalp product at the moment. However, here are a few products I have tried and a few that are on my radar:

  • Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Shampoo (SephoraAmazon): This is a pricey, but solid exfoliating shampoo. I found it slightly drying for me, but it did a decent job in terms of exfoliating.
  • IGK’s Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub (Sephora): While many scalp scrubs contain salt, this one does not. You definitely feel a cooling effect with this scrub, but I did find that I needed to spend a bit more time rinsing this one out.
  • L’Oreal Everfresh Micro-Exfoliating Scrub (Amazon, Target, Ulta): This is an affordable hair scrub that is on my list to try out.
  • Scalp Massaging Shampoo Brush: Scalp brushes are becoming increasingly popular for scalp exfoliation. Their bristles are supposed to gently stimulate the scalp and loosen dead skin cells. They can be used with your preferred shampoo. While I haven’t tried this method out yet, I’m eyeing the battery operated Vita Good Scalp Massaging Shampoo Brush and the manual Maxsoft Scalp Care Brush. This would be a great option if you wanted a reusable exfoliating method that uses products you already own.

4. Moisturizing

What do these flotation tank valves and a moisturizer have in common? They both aim to prevent water loss!

Moisturizing aims to improve skin by preventing water loss by working to keep or attract water. While our skin has a natural lipid barrier that is there to prevent water loss, moisturizers boost this process to help maintain overall skin health.

Sometimes the terms moisturizer and hydrator are used interchangeably.

Check out this post for more information on the confusion of the two terms

Figuring out how to moisturize really boils down to three things:

  1. Type of Moisturizer
  2. Moisturizer Formulation
  3. State of Your Skin

In general, there are 3 types of moisturizers that work in different ways to prevent water loss:

  1. Emollients: fill in gaps and spaces where natural lipids are missing to smooth skin (e.g., ceramides and oils)
  2. Humectants: like a magnet that draws water from surrounding to the skin (e.g., hyaluronic acid)
  3. Occlusives: traps water by providing a physical seal on the skin (e.g., petroleum jelly and oils)

Want to know more? Check out this post that details moisturizer types or this video.

These moisturizer types come in a variety of formulations. These formulations include, but are not limited to, gels, emulsions, lotions, creams, ointments, and oils.

With new product innovations, the distinction between moisturizer type and formulation category can get blurred. Determining which type and formulation of moisturizer to use really depends on the state of your skin.

For example, oily skin areas might benefit more from a lighter, humectant product, while dry skin areas might benefit more from either emollient or occlusive creams or an oil product.

Want to know more? Check out this post explaining the composition of different moisturizer formulations and which formulations might work best for different skin needs.

Body

I tend to moisturize my body right after I shower. The skin on my body can get dry from time to time to so I tend to seek out more creamy and oily formulations.

Here some products that I suggest:

  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (First Aid Beauty, Sephora, Ulta, Amazon): This has been in my dig skin kit for years. You can use it on your face and on your body. This is the product I reach for when my skin is super dry. It’s great for elbows.
  • Biotherm’s Sun After Body Milk (Biotherm, Amazon): This product is a great lightweight moisturizer if your skin has been under a lot of sun exposure. I was introduced to Biotherm products when my mother-in-law got me Biotherm Oil Therapy (Biotherm, Amazon) for Christmas one year, which I use at home. It’s rich, but feels lightweight. Biotherm’s Lait Corporel Body Milk (Biotherm, Amazon) isn’t as rich, but still solid.
  • Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion (Amazon, Target): This is a popular, affordable lotion that my friends and family have used.
  • Nivea Creme (Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart): If I ever forget or run out of moisturizer in the field, I buy the thick Nivea Creme in a tin. I really love the German formulation so if you have a layover in Germany, you can stock up there.
  • Coconut Oil (or others): In India, I have family members who use coconut oil as a moisturizer for super dry skin. I also have archaeology friends working in super dry environments that use coconut oil right after their shower.
Face

I tend to moisturize my face in the morning and evening. If I shower outside these times, then I will also moisturize my face right after showering.

Many friends and myself pack moisturizers containing SPF for added sun protection. I think this is a great option for the day, but I would not use a moisturizer with SPF at night. I will detail this more in the next section.

Since the skin on my face is fairly normal, I tend to rotate my moisturizers a lot. I use a mix of samples and products that I get on sale.

Here are my go-to moisturizing products that often accompany me to the field:

  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (First Aid Beauty, Sephora, Ulta, Amazon): As mentioned before, this has been in my dig kit for years. I use it on my face during the winter or when the climate quite dry.
  • Hado Labo Goku-Jun Milky Lotion (Amazon): I have had this hyaluronic acid lotion in my arsenal for the past year and a half. It’s affordable and incredibly soothing for my skin after a long flight. It also gives my skin a nice little glow.
  • Blithe Pressed Serum – Tundra Chaga (Sephora, Glow Recipe, Amazon): This is a hybrid product that combines a moisturizer and hydrating serum (serums are typically a concentration of potent ingredients that can deeply penetrate the skin). I love using this product when my facial skin is feeling dehydrated.

I usually pack one of the above moisturizers for the field because of their hydrating qualities.

I have sampled other moisturizers that could be a good fit for the field. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Oil of Olay – Oil of Olay is a fairly trusted brand that has been around for some time. Both my archaeology friends Jill and Brooke have used their facial moisturizer for years. Jill is a fan of the Complete All Day Moisturizer SPF 15 (Olay, Amazon, Target, Ulta), which I also used years ago. Brooke has been using the Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging Moisturizer with SPF 30 (Olay, Amazon, Target, Ulta). They both like that their moisturizers contain SPF for added sun protection.
  • Kiehl’s Centella Recovery Salve (Kiehl’s, Amazon, Nordstrom): This is a great lightweight moisturizer for sensitive or irritated skin. I reach for this from my husband’s skin kit when we travel together and I even used it when he visited me in the field.
  • CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion: CeraVe is a great drugstore brand that I mentioned before. They make an AM Moisturizer with SPF 30 (Amazon, Target, Walgreens) and a PM Moisturizer with hydrating ingredients (Amazon, Target, Walgreens), which would work well for the field.

When it comes to moisturizing your face in the field, your lips can get easily take a beating. The following have been my go-to lip moisturizers in the field:

  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Lip Therapy (First Aid Beauty, Sephora, Ulta, Amazon): I used this lip balm for years in both Oman and Ethiopia. It’s not glossy. It comes in a tube so I don’t need to use my fingers to apply it. They do have a heavy duty lip moisturizer in a tub – First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Lip Balm (First Aid Beauty, Sephora, Ulta, Amazon). I got this for my Mom and she found it to be very soothing and moisturizing.
  • Nuxe Rêve de Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm (lookfantastic, Walmart, Amazon): I love this matte lip balm with honey. It’s nourishing, not glossy, and travels well. It’s cheaper in France, but watch out for the consistency. I bought a dud once where the consistency was a bit gritty and didn’t realize it until I was back in Germany. It was still usable, but the application was not as pleasant as the typical smooth formulation.
  • Jack Black Intense Lip Therapy SPF25 (Sephora, Amazon, Jack Black): I have bought these lip balms as gifts for many archaeologists. They’re mainly matte, moisturizing, and contain added sun protection. The tube packaging also makes applying it super easy in the field.
  • LANEIGE Lip Sleeping Mask (Sephora, Amazon, Yesstyle, Peach and Lily): Now if you want something glossy, this is my go-to. This Korean product is technically an overnight lip mask, but I use it as a super hydrating lip balm. They have a variety of flavors. The Berry flavor is my go-to and it has a slightly red tint, but I would recommend Vanilla (Amazon) if you don’t want a tint. I got it for my sister and she loved it.
  • Nivea Creme 1oz Tin (Amazon, Target, Walgreens): My archaeology friend Laurel finds that Nivea Creme works as a solid lip moisturizer in the field. The 1oz tin is under $2 USD, and great for travel.
  • Vaseline Lip Therapy Cocoa Butter Mini (Target, Walgreens): Vaseline as a lip balm has been a tried and true favorite amongst archaeologists. My archaeology friend Avary takes this lip balm in the field and the cocoa butter is what makes the difference. Also, it’s under $2 USD.

I should mention that coconut oil can work as a moisturizer for the face and lips too.

Head

Moisturizing your head entails one or both of the following:

  1. Scalp
  2. Hair

For your scalp, added moisture is especially important if your scalp skin tends to be dry or flaky. It’s important to check if your cleanser has any ingredients that might be drying or irritating to the skin on your scalp. Dryness or flakiness might also arise due to climatic shifts. Personally, my DIY technique for exfoliating the scalp (listed again below) includes both tea tree and coconut oil for moisture, which are my go-to’s for sooting and moisturizing the scalp.

  • DIY Scalp Exfoliator1 part apple cider vinegar, 3-5 parts water, half part of coconut oil, and 1-2 drops of tea tree oilMix together and massage into scalp. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before showering for better results.

For your hair, added moisture can come in two forms:

  1. Conditioner
  2. Treatments (e.g., hair masks, creams, oils, etc.)

In terms of conditioners, I tend to match the conditioners to the cleaners I use:

  • DevaCurl One Condition Delight (Amazon, Ulta, Sephora): My go-to condition for years. It matches with the DevaCurl Low-Poo Delight (Amazon, Ulta, Sephora).
  • L’Oreal Ever Pure Conditioner (Amazon, Target, Ulta): This product matches with the L’Oreal Ever Pure Shampoo (Amazon, Target, Ulta, Walgreens), which was recommended by Gothamista and could be a good affordable, sulfate-free option.

In terms of treatments, these come in a wide variety of formulations and products.

They could range from a moisturizing cream that you apply on damp or dry hair TO a hair mask or (deep) conditioner that sits in your hair for some time TO an oil that you directly apply on your hair.

There are a lot of moisturizing products out there. As much as I enjoy rotating and trying out things, very few have been super effective that warrant repurchasing (in my opinion). Here are some hair moisturizing techniques that have worked for me in the field:

  • Leave in your conditioner for longer: If you leave in your conditioner for longer as you shower, then it will do a better job of deeply conditioning your hair. It’s simple, but can do the trick.
  • Use coconut oil as a leave-in treatment: You’re probably sick of hearing about coconut oil, but it is effective at delivering moisture to hair. I use it as a leave-in treatment if my hair is quite dry. Just don’t over do it or your hair will quickly become greasy. I have also been quite happy using argan oil at home. The mini/travel size of Moroccanoil Original Treatment (Amazon, Sephora, Nordstrom) would be a good option for the field.
  • Leave in conditioner or oil as you work: There are two options here. I have done both and have been happy with the results.
    1. Apply conditioner or oil to your hair in the morning Let it soak in as your doing fieldwork and rinse it out during your post-fieldwork shower.
    2. During your post-fieldwork shower don’t rinse out your conditioner or oil. Continue with your post-fieldwork activities (e.g., notetaking, cleaning pottery, etc. and rinse out before your sleep.
  • Phyto 9 Leave-in Day Cream (Amazon, Ulta, lookfantastic): This is the one product that I apply on my hair after showering each day in the field. I found it to be especially helpful in areas with hard water. I felt that it helped prevent my hair from drying out and kept it nourished between cleanses. This product costs 3x as much outside of France. I only buy it when I’m there and I stock up!

5. Sunscreen

Even if you start archaeological survey before dawn, the sun will come out and sunscreen will help protect your skin. Photo Credit Prior to Editing: I.A. Dumitru

Sun protection is super important for your skin health. This section focuses on sunscreen as a form of sun protection. It’s not only important to apply sunscreen, but it is vital to keep applying it throughout the day. 

In general, there are two types of sunscreen, with the distinction being based on active ingredients:

  1. Physical/Mineral (inorganic): titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
  2. Chemical (organic): everything else

For more information on the differences between physical/mineral and chemical sunscreens, check out this post by labmuffin and this post by kindofstephen.

For those with darker skin tones (like myself), physical/mineral sunscreen tend to leave more of a white cast than chemical sunscreens (though newer mineral formulations are trying to minimize this). When I’m not in the field, I’m not as bothered by the white cast, but I still prefer formulations where it’s not as apparent.

Since there is a wider variety of active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, it’s a good idea to make sure that there aren’t any ingredients that might irritate your skin, particularly if it is sensitive in certain areas. I recommend checking out the posts that I linked to above for detailed information.

A big topic of debate surrounding sunscreen is SPF, specifically if higher SPFs are better.

I recommend reading the following posts from the Skin Cancer Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology, and labmuffin (Ph.D. in Chemistry)

The key takeaway that all the above posts mentioned was reapplying sunscreen throughout the day. Also, in addition to finding a suitable SPF, broad spectrum sunscreens were also recommended.

Body

Since most of my body is covered with clothing during fieldwork, it’s only my hands and neck that are exposed outside my face and head. I tend to use the same sunscreen on my face (usually more pricey) on my body.

For those that have more body skin exposed, I recommend the following sunscreens:

  • Hawaiian Tropic Sunscreen Silk Hydration SPF 30 (Amazon, Target, Walgreens, Walmart): I like Hawaiian Tropic because of the smell. I like this particular sunscreen because it is moisturizing and absorbs decently. If you want a higher SPF, I would try the Hawaiian Tropic SPF 50 or the Hawaiian Tropic Antioxidant SPF 50.
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 100 (Amazon, Target, Ulta, Walmart): My archaeology friend Zenobie packed this on a recent field expedition to Oman. She said it was the only product that has kept her from burning. My archaeology friend Brooke is a fan of this one too. A lot of my archaeology friends like Neutrogena sunscreens. My archaeology friends Laurel and Taylor like this same line in lower SPFs (e.g., SPF 45 and SPF 55).

Some archaeology friends, like my friend Ryan, have also mentioned they use spray sunscreens in the field. No one mentioned specific spray sunscreen preferences, but I will update this page if suggestions come up.

Face

Since I have darker skin, I am constantly on the lookout for effective sunscreens that don’t leave a white cast. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Earth’s Recipe Waterful Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA+++ (Amazon): This sunscreen is quite pricey, but I think it could convert people who don’t want to use sunscreen. It’s one of the only ones my husband uses. The gel formula absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a white cast. It also doesn’t have a noticeable smell. I have used this numerous times in the field and it’s especially handy when I am in a rush.
  • La Roche-Posay Athelios: This is a French brand and their Anthelios line is popular throughout the world. I purchased the La Roche Posay Anthelios Comfort SPF50+ in France. This specific formulation needs about 10 seconds of rubbing in and then there is no white cast. Unfortunately, this specific formulation not widely available outside of France. The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60 is a cult luxury favorite outside of France, but the price tag is high.
  •  Eau Thermale Avène Hydrating SPF 50+ Sunscreen Balm (Amazon, AvèneWalgreens): This is essentially a sunscreen stick. I picked it up in France (it’s cheaper there). It’s great for reapplying sunscreen and the size makes it super portable. Also, there is no white cast. In terms of other sunscreen sticks, the Shisheido Clear Stick (Shisheido, Amazon, Sephora, Ulta) is a long-time luxury favorite and the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Stick (Amazon, Target, Walmart, Ulta) seems to be an affordable favorite.
Head

If you don’t have much hair on your head, definitely make sure to apply sunscreen on your head. If you do have a good amount of hair, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the skin exposed where you part your hair.

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of your neck, as well as behind and on your ears.

Closing Thoughts

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole when it comes to skincare. I kept this guide fairly basic, but I know it’s detailed with a variety of options. Since everyone has different skin needs and budgets, I tried to include options that could work for as many people as possible. As mentioned earlier, skincare is personal so develop a habit that works for you and your skin.

What are your favorite skincare tips for the field? Are there any topics surrounding skincare that you want me to cover in future posts or have questions about? Let me know in the comments below! 

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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