carry-on travel: liquids, toiletries, cosmetics

Re-post from May, 2015.

carry-on liquids TSA

In response to yesterday’s travel wardrobe post, a few readers have asked how I manage to travel carry-on with beauty products and makeup, considering the TSA liquids restrictions. It does take a little planning, but it CAN be done.

First, I should tell you that a) my makeup routine even at home is pretty minimal, and b) my hairstyle doesn’t require a lot of styling. I don’t pack a blow dryer (every hotel, apartment or B&B we’ve stayed in has provided one), styling tools, or a lot of hair products. I understand that some need more “intervention” with their hair or special products, which may make carry-on travel more challenging. I do however take my fully charged Clarisonic Mia which gets packed inside a shoe to save space.

What I do:

  • Collect samples of products, and watch for “gift with purchase” promotions that include travel sizes of products I use.
  • Check Sephora and Ulta for travel sizes of my favorite products.
  • If you like Paula’s Choice products, she offers most products in “sample” sizes that are very travel-friendly.
  • Decant favorite products into travel-size containers. (Can be purchased in most big box stores, drugstores.)
  • Use makeup remover towelettes before washing face, reduces the amount of cleanser needed. Some people dry them out to save weight and then moisten as needed, but to me this is more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Separate any prescription lotions, liquids, ointments…these do not count against your TSA liquids limit. My prescription Retin-A goes in a ziplock bag with other prescription medications.
  • I have never had cream compact foundation, mascara, lipstick, or other makeup in solid form questioned by TSA or other airline security agencies. Your mileage, however may vary. I put these in a separate cosmetics bag and leave inside my luggage.
  • Edit, edit, edit.
  • Remember that unless you’re headed to the wilderness, items like toothpaste, sunscreen, hand cream are pretty universally available.

You’ll want to have your liquids “baggie” handy and easily accessible when going through airport security. Don’t forget that tube of hand lotion you may have stashed in your purse.

A good toiletries bag will also help make packing easier. I stay away from box-like hard-sided options. I’ve tried a few over the years but love and have used the “EMME” bag for our last couple of trips. I really appreciate the design of this case. It has plenty of room but folds down to a compact size that can be “squished” a bit into that open space in your suitcase. I love that it hangs for easy access in small bathrooms, has clear pockets to keep everything visible and has a detachable “clear quart-size bag” for your liquids. It also comes with a nice set of small travel containers and labels.

How do you deal with liquids restrictions while traveling with carry-on luggage?

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  1. You’re lucky not to need to take a hair dryer. I have a mop of long thick hair and need a powerful hair dryer. Even in good hotels the hair dryer is often more suitable for a slightly bald man and it would take hours to dry hair like mine! Have you not come across hotel hair dryers like this? I don’t have the patience to spend with such low powered devices so always take a high powered but small light weight travel dryer. But then I never fly with just carry-on because we always travel for at least two months in Europe. Have no problems with checking bags – it means you don’t need to carry so much in hand luggage and is especially good when you’re returning home with quite a few bags of tax free shopping that generally has to be taken as hand luggage to get the detaxe. Best wishes, Pamela

  2. I make certain to never be in the wilderness : > My travel motto is – isn’t there a Duane Reed on that corner? I too separate my scrips and keep them close at hand. xo

  3. You can purchase powdered tooth cleanser in small sizes on Amazon. I like products that are both sunscreen and tinted moisturizer rolled into one. (LaRoche Posay). My blush stick doubles as cheek/eye/lip color (NARS), Orgasm. Just by pairing down I can get by with a much smaller bag. But I do love your (emme) bag!

  4. I separate out my toiletries. My non-liquid or smearing ones go in a separate bag — liquids and smearables only in my separate clear bag. I’m always surprised when I see people’s clear bags with things that don’t need to go in there.
    I use the dry olay cleansing clothes when I travel (I cut them in half before I go and that’s enough for one face-wash). I do keep a stash of sample sizes, but I make a point to use products that come in tubes for every day use such as face moisturizer, tinted moisturizer w/sunscreen, eye cream, even serums. When I’m near the end of a tube of my everyday products, it goes into my travel bag. If I finish it off when I travel, I toss it in the garbage there.
    I’m also pretty realistic about how much I use over a few weeks. 3 oz is really quite a bit and I normally don’t need that much. I use hotel shampoo, but bring my own conditioner and styling product. I do rely on the hotel hairdryers, but will bring my round brush. My hair is pretty easy to care for I tend to let it go a bit more natural when I travel.

  5. I just want to thank you, personally, for this post of last spring! I filed it away and then a few weeks ago, when i was totally desperate re. a travel kit, ordered the Emme bag. I LOVE it, and did an entire post on it yesterday: hope you will take a look.
    And i certainly linked back to you. Emily has been very helpful: I had some questions and she has been so responsive. I leave in less than two weeks for Rome and cannot wait to really, truly test it out!!!
    And yes, I agree with others here: have to always travel with my own hair dryer.. and straightener! I know, I know, but that’s life, right?

    1. Libby, I’m so happy to know this worked for you! I’m always so glad to find great products from women entrepreneurs and IMO the EMME bag is such a great product! Thanks for the mention too.

  6. LUSH make a range of solid shampoos, like bars of soap, that are excellent and don’t have to be put in the baggie.

    For jewellery, I always put each piece in it’s own miniature baggie so that they don’t get angled with each other and don’t scratch each other. Then I [ut the baggies into a travel pouch or two.

  7. How do you clean the interior of this bag? After taking it on several trips I find that the interior of the compartments [the plastic windows] are messy. With older bags [llbean or target bags] I have placed the entire piece in a mesh bag and washed on a gentle cycle. Love all the compartments & this system.

    1. Hi MWG, I usually just wipe the plastic parts down with a cloth dampened with either a bit of dish soap or diluted white vinegar. Then wipe again with just water to remove residue.