packing list: toiletries, liquids, cosmetics

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 “tube” 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 one. 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. Cla(i)re comme le jour
    May 27, 2015 / 3:37 am

    A very timely post for me as I’ve just spent time trying to consolidate the contents of two conventional toiletry bags into smaller pouches for a hand-luggage only 5-week trip. I did look at makeup remover towelettes, but was astonished at how heavy a pack of 25 was, and to discover that the first listed ingredient is water. So as I don’t wear foundation or eye make-up, I decided just to decant my usual cold cream cleanser into a small travel pot and rely on ordinary face tissues being readily available.

  2. Jacqueline
    May 27, 2015 / 3:40 am

    I have a question on the Emme bag. It looks as if it holds only a little packet size of whatever (maybe an oz). Is that true? What’s the point then. You have to buy shampoo, conditioner, whatever once you’re there. Why bring this at all? Or am I missing something.
    I have more hair stuff than you (you’re lucky) but you’ve given me some ideas.
    By the way, I love the Longchamp pliage bags. I bring a tote and a Parisian friend gave me the carry on size which I always pack as I come back with more than fits in my suitcase. The beauty of the pliage bags is that they fold into a little packet and you can store it in your luggage until you need it, either as a tote or to use as a carry on.

    • une femme
      May 27, 2015 / 4:55 am

      Hi Jacqueline, actually most of what I’ve packed here will be plenty for a 3-week trip.

    • May 27, 2015 / 2:14 pm

      The Longchamp large Pliage tote bags are €78 here in Holland and I saw them at the same price in Barcelona. And with the dollar still going strong this is a bargain (priced at $145 in Nordstrom). I might buy another one in a funky orange color while I am here.

  3. Cla(i)re comme le jour
    May 27, 2015 / 4:05 am

    This really belongs in the previous thread, but I’ve just learned that in April IATA introduced new restrictions of the size of your ‘personal’ item, i.e. handbag for most of us. It must not exceed 40 x 30 x 10 cm or total dimensions of 80cm. That will limit stuffing it full of overflow items that won’t fit in the main cabin bag. I wish I’d known about this before buying a new larger handbag specifically for my forthcoming trip.

    • une femme
      May 27, 2015 / 5:02 am

      Hi Cla(i)re, it’s always been my understanding that airlines themselves set the baggage size limits. From what I was able to find on the IATA website: Airlines set cabin baggage rules in order to comply with space at disposal in the aircraft and as a matter of commercial policy.

      Carry-on baggage must be stowed in the cabin, which limits baggage to a size, weight and shape to fit under a passenger seat, or in a storage compartment. Some aircraft have very limited cabin baggage space, and even on larger aircraft, your bag may be taken from you.

      • Cla(i)re comme le jour
        May 28, 2015 / 5:31 am

        I thought that was the case too. But this is what Singapore Airlines has just issued as an alert:
        We would like to inform customers that there will be changes to our carry-on baggage allowance, with effect from 15 April 2015.

        The changes are extracted from Article 13 of our Conditions of Contract and highlighted below in bold.
        Cabin Baggage Allowance Your cabin baggage may be weighed and measured and, if necessary, charged for in accordance with valid tariffs. All airline members of the International Air Transport Association (“IATA”) have agreed to observe the following baggage regulations. You may carry on board ONE of the articles listed below free of charge over and above your free baggage allowance, subject to the country’s local requirements:

        Ladies’ handbag*
        Laptop in bag*
        Document bag*
        Camera / Camera bag*
        A walking stick, a pair of crutches and/or other prosthetic devices for the passenger’s use provided the passenger is dependent on them
        Small amount of duty free goods (where permitted)
        Infant food and amenities if the infant is travelling. The total weight of these items should not exceed 6kg.

        * The maximum dimensions for these bags are 40x30x10cm each. If the item exceeds the total dimension of 80cm (sum of length, width and height), it will be counted as part of your standard cabin baggage allowance. In this event, you will be required to check in either your cabin bag or the additional item.

        • une femme
          May 28, 2015 / 6:10 am

          I just checked the British Airways site, and they’re still allowing an 18 x 14 x 8 inch “personal item” in addition to suitcase. I’ll update if we find out anything different in transit.

  4. GingerR
    May 27, 2015 / 4:32 am

    I throw all make-up samples into my cosmetic/travel bag and give the travel-sized section at the drugstore a good look-over. Depending on where I’m going I do try to pack everything. I have never had good luck finding the right lotions/hair stuff at foreign pharmacies – my colored hair needs anti-frizz treatment to keep it from bushing out, particularly in moist climates, so I figure out how to travel with that. It always seems like the holes in what I’ve packed appear on the first night we arrive, when I haven’t had any strolling around expeditions to stop in and pick up whatever it is that’s missing.

  5. Lori
    May 27, 2015 / 5:19 am

    I just got back from two weeks in Italy and the sample sizes were plenty. I also have learned there is not a lot of counter space in most places so the hanging bag has worked great for me.

  6. Argie
    May 27, 2015 / 5:22 am

    while I do much the same, I use disposable quart-size baggies which I can toss after something leaks or it gets grotty. I have traveled with solid deodorant ever since the rules changed, but last year a security person in England told me it had to be in a baggie because it was really a gel. Inexplicably, he then put it in a baggie and sent it back through the scanner, even though I had a baggie of liquids, and the stick had already been through the scanner. So, just when you think you have it down to a science, they throw a monkey wrench into the works!

  7. Ellen
    May 27, 2015 / 5:34 am

    After using Russian Hotel shampoo for 5 days, I try hard to have enough of my own shampoo and conditioner. It is hard to choose a shampoo in another language, especially if the alphabet is different than your own. Fortunately I have very short hair, and therefore use only a little product each day. I use a man’s soft leather Dopp kit as my toiletries bag: its large, soft sided and filled only half full will squash nto any leftover corner of my suitcase. I’ve been using the same bag for a dozen years and it is still in good shape. It has a plastic liner that can be swabbed clean with a washcloth if spill happen.

  8. May 27, 2015 / 5:39 am

    I do use those samples and buy whatever I need when the samples run out. I’ve got the hair tools and products to a minimum and use ziploc bags a lot. Toiletries, accessories and underwear are all bagged. It’s fun to visit Monoprix or one of the Sephora stores in France and I just leave leftover product for the next visitor at my rental apartments.

  9. May 27, 2015 / 5:40 am

    I use coconut oil as make up remover. It works great and you can use it all over your body and in your hair. I just put it in a gotoob.

  10. Amelie
    May 27, 2015 / 5:58 am

    I discovered Olay 4 in 1 Daily Face Cloths about a year ago. They’re dry and you moisten a sheet under the tap when ready to wash your face. It purportedly does the work of a cleanser, toner, mask and exfoliater. It even removes eye makeup, although I also pack a tiny container of eye makeup remover wipes. As other posters have commented, the quality of shampoo can vary from rental to rental, I just bring my own solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush in their adorable little carry tins. These don’t count against your liquid allowance. And my travel foundation is Benefit’s Playstick or Maybelline FIT stick with oil free core for hot summer travels.

  11. Cher
    May 27, 2015 / 6:44 am

    I re configured my toiletry and make up travel bags recently. Used a hanging bag on the recent trip and loved it! So great not to have your stuff on the counter top in the bathroom especially in Europe when there might not even be a counter top! Also tried putting my facial wash in a contact lens container and only used 1 side during a 6 day trip. Will try utilizing that method with other cream etc next trip.

  12. Lisa
    May 27, 2015 / 6:54 am

    The hanging toiletries bag is a real plus as you can instantly be set up and don’t need counter space. I also save my lotion and face cream samples and “gift with purchase” size products for travel. I have a very cute, very small pair of folding scissors that has proved handy for various things.

    Now I’ll admit that I may be a bit obsessive, but when I get past about 6 dollops of cream squeezed out of those tiny tubes, I’m always certain there is more cream in there — so I’ve taken to cutting the little tube in half with my scissors. Lo and behold, there’s always lots more inside — and this strategy got me through three weeks with just a couple of tiny tubes!

    I’ve also found my iPad an indispensable travel tool — it can be loaded with books both for relaxation reading and travel guides, it’s great for planning local bus and transit routes, helps me manage photos, and keeps me in touch with family and friends.

    Thanks for your great posts — an inspiration!

  13. Debra
    May 27, 2015 / 7:33 am

    I have three clear cosmetic-type travel cases purchased at Ulta; the larger one contains general stuff like face supplies, shampoo, styling products and toothbrush; a smaller one is filled with my makeup, and an even smaller one contains medicines, adhesive bandages, etc.

    I have a drawer in my closet where I stash travel size and sample items and then I “shop” there for the cosmetics that I’ll need for my trip. I frequently buy products at L’Occitane and if I tell them I am traveling they’ll give a weeks’ worth of face cream and serum in individual packets, which is convenient because my bag gets lighter as I use them. I invested in three travel-sized (shorter) makeup brushes (blush, face powder, and eye shadow) and I keep those in my travel cosmetic bag; because I also keep makeup to a minimum when traveling it is easy to pack/carry. The medicine case contains one “sleeve” of the products I might use (traveling sometimes makes my digestive system act in weird ways and I’d rather not go into a pharmacy in France to ask for a medicine for a delicate situation).

    I usually put both of the cosmetic cases in my stowed carry-on on during shorter flights, but for Friday’s trip to Paris, I’ll keep the cosmetic bag and a few of the “general” items (face wipes, mini Evian, toothbrush and toothpaste) in my under-seat bag so that I can freshen up at the end of the flight. The medicine case, and any jewelry, is always with me. I invested last year in a Tumi Cortina boarding tote and one of the things I really like about it is that it has a flannel-lined pocket where I can stash the few pieces of jewelry that I bring with me.

    I’ve never been stopped by the TSA because I did not have my items in quart bags; the plastic cases seem to work fine. However, I suppose they are all quart size or smaller, so maybe that’s the key.

    Thank you so much for all of your posts. I’ll be packing today – taking off tomorrow morning for the first part of my trip – and feel so lucky that the timing of your trip has coincided with mine. I’ll be printing your packing list and will have it with me as I pack this afternoon. Bon voyage, madame!

  14. May 27, 2015 / 8:28 am

    Air France has very strict regulations about the size and weight if carry on pieces and 26 pounds was the combined total for my case and personal accessory item! I used sample sizes too and put mine in a zip loc bag and only took sample sizes of shampoo etc to last me a few days before buying small sized products at Sephora in Paris. On my way home I put all my purchases in my Longchamp bag and checked my carry on. You are a seasoned flier so I expect you know the routine. New to me was that iPads and laptops need to be fully charged and ready for inspection. They were detains people and having them charge their devices at the airport security areas? They sent me an email about this when I printed my boarding pass.
    Have a fabulous trip and look forward to hearing all about your adventure!

    • Lisa
      May 28, 2015 / 4:03 pm

      We just returned from Paris on Friday, and they had just announced the change in policy that electronic devices must all be charged and in working order before boarding. I believe this change took effect during the time we were in France.

  15. Cynthia
    May 27, 2015 / 10:01 am

    Love reading about all your travel tips! I am always looking to pare down. One of my biggest problems is the jewelry that I take. I have bought little pouches, containers, etc., but I have yet to find a great solution to have neatly stored (and untangled) chains, bracelets and earrings!

    • Aniko
      May 28, 2015 / 12:12 am

      Cynthia, I save the little sheer bags that a lot of jewelry comes in. Then put only one necklace in each for traveling. If you let a bit of the chain hang out the top before you pull the ties tight, they won’t tangle. Then I pack the little bags in a square, Tupperware type container that is divided into 3 compartments. Since it is hard sided, it protects earrings and bracelets from getting bent or squished. Whatever doesn’t fit into the Tupperware, doesn’t get to go on the trip. This system has helped save me from taking too much jewelry, which can get heavy in my carry on. Hope this helps.

    • Duchesse
      May 28, 2015 / 5:56 am

      I use a jewelry roll that is divided into sections; if everything is in one “bag”, it is easier to organize. I don’t take especially fragile pieces, so the roll, which is quite padded, is protective enough.

  16. Thea
    May 27, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    Just back from a trip to Amalfi Coast, Italy on Lufthansa – Carried on a half-empty Longchamps “Le Pliage expandable bag (21”) with my own little pillow in it and the “liquid” items in the required bag- It has a cross-body strap which makes it helpful for lugging through the terminal. It could also get squished into the overhead or under the seat if needed. I checked my smallest wheeled suitcase…a few things I noticed/recommend/will try next time: 1. BABY WIPES – so many uses! Wiping down your seat area/tray table! Make-up removal! General cleanliness! I think you could even cut them in half at home and store them in a “snack size” baggie 2. METALLIC DUCT TAPE – I’ve adhered a small piece onto every side of all my black suitcases! Yes, they all look alike coming off that conveyor belt, but my little shimmering tape stands out to ME! Luggage tags/ribbons don’t always weather the journey! 3. $10 polyester Caftan purchased at a ___Mart store…I popped this kooky thing on when room service came at the hotel and felt very “Auntie Mame!” My 21 year old daughter folded it in half, and tied around her waist as a sarong for the pool. It was nice to wear over my pjs while enjoying my cappuccino on the balcony. ..It was super lightweight and took the place of a robe – it balled up to the size of my fist. 4. FOLDING SCISSORS – mine are made by Fuller Brush company. Next time – will try the hanging dopp kit! Thanks, Sue!!

    • Cla(i)re comme le jour
      May 28, 2015 / 5:38 am

      Scissors of any description are liable to be confiscated at airport security, even nail clippers. There’s a long thread on this on the Rick Stevens forum under the packing heading. I can use emery boards on fingernails, but toe-nails are a problem on a longer trip, and may mean buying cheap scissors locally and ditching them before your next flight.

  17. Judy
    May 27, 2015 / 2:57 pm

    Susan, I have an Eagle Creek hanging Wallaby kit … do you know how it compares with the Emme?

  18. May 27, 2015 / 3:59 pm

    I also use contact lens cases for my makeup concealer and eye creams. I also took cotton pads, saturated them with Neutrogena eye makeup remover and put them in a small plastic container-I could have done a baggie. Then I had ready-made eye wipes.The face wipes are great, as I found no hotels in Italy that offered wash cloths. I keep wisp tooth brushes in my purse for the flight and after meals. Love those things. I have some facial oil I love and transferred it to an empty plastic eye drops bottle. I was surprised by how little product you actually need. I became obsessed with the small trial and travel sizes at Sephora and Ulta when planning our trip!

  19. Debbie
    May 28, 2015 / 5:34 am

    Tubes! I try to buy skin care products etc. in tubes. Most come in under 3oz. I use them on a daily basis at home, then when I get near the end of the tube I shift the unused to my travel bag. I travel often enough that I’ll be using it up before too long. Then when I’m on my trip, I can normally squeeze enough out for several days, then can throw away the empty tube.
    I normally make sure I bring small bottles of conditioner… but I do use the hotel supplied products too. The conditioner is more of an emergency bottle and I always use more conditioner than shampoo. The conditioner doubles as a styling cream when the humidity gets to be a bit much.
    I’ve been successful with my deodorant in my “dry” bag. I also use Neutrogena or Olay dry face washing clothes. I actually cut them in half before I leave because that’s all I really need to clean my face. They are dry (not the water based ones), and can go in my dry bag.

  20. Patricia
    May 28, 2015 / 5:49 am

    I have shoulder-length, thick hair that gets very frizzy and unmanageable if I don’t put it in rollers and/or straight iron it after I dry it. So, I usually haul the bulky velcro rollers and my heavy straight iron on trips. Do any of you have suggestions for a technique I might use to avoid packing all of this? Thank you!

    • Duchesse
      May 28, 2015 / 6:03 am

      The obvious suggestion is to wear your hair in a tied-back or up style. But (as owner of a head full of wild curls) the solution for me, who once •slept on• rollers the size of beer cans, wielded the iron, and had every straightening treatment known, was to get a hairdresser who could give me a style I did not have to beat into submission. It may require some change, but it’s immensely freeing in terms of time and gear. Now I scrunch in some curl-definer and go… something to think about.

  21. Duchesse
    May 28, 2015 / 5:51 am

    I take very minimal makeup (but do not wear foundation, concealer, etc.) What I do pack is a half-dozen prescription painkillers (in original rx bottle). Le Duc had a serious tooth problem kick up just before return flight, and we he happy we had those.

  22. May 28, 2015 / 10:09 am

    Regarding Claire, Air Canada is also cracking down on carry-on baggage which honestly I’m kind of happy about. Far too many people bring 3 different carry-on bags and take up all the space in the overhead compartments.

    I do find the older I get the less make-up I take and the more prescription drugs…sigh.


  23. Marilyn
    May 28, 2015 / 12:03 pm

    Contact lens cases–one for day and one for night–hold enough product for a month long trip. Olay 4 in 1 face cloths which need to be moistened before use are much lighter than the pre-moistened ones and can be cut in half if you aren’t a heavy make-up user. A good cut that lets my hair do its own thing with minimal styling and products. A mini crystal deoderant can go in my regular case instead of my liquid baggy. And, most of all, a seriously edited makeup/hair routine that consists mainly of pencils and mini-stick products that don’t spill or melt.

  24. Judy
    May 28, 2015 / 7:11 pm

    All of this is very helpful, and I love of all Une Femme/Susan’s suggestions. But me, I will probably always check a bag (and yes, last year I paid extra for my second bag, an ancient Sportsac, for my extra purchases). I am not strong and can’t hoist bags up, and plus, I travel alone, so no strong person to help me. Plus I usually just go to Paris, no train travel involved. In my dotage (!) I splurge on a taxi from Paris to my hotel/apartment, and on the way back these days either my friend Philippe drives me or I use a chauffeur or a taxi (a few years ago I also used a shuttle). Alors. I don’t pack many clothes; it is always the vitamins/meds/miscellaneous that adds to the weight. A couple years ago, I got an iPad, and that cuts down on the weight, because I used to take a whole bunch of guide books and novels and buy more novels there. … In any case, yeah, I take small amounts of skin care. But I love to buy full-size products (Filorga is my favorite, discovered in fall 2013 on my Paris trip) … and my Paris friends tend to give me heavy books as presents. Love all of your comments!!

  25. LauraH
    May 31, 2015 / 4:51 am

    Late to the party….but thought this might be helpful. Before a long trip, I test drove my lotions and potions to see how much I really use, it was a surprisingly small amount in some cases. Muji carries a lot of inexpensive travel size tubes, etc. so if you need to cut them to get all the product, it’s not a big deal. Also suggest trying solids where possible, I used a solid body moisturizer for 3 weeks in South Africa and it worked well.

  26. June 1, 2015 / 6:57 am

    I think it totally depends on who you get at security as to how the rules are interpreted. Two trips ago a pilot was stopped and made to discard his cheese as, according to the agent, you could melt it and it would become a liquid! The same agent made me transfer my stick blush and foundation into my liquids Baggie for the same reason.

    I have never been able to travel just carry on as in Australia they are incredibly strict about the 7kg (14lb) weight limit. While I’ve always managed to fit my stuff into the bag I can never make it under weight.

    • Joanie
      June 15, 2015 / 5:06 pm

      Curious about the Australia restrictions as my husband and I have just planned a 28 day trip there next April. Is the 14 lb. weight restriction for carry-on luggage, intra-country?

  27. Amy
    August 10, 2015 / 7:07 pm

    Great post! Super helpful for a travelling newbie like myself! Have you ever had troubles at the airport for having your clarisonic in your carry-on?

    • une femme
      August 10, 2015 / 8:45 pm

      Hi Amy, thanks! No, no one’s ever questioned the Clarisonic.

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