11 Beauty Hacks for Your Carry-On Bag

BY: Colleen Loggins Loster |Sep 20, 2022

woman packing liquids for a trip

Let's play a game: would you rather shove all of your full-size serums, lotions, and haircare products into your carry-on and hope said products squeak through security unnoticed? Or would you rather forgo looking cute on your trip? Because let's be real, when you're not on home turf and are limited to travel-size products and a small Ziploc, you're at a big disadvantage.

Luckily, these 11 beauty hacks can help you get everything you need into that quart-size Ziploc (or generic brand bag, no judgment).

1. Put your serums in a contact case.

This is one of my favorite travel hacks for so many reasons:

  1. The small case takes up way less room than full- or even travel-size bottles.

  2. The plastic case is way more travel-friendly than glass serum bottles.

  3. Serum is something that you don't need a lot of, so decanting it into a small contact case makes sense.

A few months ago, I learned this ingenious trick from a Facebook beauty group I'm in (thanks, Glowmies!), and I can't stop using it. A contact case full of serum now accompanies me both when I fly and when I drive somewhere for a quick overnight trip.

I also recently filled a contact case with foundation and face oil and brought it to work so I could get ready before a work party without bringing in the full-size products.

Get a contact-case value pack for $8.99.

2. . . . or use Sephora sample containers.

Sephora is known for its generous sample policy, so grab samples of your favorite products right before you travel. If that seems like too much work, save your existing Sephora sample containers for future trips and fill these up with your own products. The tiny containers can usually hold several days' worth of product.

3. Put your face mists and toners in a small perfume atomizer.

You can get empty perfume atomizers online and fill them up with your favorite face mists and toners. These atomizers are generally smaller than travel-size facial sprays (which are closer to 2 oz.), so they fit into the Ziploc more easily.

Shop atomizers from $5.04.

TSA Liquids Rule

You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 oz. (100 mL) or less per item.

4. Bring sheet masks, not moisturizers.

Sheet masks may come in a packet full of serum, but they're in a gray enough category that they shouldn't be confiscated. I packed a 15-piece sheet-mask set in my carry-on for a bachelorette party and security didn't say a thing. So try using sheet masks in place of your bulky, hard-to-decant moisturizer.

Shop sheet masks from $6.99.

5. Get you some micellar water and cotton pads.

Presoak the cotton pads in the micellar water and throw them in a separate plastic bag (they won't look like a liquid in the x-ray machine). That way, you won't have to pack a bottle of face wash and/or eye-makeup remover. And you can use the presoaked pads to remove your makeup on the plane, which you definitely should do before you put on your hydrating in-flight sheet mask, like I like to do.

Shop micellar water from $6.90.

6. Try a solid shampoo bar or facial-cleansing stick.

Science has figured out how to transform traditional liquids into solid form, probably because everyone was sick of trying to travel with them. Don't forget to grab a soap case (or plastic baggie) for your shampoo bar, otherwise you'll be stuck throwing it out before you come back home. Stick face cleansers generally come in a capped bottle, so you don't have to worry about that.

7. Prioritize your face over your hair.

It's true that this is my life motto, but hear me out. Using the shampoo and conditioner the hotel gives you isn't a big deal. While it's likely not the highest quality, it shouldn't mess up your hair too much. Using random products could really mess with your skin, however, especially if you are sensitive or acne-prone.

Plus, if your trip is short enough, you can always wait until you're back home to wash your hair. Just make sure you grab some dry shampoo, in powder form if you need the room, and throw it up to disguise your oily roots.

Shop dry shampoo from $7.99.

8. Take your medications out of your baggie.

According to TSA, "You may bring medically necessary liquids, medications, and creams in excess of 3.4 oz. or 100 mL in your carry-on bag." WUT. I've been shoving my prescription tretinoin cream in my quart-size plastic bag for years!

Apparently, all you have to do is remove your liquidy medications from your carry-on to be screened separately. You don't even have to put them in a plastic bag. This is by far one of the best travel beauty hacks I've ever heard, and it's TSA-approved. 

9. Use a gallon-size plastic bag.

My best friend once nonchalantly told me that she uses a gallon-size bag to hold her liquids instead of a quart-size one. "It's not like they check," she said, before downing a glass of bourbon and blowing a smoke ring in my face, so to speak.

This strategy is a little too bold for my blood, but it's worked well for her because security either really doesn't care or is really bad at spatial reasoning.

10. Toss stuff that's not obviously liquid in your purse.

I've gotten away with leaving moisturizer, hand sanitizer, and hand cream in my purse for years. This year, I flew four times and wasn't stopped once.

A note: I'm speaking with a lot of blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-girl privilege here, and unfortunately, I may have an easier time than others when it comes to airport security. Still, it seems like security just doesn't care as much anymore about liquids. Either way, I think a good rule to follow is to ask yourself if you would care if security confiscated these things. If you'd only be mildly perturbed, toss them in your purse. Otherwise, don't risk it.

Shop handbags from $8.99.

11. Sign up for TSA precheck.

Save yourself from having to worry about beauty hacks at all by getting TSA precheck. A membership, $85 for five years, lets you move through security more quickly and you don't even have to remove your baggie of liquids (or your shoes/laptops/belts/light jackets).

It would be much easier to get away with a gallon bag in this scenario, and I have a feeling security would be more lenient with loose creams and aerosol cans left in a toiletry bag or tucked into a side pocket in your carry-on. After all, to qualify for precheck, you have to go through a background test with fingerprinting. . . 


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