My life is currently a big medicine cabinet full of product. I’m a beauty writer and therefore constantly trying new things, which run independent of my regular routine, which is already comprised of another huge host of potions. This is all fine and well — I love what I do — until it’s time to pack for a flight.
Figuring out how to pack my routine and save space in a carry-on for, I don’t know, CLOTHES can feel impossible. Packing full-size bottles in checked bags isn’t without its headaches, either. So I asked fellow beauty editors to explain how they travel — what they take, what they don’t, how they pack it and about the most heartbreaking TSA products tosses they’ve endured (mine was a Natura Brasil Pitanga Triple Phase Shower Oil).
Do you have a travel hack for your beauty products? Let us know in the comments.
Senior Beauty and Home Editor at Well + Good
Always Carry-On: “When I was a kid, my family went on a cruise, but before we even made it to the boat, the airline lost our luggage. I spent the week in airport tees and drawstring shorts, and while it was really no big deal to me, it scarred my mom. Now, we carry on. That means packing products under 3-ounces, decanting creams and serums to fit the TSA guidelines and finding products that can serve more than one purpose — like a shimmery ‘multiple stick’ (Hourglass Vanish Flash Highlighting Stick) to use on cheeks and lids; sunscreen (Supergoop! Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen with Olive Polyphenols SPF 40) that’s suitable for body and face; or a micellar water (Bioderma) that cleans my complexion and whisks away any lingering mascara.”
Pack With Cubes: “[I started] packing cubes — bags within bags — that compartmentalize everything in your suitcase to make it easier to find and keep spills contained. Now, I put all of my beauty products into a packing cube so that if something somehow spills, it’s relatively contained and doesn’t get all over my clothes.”
Keep Your Skin Hydrated: “[Celeb facialist] Renee Rouleau once told a group of beauty editors that she’d devised a de-facto experiment to see how quickly airplane cabin air dries out skin. She poured a mouthwash-cap’s-worth of water on a cotton T-shirt and left it in her hotel room; it took over an hour to dry. Later, while on a flight, she poured the same amount of water on the same T-shirt; it took 24 minutes to dry. Now before I get on the plane, I layer two different hydrators: I start with a hyaluronic acid (Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel) to bind water in my skin. Then I slather on May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon, a soothing and occlusive moisturizer that saves my skin from drying out at 30K feet.”
Another option: “SunBum Monoi Balm. It’s formulated for babies, so it’s gentle enough for my sensitive skin. It creates an occlusive barrier that prevents water from escaping and it smells heavenly of gardenias and coconut oil, providing the same level of comfort.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “The most heartbreaking moment for me was forgetting that I had a full-sized bottle of liquid gold — Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo — in my bag and having to hand it over to TSA. I didn’t have time to check my bag or I would’ve gone back to spare it.”
Beauty Editor at ESSENCE
Scale Back: “When it comes to skincare I am by far a maximalist. I use, on average, 6 to 10 different products a night, so when I go on vacation, I really like to scale that back. It’s just not practical to lug that many products around, and there are a thousand other things I’d much rather do on vacation than skincare.”
Bring the Essentials: “As far as vacation-approved skincare products, I’ll bring a cleanser (right now I’m using Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser), some kind of chemical exfoliant (P50 always!), an oil for moisturizing (Tatcha’s oil is great because it’s not too heavy) and then a moisturizer and sunscreen. I really like Drunk Elephants Protini™ Polypeptide Cream and Glossier’s Invisible Shield right now.”
Avoid Heavy Bottles: “[I always leave behind] anything in glass or with super big packaging because it’s heavy and takes up lots of space! That tends to be toners, serums and even certain night creams. When I travel, I also try to bring as many multi-use products too, so a moisturizer (again, Drunk Elephant Protini™ Polypeptide Cream!) that I can use at night and during the day, or a hydrating spray (TATCHA Luminous Dewy Skin Mist) that can set makeup and also hydrate skin.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “I will never forget this! I was coming back through London two years ago, and they threw out my beloved P50. A full bottle! Of course, I was running late and didn’t have time to go back to check a bag, so I legit threw out $70 bucks. Clearly, still not over it.”
Executive Beauty Editor at Allure
Split-Up Hair and Skincare Products: “Hair products go in the checked bag (if there is one), and makeup and skincare goes in my carry-on. I usually bring on a tote and stuff my Sonia Kashuk Weekender makeup bag inside so I have my makeup and skincare with me if I want to mask or touch up on the road. I specifically love this bag because it opens up like a clamshell and you can see everything that’s in both clear, zippered halves at a glance.
I have a several-step skincare and makeup routine, and it holds absolutely everything. It also has a middle flap that holds and protects your brushes from getting any extra grime on them in transit. I always bring Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer and a sheet mask or eye mask (Wander Beauty Baggage Claim Eye Masks) that I can pop on when the plane begins its descent. It’s the perfect cue that you have 30 minutes to perk up your skin right before you land.”
Focus On Your Glow: “When I’m traveling, my skin tends to look duller than usual because I’m not piling on as many serums and oils and I run into everything from airplane air to sea water to arid climates. To counteract this without bringing a case full of creams, I toss in a few of the Dermadoctor Intensive Vitamin C Peel Pads with Ferulic Acid and Vitamin E and do one every other night. It adds zero weight to my bag, like heavier masks can, and gets my skin back to glowy in two minutes.”
Pack a Scent: “I take Malin and Goetz Leather perfume roll-on with me just about everywhere because it smells amazing (warm and sexy, but not too smoky) and fits in even the tiniest clutch.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “Fortunately, just Arm and Hammer toothpaste. But I was still bummed!”
Beauty Director at Goop
Check What You Can: “I always check luggage because there’s always some beauty item I want more than 3.4 ounces of. It’s the worst. I also bring a ton of carry-on stuff (see below!), but I hate plastic bags, so I have to pour everything out [of my makeup bag] into the bin for the TSA, which they don’t like.
[On my most recent trip, I packed] … Weleda Skin Food, Ursa Major face wipes, May Lindstrom The Blue Cocoon balm (most healing substance on earth), Olio e Osso lip balm in French Melon (wakes a face right up and moisturizes all at once), goop vitamins (Balls In the Air, full of nutrients to fend off the potential ills from all the other passengers, plus fish oil to stay dewy and fresh), De Mamiel Altitude oil (you inhale it for happier sinuses, and I believe it girds me against the ills of the other passengers), goop Edition 02: Shiso in the small size (instant freshness and sophistication, particularly as I walk off the plane), Dew Skin SPF 20 for my face (mineral sunscreen + the most skin-flattering tinted moisturizer on the planet; I wear #2) and Naturopathica mineral SPF 50 for hands, arms, also face. Newest thing in my carry-on is Rituel de Fille Concealer, which is new and RULES.
I don’t bring my Clarisonic. I miss it, but it’s bridge too far. I do, however, bring my own body wash, like Plant Brooklyn’s adorable-yet-sizeable-enough minis. (I love Get It On in particular.) If I’m feeling truly more-is-more, I bring my giant new tube of G.Tox body wash from goop.”
Secret Weapon: “The OG Prada makeup bags in black! They look new FOREVER. I got mine when Prada first came up with the concept of black-nylon bags (early ’90s), and they still, insanely, look brand new. When something explodes, you wash the bag in the washing machine, and it’s miraculously new and fabulous again.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “TSA has never tossed, because I’m so intent on checking everything.”
Beauty Director, Cosmopolitan.com
Pick Essentials Only: “I pack Christine Chin’s blemish gel with me (she offers a tiny version that I take on trips) and Sunday Riley Cleansing Slip Clay to keep breakouts at a minimum. And I bring this Wella UV spray with me, since my platinum hair is prone to swaying toward a yellow tinge if the sun hits it. Then, I always apply Pearl Oil (my colorist Ryan Pearl created it and it protects from UV rays and keeps my hair feeling soft versus straw-like. Oh, and I always carry hair accessories with me, because I love wearing my hair parted down the middle and back in a low bun or in a simple French twist.”
Must Packs: “Mascara! Even if you don’t do a full face of makeup, mascara instantly makes me look 1) awake and 2) like I put in some effort. My new fave is Dr. Hauschka’s Defining Mascara. Oh, and deodorant! I love the Kopari Coconut Natural Deodorant — and yes, it actually works!”
Re-use or Lose: “When I travel with full-size products, I never want them leaking onto the other things in my bags. So, I’ll either pack them into Ziploc freezer bags or use makeup bags that brands have sent me in the past. The one I recently stashed full of beauty stuff for Capri (the orange and white bag seen here) was from a Drunk Elephant mailing. I love it because it spacious and you can see everything you put in it!”
Pack Light: “[I leave] my electric toothbrush (shoutout to Dr. Apa because his brush is the softest on your gums!), so when I travel, I use this quip one that’s super cute and works well. I also leave my bottle of AHA/BHA Ren lotion at home and instead take these Dr. Dennis Gross AHA/BHA pads I love with me. Wipes are the way to go when traveling. My favorite gentle cleansing ones are from Koh Gen Do. Otherwise, as you can imagine, I’m obsessed with products, so I bring a lot with me when I go away.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “[They tossed my] SK-II Tonic. If I were not in the beauty business, I probably would have actually cried.”
Senior Beauty Editor at ELLE.com
Keep It Consistent: “Don’t try anything new [while traveling]! A good skincare routine is all about consistency over time. If you must, buy empty travel containers you can fill with your tried and true cleanser, cream, etc. because the plane, different climate, etc. are already confusing your skin. You don’t need new products with unfamiliar formulas messing you up even more.”
Add What You Need: “I basically keep the same routine as usual with a few extras: La Roche Posay cleanser is great for acne and gentle; La Mer Moisturizing Cream;Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, which works wonders after you’ve been traveling on a plane or otherwise feel like you’re wreaking havoc on your skin; Mighty Patch pimple stickers to get rid of whiteheads overnight and trusty Elta MD sunscreen for the AM. I like to think I’m minimalist, but my definition of ‘minimalist’ is likely more extra than most.”
Divide and Conquer: “I divide everything into a couple pouches — one I’m going to take on the plane (usually my makeup and face sunscreen), one I’m going to keep in my carry-on. As you can see, I bring full sizes so I go through the trouble of checking luggage. TangleTeezer makes the BEST travel hair brushes, hands down. They’re cute and compact. Ouai smooth spray is my savior in humidity and Tresemme hairspray is essential for when I decide to heat style my hair (not pictured here: Hot Tools L Bar curling iron which I usually take with me). WHEW! That’s it.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “I’ve been lucky enough to hold on to all my beauty goods so far! Fingers crossed it stays that way.”
Assistant Beauty Editor at Byrdie
Switch It Up: “Go to the drugstore toiletry aisle and invest in a bunch of their small product containers. Lots of times, pumps and product dispensers inevitably leak. I always transfer my products into mini tubes because the lids are sturdy and never leak. I go double-duty with oil-based products and wrap those tubes in sandwich bags just in case. Designate an area in your suitcase to stack your beauty bags on top of one another to avoid it ruining any of your belongings in case of a leak.”
Hydrate After a Flight: “I swear by Drunk Elephant’s Marula Facial Oil. Their travel-size version is my secret to glowing skin on my face and body. I lather it on my skin after a flight and feel an instant dryness relief. The way it illuminates my skin in the sun and in photos is legit amazing. I use it to prime my face before facials and all over my decollete to hydrate and glow-up my skin.”
Apply Makeup With Your Fingers: “I usually leave a lot of my brushes [behind at home]. A damp makeup sponge (my favorite is Real Techniques) and the warmth of your ring finger will work wonders. The last time I was in L.A., I forgot my makeup sponge and relied on my fingers and my makeup looked just as good. I also leave heavy foundation and translucent powders behind: A natural, luminous look is the carefree vibe I love on vacation. I never take tons of hair products. I usually only need my scarf and bonnet because protective styles are so low-lift.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “Thinking about this still breaks my heart. I’m a body oil fanatic — I go through bottle after bottle like crazy. A few years ago, I thought I had just enough left to be right under the TSA limit but I was wrong. The TSA employee tossed my most luxurious, high-end body oil out right in front of my face, and I nearly cried. Thankfully, there are great drugstore alternatives so that didn’t stop my skin from shining.”
Executive Fashion & Beauty Editor at Bustle.com
Keep Your Faves Close: “If I’m going on a trip that’s longer than five days, I’ll check a bag and put almost all my beauty products in the checked baggage so I just don’t have to worry about fitting everything into the one tiny plastic bag full of liquids you’re allowed to pack in your carry-on. In those cases, my carry-on is reserved for moisturizers (Youth To The People Kale + Aloe Sunflower Oil Tripeptide 5 Eye Cream, Jurlique Calendula Redness Rescue Soothing Moisturizing Cream or Renée Rouleau Pro Remedy Oil), sunscreen (SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35), lip balm (Fresh Sugar Berry Lip Balm With SPF 15) and toothpaste (whatever brand my dentist has decided to give out during my last visit) — just the things I like to have right after the flight. If I’m not checking a bag, I bring as many stick products as possible. These days, there are a lot of great options that work just as well as the liquids I use at home.”
Masks are Great Space Savers: “Instead of my usual nighttime skincare routine, I just bring a bunch of sheet masks (I love Too Cool For School Egg Cream Mask Hydration, Enature Birch Juice Hydro Cream Sheet Mask or Peach Slices Hydrate Mask) on vacation. They’re easier to pack and generally offer the extra hydration and brightening effects I’m looking for on vacation. I also bring makeup wipes so I’m not tempted to leave my makeup on before I go to bed. Also, I only wash my hair about once a week, so if a trip is going to be less than seven days long, I definitely don’t bother with shampoo or conditioner. For the same reason, I don’t ever bring a hair dryer. I also generally buy body lotion and sunscreen once I arrive, since I go through them so quickly anyway!”
Solids Travel Better Than Liquids: “The Milk Makeup Matcha Toner [is a game-changer]. I always used to find toner so annoying to pack (because it generally comes in bigger bottles), but my skin would feel funky if I didn’t use it. This stuff works just as well as any liquid toner I’ve tried.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “People make fun of me for following the ‘one bag only’ rule [for liquids], but because of it I’ve never really had anything taken away! One time they did toss my deodorant (since I don’t usually put solids in that liquids bag…) but that was more annoying than heart-breaking.”
Beauty Director at Violet Grey
Two (Bags) Is Better Than One: “I have two separate bags for travel. The first is my VIOLET GREY makeup bag, which comes on the plane with me and is all TSA-approved. It consists of Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid, Tatcha Dewy Face Mist, Slip Silk Sleep Mask, LXMI Nilotica Melt, Sisley Nutritive Lip Balm, Erno Laszlo Eye Sheet Mask, The Nue Co. Reboot Kit, and Annee de Mamiel Altitude Oil. I use everything in this bag when in-flight.
I do this routine no matter how long the flight is. So at a minimum, if I’m flying five hours to N.Y., I use each product once and the hyaluronic I use before taking over and before landing. If it’s international, I will use it before taking off, in the middle of the flight and before landing.”
The second [bag] is stored in my luggage and packed in an old velvet Clé de Peau Beauté bag. It contains my AM and PM skincare routine, and my makeup and more are all travel-sized. These products live separate from what’s in my bathroom so that packing is quick and easy. I basically never have to put anything away when I return. I even have a separate electric toothbrush for when I travel.”
In-Air Musts: “Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid Serum is second to none. I pat this [on my skin] before taking off and before landing. Because it’s not a mask, I can use it throughout the day for a little pick-me-up to brighten and hydrate my complexion. Also, I don’t sleep with an eye mask on a daily basis. But on a flight, my Slip Eye Silk Eye Mask is a must-have. It blocks out the light and puts me in a more serene state of mind.”
What Gets Left Behind: “If there’s a will, there’s a way, but I don’t travel with my LED mask. Too bulky, unfortunately. If I have the extra room I bring my Aquis Hair Turban with me. I don’t blowdry my hair, and this ultra-absorbent time-saver absorbs water five times faster than a traditional cotton towel.”
Stick With What Works: “I never test a new sunscreen when I go on vacation. I’ve had a bad experience before, and it ruins the whole trip. But, I never leave home without my Tatcha Indigo Soothing Silk Hand Cream. It comes out blue and penetrates quickly into the skin and makes my hands look and feel like I’m 12.”
Heartbreaking TSA Moment: “Honestly, nothing. I’m that good at packing.”
Graphic by Madeline Montoya.