In everyday life, when deciding if something is a liquid, it is generally pretty straightforward.
If it is runny, it is a liquid, if it isn’t runny then it isn’t!
Simple, at least you might think so. But the definition of what is, and what is not a liquid is not so simple when it comes to what is considered a liquid for TSA purposes, unfortunately.
The Quick Answer: The TSA does consider mascara a liquid when flying along with a number of other “non-liquids” such as toothpaste, shaving gel, lip balm and aerosols. This means that if packed in carry on they must go in your liquids bag when passing through airport security.
Wikipedia defines a liquid as: “A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure.”
The TSA does not agree with this liquid definition as you will see below.
What does TSA consider a liquid?
The TSA website has a saying referring to things that are considered a liquid which is:
“The general rule of thumb is that if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then it should go into a checked bag“
or it can go in carry on in your liquids bag if small enough.
So, of course, water, beer, aftershave, perfume, nail glue, nail polish, nail polish remover etc are, as you might expect, all liquids for the purposes of passing through airport security so have to adhere to TSA liquids rule.
See a summary of these rules below or read my full article on the 3 1 1 liquids rule.
However, the following items, which most people would not consider to be liquids, are indeed considered a liquid by the powers at be in airport security.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot take them in your carry on but it does mean they will fall within the liquids rules. So they will need to be no larger than 3.4oz and will have to be presented at the security check in an approved one-quart size liquids bag.
What is considered a liquid for TSA purposes that really aren’t liquids?
Many people ask the question does mascara count as a liquid when flying?
Well as far as the TSA is concerned, mascara is a liquid.
Mascara may not come in a very large container but it must be included in your liquids bag when going through the airport security checkpoint as it is considered to be a liquid by the TSA. If not it will probably be confiscated.
The same applies to other make-up items such as nail polish, lip gloss, moisturizers, concealer, foundation and, of course, perfume.
This passenger is asking does mascara count as a liquid TSA reply.:
Read my article “Can you bring makeup on a plane in hand luggage?” for full details.
Is toothpaste considered a liquid? is a question frequently asked by passengers. Although toothpaste is generally in the form of a paste or a gel it is still actually considered a liquid for the purposes of airport security.
To take toothpaste into the aircraft with you, so that you can clean your teeth mid-flight, you will need to ensure that it is in a small tube that is equal to or less than 3.4oz (100ml) in volume.
3. Shaving foam/gel
Shaving form and shaving gel are counted as liquids but can be a problem as most containers are larger than 3.4oz, unless you buy small travel packs.
If they are larger then you either have to leave them at home or put them in your checked bag if you have one.
4. Gel lip balms
This only applies to gel and actual liquid types of lip balms but not solid stick-type lip balms.
If you don’t put them in your liquids bag then the security agent may confiscate them.
5. Cream or gel eye shadow
Both cream and gel eye shadow are considered to be liquids by the TSA. So they must be smaller than 3.4 ounces and be placed in your quart-sized liquids bag when you pass through the security checkpoint.
However, powder-type eye shadow is not considered a liquid.
The amount of powder allowed in carry on used to be unrestricted but from June 2018 it is now limited to a total of 12oz per passenger. See TSA article. Mind you, it is pretty unlikely you will want to take more than this amount of eye shadow. You would need to have pretty large eyes if you do!
6. Preserves and jellies
These I would certainly not have immediately thought of as being remotely likely to be considered a liquid but they are and so are spreads treated as liquids.
So if you need to take them with you then they must be in your checked luggage, as they will, without doubt, be in containers larger than 3.4oz, which is the maximum size allowed in carry on.
Other frequent questions that people ask include can you take aerosols on a plane and whether deodorant in an aerosol is considered a liquid when flying.
Well all aerosols contain liquids whether they are deodorants, antiperspirants, sun tan lotion and hairspray etc so fall within the liquids rules.
Unless they are smaller than 3.4 ounces they will have to go in your checked bags. If smaller they most go in your liquids bag to pass through security.
8. Frozen liquids
This is an odd one. You might think that obviously a frozen liquid is still a liquid but strangely that is not necessarily the case when it comes to airport security.
If you wish to take something with you on the aircraft that needs to be kept cold or chilled you will want to pack it with ice or an ice pack. Well, you can take this through airport security provided none of it has melted.
If it is completely frozen then it will be allowed but if any of it has melted, so that there is some water in liquid form then it will not.
9. Glow sticks
Why anyone would actually want to take glow sticks with them on a trip by air I cannot imagine but they are in any case treated as liquids.
The liquid within them will be less than 3.4 ounces but they will still have to go in your liquids bag when passing through the airport security checkpoint.
What you can do to get around the rules
Now I obviously don’t mean that you should try and trick airport security and get things through which are not allowed, or anything like that. The security rules must be complied with in full for everyone’s safety.
What I mean is that there are alternative ways to ensure you have these items at your destination, apart from placing them in checked bags.
These are a few suggestions:
You can buy TSA approved liquids bottles into which you can decant shampoos and other liquids to use while you are away.
Check out these on Amazon – Travel bottle set including an approved quart sized bag and a folding toothbrush.
Buy travel size
You can purchase many toiletry items in travel size packs (so 3.4oz or less) in many drug stores.
These can be carried with you through airport security provided they are in your quart-sized liquids bag.
Buy in the stores air-side
In most airports, there is usually a selection of stores after you pass through airport security (well they never miss a trick to part you with your money). You will be able to buy standard-sized toiletries and other liquids in these stores and you can take these on board as you have bought them after security.
One word of warning. If you have a connecting flight after this one then you may be required to pass through airport security at that airport too, particularly if you have to change terminals. If this is the case then, of course, you could not take these through that security checkpoint.
Buy at your destination
Unless you are traveling to the back end of beyond, you will probably find it easy to buy the toiletries you require (or local equivalents) when you arrive to use during your stay. Doing this also saves you weight and space in your carry on bags.
3-1-1 Liquids Rule
This is a saying that is supposed to make it easier to remember the liquid rules but it is a bit lame in my opinion.
- The 3 refers to the fact that individual liquids cannot be greater than 3.4ozs (not actually 3 which is a bit misleading)
- The first 1 refers to the fact that all liquids in carry on must be contained within a 1 quart resealable clear bag. You can buy an approved liquids bag on Amazon quite cheaply – TSA 3-1-1 Approved Clear Airline Carry On Bag .
- The second 1 refers to the fact that only one liquids bags is allowed per passenger.
The TSA regulations and those of other governments state that any one liquid you may have in your carry on cannot be larger than 3.4oz (100ml). Remember, this refers to the size of the container not the amount of liquid in it. So, in other words, you cannot take a 6oz container that is half full in your carry on luggage.
Is gel considered a liquid?
Under TSA liquid rules, gels are considered to be liquids. This includes hair gel, shaving gel etc. So to go in a carry on bag they must be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and be placed in a quart-size liquids bag.
Is eyeshadow considered a liquid when flying?
Under TSA liquid rules, eyeshadow is considered to be a liquid. So to go in a carry on bag it must be in a container no larger than 3.4 ounces and be placed in a quart-size liquids bag.
Does paste count as a liquid when flying?
Under TSA liquid rules, pastes are considered to be liquids. So to go in a carry on bag any pastes must be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and be placed in a quart size liquids bag.
Is cream considered a liquid?
Under TSA liquid rules, creams are considered to be liquids. This includes face creams, body lotions etc. So to go in a carry on bag they must be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and be placed in a quart-size liquids bag.
Is foundation considered a liquid?
Under TSA liquid rules, foundation is considered to be a liquid. So to go in a carry on bag it must be in a container no larger than 3.4 ounces and be placed in a quart-size liquids bag.
Will TSA take my mascara?
If you do not present your mascara correctly at the security checkpoint then a TSA agent will probably confiscate it. So make sure that you place it in your quart-sized liquids bag with other liquids.
How do you pack mascara in carry-on?
As mascara is classed as a liquid, you must place your mascara in your quart-sized liquids bag along with other liquids when you pass through the security checkpoint.
Will aerosols explode in checked bags on a plane?
Is there a liquid limit for checked bags?
20 things you need to know about flying with a baby or toddler
I have been traveling around the world by air since the early 70s and living overseas too. I worked for British Airways for a number of years and I am also a private pilot. About Me