If you are going on vacation, particularly if you will be spending time lying on a beach somewhere warm, then sunscreen is an important item to take with you to prevent skin cancer.
But can you bring sunscreen on a plane and, if so, where should you pack it?
I will explain the rules in more detail below as well as some surprising information about whether you should apply sunscreen while flying.
The Quick Answer: Can you take sunscreen on a plane? TSA rules state that sunscreen can be taken through airport security in a carry on bag if the containers are no larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) and in a quart-sized plastic bag with all other liquids. This applies whether it is spray sunscreen, aerosol sunscreen or suncream. Sunscreen in containers larger than 3.4 ounces must be packed in checked baggage.
Can you take sunscreen through airport security?
According to TSA sunscreen rules, you can take sunscreen in your carry-on bag through airport security but with certain restrictions. Since sunscreens come in the form of creams, lotions, liquids, gels, sprays and even aerosol spray sunscreen then they all fall within the TSA liquids rules.
The size of each container should not be more than 3.4 fluid ounces (100ml) and must be placed in a transparent, resealable quart-sized plastic bag along with any other liquids, gels, creams or aerosols you have. Only one liquids bag is permitted for each passenger.
The liquids bag must be removed from your carry-on bags and placed separately in a bin at the security checkpoint for inspection. Security officers at the checkpoint may want to screen some of the liquids in the bag separately.
NOTE: You may read elsewhere that sunscreen containers larger than 3.4 oz can be taken through the security checkpoint as they are deemed “medically necessary liquids”. However, this was an error on the Transportation Security Administration website in April 2021 that was quickly rectified, so the 3.4 oz rule does apply to sunscreen. See TSA statement.
AskTSA advice on taking sunscreen through security
Can you take sunscreen in hand luggage?
As stated above, you can take sunscreen in carry-on luggage, but you can only take it through airport security in containers that are no bigger than 3.4 ounces. But this is really not very large and certainly won’t be enough for more than an afternoon on the beach.
If you are only traveling with carry-on bags then putting full-size sunscreen in checked luggage is not an option for you, but there is one potential solution.
Although the TSA does not allow full-size sunscreen containers through the security checkpoint there is actually no restriction about actually taking full-size sunscreen into the aircraft with you.
Can I buy sunscreen at the airport after security? Assuming that the airport you are flying from has stores after the security checkpoint, then you may be able to buy some full-size sunscreen bottles there to take with you.
If that is not an option then the only alternative is to buy sunscreen at your destination.
Can you pack sunscreen in checked luggage?
Fortunately, the TSA allows larger quantities of liquid in checked baggage so you can pack full-size sunscreens in your checked bag, and in sufficient quantities for your trip too.
Sunscreen in containers up to 18 ounces each is permitted to be packed in your checked baggage. This includes sunscreen in aerosols in reasonable quantities.
How to pack sunscreen in checked luggage
- Choose the Right Container: If you’re packing a larger bottle of sunscreen, ensure it’s in a sturdy, leak-proof container. Squeeze bottles with a flip cap or those with a pump are less likely to leak compared to twist-off caps.
- Double-Bagging: Place the sunscreen bottle inside a resealable plastic bag, pressing out any excess air before sealing. This provides an additional layer of protection against leaks. For added security, consider double-bagging it.
- Positioning: Place the bagged sunscreen in the center of your suitcase, surrounded by softer items like clothes. This provides cushioning and reduces the risk of the bottle getting crushed or punctured.
- Avoid Overfilling: If your sunscreen bottle is nearly full, consider transferring some into a smaller container. Changes in air pressure during flights can cause containers to expand and potentially leak.
- Solid Sunscreens: Consider using solid sunscreen sticks or bars for travel. They’re compact, mess-free, and don’t have the same liquid restrictions as traditional sunscreens.
- Check Size Restrictions: While this is more pertinent for carry-on luggage, it’s always a good idea to be aware of any size or quantity restrictions for liquids in checked luggage, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Make sure it is no larger than 18 ozs.
- Labeling: Especially if you’re decanting sunscreen into another container, label it clearly. This ensures you know what’s inside and can also be helpful for security checks. It may prevent you from smothering your body in mayonnaise at the beach!
- Backup Plan: Consider packing a small travel-sized sunscreen in your carry-on or personal bag. In case your checked luggage gets delayed or lost, you won’t be left unprotected from the sun.
@AskTSA advice on taking sunscreen in checked bags
Can you bring spray sunscreen on a plane?
There is no distinction as far as the TSA is concerned between regular sunscreen lotion you squeeze from a bottle and spray sunscreen, even in an aerosol. They are all counted as liquids so fall under the same TSA liquid rules:
Can you carry on spray sunscreen?
You can only take spray sunscreen in your hand luggage if the container is no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) and it will fit in your quart-size liquids bag with your other carry on liquids.
Can you pack spray sunscreen in checked luggage?
You can pack any size of spray sunscreen in your checked baggage. If you are worried will spray sunscreen explode in checked bags then, no it will not. Just make sure when packing sunscreen that it cannot accidentally activate and spray all over the contents of your suitcase.
Can you use sunscreen onboard?
You can apply sunscreen during the flight, but as you are in an aluminum tube should you actually bother?
Well, surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes, particularly if you are sitting in a window seat with the sun’s rays streaming onto you through the window.
It is normally thought that you are protected from harmful UV rays when sitting behind glass, perhaps at home with the sun landing on you through a window. Aircraft windows are glass – at least those on the outside are even if the inside layer is plastic.
But it seems that, as you are so high, particularly harmful UVA rays can still penetrate – they are the nasty ones that can cause skin cancer.
So make sure you have a travel-size sunscreen in carry-on or buy a full-size container at the airport stores after airport security with a broad spectrum having both UVA and UVB protection.
Before boarding a daylight flight you would be advised to apply a good layer of it to provide sun protection. If on a long-haul flight and in direct sunlight then you should also consider applying it every two hours
You can read more in the Journal of Radiological Protection – Measurement of UV radiation in commercial aircraft
You can pack any size of sunscreen in your checked bags but you can only take sunscreen on a plane in your carry on if it is in a container that is no larger than 3.4 ozs or if you buy it after passing through security.
Can you bring full-sized sunscreen on a plane?
Yes, you can bring full-size sunscreen on a plane but in your carry-on luggage, you can only carry containers of sunscreen that are equal to or less than 3.4 ounces (100ml).
Does sunscreen count as medication TSA?
Sunscreens are not considered medication so the TSA will not allow full-size containers in hand luggage. You can take multiple bottles of sunscreen in your checked bags though.
What is the 3-1-1 rule?
The 3-1-1 rule of TSA states that if you are carrying any liquid, gels or creams in your carry-on luggage then to take them through the TSA security checkpoint you need to ensure liquids, gels and creams are no larger than 3.4 ounces each and they must all fit into one resealable, transparent quart sized ziplock bag
Can you buy sunscreen at the airport?
Most larger airports are likely to have stores after passing through the TSA airport security checkpoint where you can buy sunscreen. This can then be taken on your carry-on even if larger than 3.4 fluid ounces.
Can you sunburn on an airplane?
Yes, perhaps surprisingly, you can get sunburned if you are sitting by a window on a plane in direct sunlight for any length of time. So you still need to ensure that you wear some sunscreen to protect you from getting skin cancer.
Can you bring aerosol sunscreen on a plane?
You can bring aerosol sunscreen on a plane but if taking it in your carry on bag it will have to be in a container that is no larger than 3.4 ounces. You can take regular-size aerosol sunscreen in your checked bags.