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?
Sunscreen in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) can be packed in both carry-on bags and checked bags. Any sunscreen in a container larger than 3.4 ounces must be packed in checked baggage as it will be confiscated at airport security if carried in hand luggage.
I will explain the rules in more detail below as well as some surprising information about whether you should apply sunscreen while flying.
Can you take sunscreen through airport security?
Yes, you can take sunscreen in your carry-on bag through airport security but with certain restrictions. Since all sunscreens come in the form of creams, liquids, gels and aerosols 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 be 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. See TSA statement.
AskTSA advice on taking sunscreen though security
Can you take sunscreen in carry on bags?
As stated above, sunscreen is allowed in carry-on bags, 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 bags 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. So, assuming that the airport you are flying from has stores after the security checkpoint, then you may be able to buy some sunscreen there to take with you.
If that is not an option then the only alternative is to buy sunscreen at your destination.
Can you take sunscreen in checked bags?
Fortunately, the TSA allows larger quantities of liquid in checked baggage so you can pack full-size sunscreens in your checked bags, and in sufficient quantities for your trip too.
Sunscreen in containers up to 18 ounces each are permitted to be packed in your checked baggage. This includes sunscreen in aerosols in reasonable quantities.
@AskTSA advice on taking sunscreen in checked bags
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 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
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 as 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 ounce each and they must all fit into one resealable, transparent quart sized ziplock bag.
Do airports sell sunscreen?
Most larger airports are likely to have stores after passing through the TSA airport security checkpoint where you can by 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.