Can You Bring Sunscreen on a Plane?

Sunscreen or sunblock is an absolutely essential item to pack for many trips abroad – even if you’re not going somewhere that’s particularly sunny. However, sunscreen is a liquid and if you’ve travelled by air anytime since 2006, you’ll be well-aware that there is a strictly enforced size limit of 100ml (3.4oz) on containers of liquid carried in hand luggage.

This limit came about after UK authorities uncovered a terrorist plot to down Trans-Atlantic flights using explosives smuggled onboard disguised as drinks. This threat was deemed credible enough to introduce a global restriction on the size of containers of liquid that could be carried in hand luggage and it’s a rule that even regular travelers fall foul of. 

The good news is that close to twenty years after the introduction of this restriction, improvements in security screening technology mean the days of the 100ml liquid limit are numbered and several airports around the world have already dropped it. However, air travelers are still likely to encounter this limit for the foreseeable future and it will absolutely impact how we can pack and carry sunscreen.

can you take sunscreen on a plane

Why Wouldn’t You Be Allowed to Take Sunscreen in Carry-On Luggage?

On the surface of it, there’s no reason why you can’t take sunscreen in your carry-on luggage. Airlines have no problem with you carrying it, however, as sunscreen is classed as a liquid, there are various strictly enforced restrictions about carrying it in your hand luggage:

You are carrying more than 100ml/3.4oz of it in a single container. This restriction is obvious enough: No single container of liquid carried in hand luggage is allowed to be larger than 100ml/3.4oz. If you carry a larger bottle, it will almost certainly be confiscated.

The bottle is physically too large to fit in your liquids bag. All liquids carried in hand luggage must also fit in a small (no larger than 20x20cm and with a volume under 1l/1 quart), resealable clear plastic bag. If the bottle is physically too large to fit in the bag – or if other liquid containers in the bag mean you can’t close the bag – then your sunscreen may be confiscated by security.

So, Can I Bring Sunscreen on a Plane as Carry-On Luggage?

Yes, you absolutely can! Provided, that is, that you don’t carry more than 100ml/3.4oz of it in a single container and that this container fits – alongside any other liquids, gels and pastes you’re carrying – into a single clear plastic bag not exceeding 20x20cm or a capacity of 1l/1 quart.

100ml of sunscreen isn’t very much – especially if you’re travelling somewhere sunny – so bear in mind that a larger bottle can be decanted into several smaller bottles provided they all still fit into the same clear plastic bag. Remember that you can bring full-sized bottles of sunscreen in your checked hold luggage.    

USA – What Does the TSA Say About Sunscreen?

America’s TSA have clear guidance on travelling with sunscreen. In hand luggage, you’re limited to containers sized 100ml or 3.4oz or below. In checked luggage, you can carry any single bottle of liquid up to 500ml/17oz and the total liquids you can carry must not exceed 2l/68oz.

The UK – What Are the UK Government’s Regulations Concerning Sunscreen in Hand Luggage?

The UK is actively phasing out the 100ml liquid restriction for hand luggage and it’s anticipated that more and more UK airports will drop this requirement as security scanning equipment is upgraded. However, at the time of writing, most UK airports still require liquids in hand luggage to be in containers no larger than 100ml.   The UK government do not publish specific restrictions on liquids in checked luggage, but it’s worth checking with your carrier to see fi they have any specific restrictions – especially if you anticipate carrying a lot of liquids.

Europe – What Are the EU’s Guidelines Regarding Sunscreen?

The EU follows the same guidance as the UK and USA with regards to sunscreen in hand luggage: it’s considered a liquid so cannot be transported in containers over 100ml/3.4oz.  In common with the UK, EU airports are starting to phase out the 100ml limit as new scanning equipment is introduced, but at the time of writing, these airports are a minority. Full-sized bottles are permitted in hold luggage and there are no specific guidelines on the maximum amount of liquids you can carry – so it would be wise to check with your airline if you plan to carry large amounts.

Australia – Does the ABF Have Laws About Sunscreen?

The Australian Government’s guidelines classify sunscreen as a liquid and their guidelines for international flights are in line with the rest of the world for hand luggage: containers over 100ml are not permitted and they must fit into a bag with combined dimensions not exceeding 80cm. There are no explicit quantity limits on liquids in checked luggage.  Domestic flights are not subject to any restrictions unless traveling from an international terminal such as in Sydney or Melbourne. 

New Zealand – What Are the CAA of New Zealand’s Rules About Sunscreen?

New Zealand’s guidelines class sunscreen as a liquid and, in common with the rest of the world, these are limited to containers of 100ml/3.4oz r less which must be presented for security inspection in a clear, resealable plastic bag measuring 20x20cm or less.  Larger containers can go in checked hold luggage. 

Canada – What Does the CBSA Say About Sunscreen?

The Canadian guidelines on traveling with sunscreen are short and to the point: bottle of 100ml/3.4oz or below are permitted in cabin luggage and anything larger must go in checked hold luggage. 

The Rest of the World

The restrictions on liquids in hand luggage came into effect following the discovery of a terrorist plot to hide explosives in liquids in 2006.  The restrictions on liquid quantities in hand luggage were globally adopted and, whilst they can be frustrating, it makes them easy to follow: Basically, in hand luggage, liquids including sunscreen cannot be carried in containers larger than 100ml/3.4oz. in turn, these containers must fit in a single 20x20cm/1-quart resealable, clear plastic bag. 

Larger containers of sunscreen can generally be carried in checked hold luggage without problems. As always, it’s smart to do your research before you travel and check if your carrier or the country you plan to travel to has any specific restrictions. 

can you bring sunscreen in your carry-on

What’s the Best Advice for Travelling on a Plane with Sunscreen?

It’s perfectly OK to travel with sunscreen. The only limitations come into play because it’s a liquid and therefore subject to liquid restrictions applicable to hand luggage. With this in mind, if you have checked hold luggage booked for your flight, it makes sense to pack your sunscreen in here (along with any other full-sized toiletries you may have), where there are no size restrictions.

If you plan to do this, it makes sense to ensure that your sunscreen is packed in something that can help contain any leaks if the packaging opens or is ruptured during transit – a knotted plastic bag is a great solution here.

If you are only travelling with hand luggage, then make sure that you meet the carry-on liquid requirements of one 20x20cm/1 quart  clear bag containing no single bottle above 100ml/3.4oz. Airport security strictly enforce these limits, though, so do remember that. You can decant a larger bottle of sunscreen into several 100ml or smaller bottles.

What Happens If Your Sunscreen Is Flagged by Airport Security?

Your sunscreen is most likely to be flagged by airport security if it’s in your hand luggage either in a container greater than 100ml or not in the clear plastic liquid bag. It’s not uncommon to see travelers who’ve accidentally left full-sized bottles of sunscreen in their day bag which they then use as their carry-on bag. 

If sunscreen is flagged by airport security, the simplest solution may be to abandon it: it’s unlikely you’ll be able to decant a larger container into smaller ones at the security gate and airport staff have the final say and a legal responsibility to enforce liquid limits.  It’s far less likely that sunscreen in your checked luggage will be flagged, but this may happen if a container leaks and this subsequently spills out of your luggage.

Having your luggage flagged can cause delays to both you and other travelers, so it’s always best to do what you can to minimize the chances of this happening in the first place. 

How to Pack Sunscreen in Your Luggage

Sunscreen is essentially a safe substance to travel with. However, if it spills, it can stain clothes and luggage and damage electronic equipment.  Cabin pressure changes during air travel can also cause containers to pop open so it’s a smart choice to pack sunscreen and other liquids, gels and pasts like toothpaste, perfume and makeup in something that can contain a potential spill – a knotted plastic bag is a low tech but also very effective solution here!

Packing Sunscreen in Carry-On Luggage

The key point to remember when packing sunscreen in hand luggage is that you are aware of carry-on liquid allowances.  These are simple: no single container of liquid can exceed 100ml/3.4oz and all of your liquids must fit into a single, clear resealable plastic bag no larger than 20x20cm/1 quart. Remember that the size limit relates to the container and not the volume of liquid it contains – so a quarter-full 200ml bottle of sunscreen will not be permitted in hand luggage. 

The good news is that new security screening methods mean that the 100ml hand luggage liquid limit is being phased out, however, there are still more airports that enforce than not, and just because, say, the airport you use on the outbound leg of your journey has dropped the requirement, it doesn’t mean that the airport you use on the return leg of your journey or that you might transfer through will have done so too – so, for now, it’s good to assume the limit will be in place. 

Packing Sunscreen in Hold Luggage

Generally, you’re free to pack full-sized bottles of sunscreen in your hold luggage and this is by and large the best way to transport it.  In some territories, there are restrictions on the total amount of liquids you can carry in your checked luggage, but these limits are usually high and won’t impact someone travelling with a few full-sized toiletries including sunscreen.

Remember that hold luggage is subject to knocks and jolts during transit and changes in cabin pressure during flights can also cause bottles to pop open. A sunscreen spillage can ruin clothing and electronics, so it’s always smart to pack sunscreen – along with any other liquid toiletries – in something that can contain a leak if it happens.  A toiletries bag with a zipper or even just a knotted plastic bag is all you need here and can save some real hassle if a leak occurs. 

If you head out on holiday with a full bottle of sunscreen and return with it mostly empty, remember that the hand-luggage liquid size limit relates to the container size and not the volume of product inside, so if the bottle is over 100ml/3.4oz, it can’t go in hand luggage, regardless of how little actual product it contains!

What Are the Different Types of Sunscreen?

Whilst most people think of the different SPF values as the main differentiating factors for sunblock, we should also consider the different ways it can be packaged. Sunscreen is available as a gloopy paste or cream; a liquid that sprays on and in a solid form for application to lips. Whilst these are all different – and in the case of the solid form, push the boundaries of what can be considered a liquid – airline security will consider all types to be liquid. 

Conclusion

Sunscreen or sunblock is an essential item on many traveler’s packing lists. Airlines generally have no problem carrying it – it’s as safe as any cosmetic or toiletry after all. However, since the discovery in 2006 of a terrorist plot to smuggle explosives onto aircraft disguised as liquids, the quantities of sunscreen and other liquids you can carry in hand luggage have been restricted globally – and this is one restriction that airport security do strictly enforce. 

Whilst new scanning technology at airport security gates means that this liquid limit will eventually be phased out (and indeed this is starting to happen already at certain airports in the UK and EU), we will likely still have to live with this restriction for many years to come.

Until then, remember that sunscreen of all types is considered a liquid by airport security and must be limited to containers of 100ml/3.4oz or below and placed in your liquid bag if you are carrying it in your hand luggage.

No such limits apply to checked luggage (though some territories – notably the USA – do place a high maximum limit on the amount of liquids you can carry), and in many cases, securely packing sunscreen in your hold luggage (wrapped up to minimize any damage that can be caused by spills, of course!) is by far the best option.