How To Pack A Carry-On Travel Beauty Bag

7 expert tips on how to conquer the dreaded airport-issued liquids bag and breeze through security on your next trip.

Colourful mini travel beauty bottles against a yellow background.

(Photo: iStock)

After a couple of years of travel restrictions, we’re more than ready to travel again. In fact, the rush to hit the friendly skies has been so overwhelming that long delays and lost luggage have become par for the course. To avoid being stranded at your destination (or worse—the airport) without your essentials, a well-packed carry-on is a must, whether you decide to check a bag or not. As well as a spare pair of undies and an extra outfit, keeping a curated roster of beauty products on hand is a smart idea to avoid wasting money on sub-par products when you can’t find your go-tos at your destination.

It’s easy to get caught up in the pre-flight excitement and forget daily staples—or panic and round up a bunch of random items (are you really going to do a foot mask while on vacay?). Our beauty packing skills could use a refresher, so we went straight to the pros for advice on how to pack light, fit your liquids in that tiny airport-issued 1-L bag and breeze through security.

1. Know what you can (and can’t) pack in a carry-on

According to the rules of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, any liquids, aerosols and gels (think creams, hairspray, lip glosses and toothpaste) in your carry-on have to be 100 mL (3.4 oz) or less. All of your liquid items have to fit together inside of a clear, one-litre resealable bag that you can quickly access when you’re going through security.

Make sure you know exactly what is considered a liquid before you go as some may surprise you. Mascara is considered a liquid, as is anything deemed ‘spreadable.’ (Consult this handy searchable list for the full run-down of what is allowed in checked baggage and carry-ons.)

Also keep in mind that sharp objects, like razors, might be subject to restrictions. For example, disposable razors are allowed, while safety razors are not.

If you’re traveling to another country (including the U.S.), be sure to check out their carry-on rules as well to make sure your bag meets the requirements.

2. Consider your itinerary

Start by listing everything you’ll need at your destination—and don’t forget sunscreen! Are you going on a city break? Is it a beach vacation? Is the trip planned around a wedding? Your skincare and haircare routines likely won’t change much, but the makeup you’ll reach for will depend on the location and purpose of your trip.

When it comes to choosing what makeup to pack in her own carry-on, Toronto makeup artist and Cityline beauty expert Tracy Peart swears by long-lasting favourites. Her essentials include a concealer for spot treatment (foundation takes up a lot of space in a liquids bag), a waterproof mascara that will last through sweaty city walks and beach days, and a lip stain that won’t smudge the way a gloss or lipstick might. Peart also recommends bringing along a primer and a loose, translucent powder to help set your makeup, especially if you’re headed somewhere warm.

It’s easy to pack too much just in case, but false eyelashes, eyeshadow and highlighter (“It only make you look more shiny when you’re already sweating,” notes Peart) are all extras you can skip, unless you know you’ll be going somewhere fancy, like a wedding reception or celebratory dinner.  And don’t forget to pack a pair of sunglasses, says Peart. “If all else fails, throw them on with a bold lip and call it a day.”

2. Stick to tried-and-true products

When it comes to skincare, vacation is not the time to experiment. Those perfectly-sized sample packets of creams and lotions you’ve been saving for your travels? Leave them, unless you’ve used the product before. “You don’t know how your skin will react to new products,” says Peart. It’s especially true as long travel days and new environments can make skin more sensitive. The last thing you want is to end up stuck inside your hotel room with an allergic reaction. “Instead, go with your tried-and-tested routine,” she advises.

As for makeup? If you’re not an eyeshadow or cat-eye liner person back home, you won’t be on vacation either. Be realistic about the products you’ll actually use each day. Remember that if there’s something you left at home, you can always purchase it in a pinch (but we swear you won’t miss it!).

3. Embrace the minis

Canadian travel writer Jessica Lockhart, who is currently based in Australia and is a frequent flyer, suggests looking for travel-sized versions of your favourite products. “You can find great products that are only 50 mL in size,” she says. “It makes them much easier to pack.”

Once the travel containers are empty, Lockhart refills them with whatever she has at home before her next trip. You can also find handy sets of airplane-friendly reusable containers for essentials like shampoo and lotion. Lockhart also recommends labelling each container so that you don’t confuse conditioner for moisturizer while getting ready.

If you’re going for an extended period of time, minis might not cut it. Consider stocking up on shampoo, conditioner, body wash and toothpaste at your destination.

4. Skip the liquids

Space is precious in that 1-L bag, so consider swapping liquids for solid products if you can. There are many waterless skincare and personal care products on the market that are just as good as their liquid counterparts. (Just be sure to test them at home a few weeks before you leave.) Look for shampoo and conditioner bars, sunscreen sticks, toothpaste tablets and solid soaps and facial cleansers.

Pack all your non-liquid products in a separate pouch in your carry-on suitcase to help stay organized.

6. Plan your beauty treatments ahead

A little bit of planning can go a long way when you’re looking to save on precious suitcase space. Peart likes to get her hair braided before a trip so that she can skip products. “Whatever your hair texture is, the heat usually affects it in some adverse way, like causing frizz,” she says. “Braids are less stressful for me.” A gel mani and pedi are also worth considering as they last for a few weeks and allow you to keep your manicure kit, polishes and remover at home.

7. Stay hydrated

We all know the importance of hydration, especially when spending time in moisture-sucking airplane cabins. Lockhart’s final and most precious beauty tip: Bring a reusable water bottle in your carry-on to stay as hydrated as possible during your wait and your flight—this will help keep skin looking its best and just might help with jet lag, to boot. (Just be sure that it’s empty before you go through security, and fill it up once you get through.)

11 Must-Pack Beauty Products For Carry-On Travel

Sephora Collection Reusable Travel Container Set

Sephora Collection Reusable Travel Container Set

Fill these five reusable containers with your favourite go-to products. It even comes with its own set of labels so you can easily tell which is shampoo and which is conditioner.


Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick

With a solid sunscreen stick, you can save room in your liquids bag. This broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen is water-resistant and small enough that you can toss it in your purse.


JVN Complete Hydration Set

JVN Complete Hydration Set

This set of minis includes shampoo, conditioner, a deep moisture mask and air-dry cream—everything you need for a fabulous ’do on vacay. (If you’re tight on space, save the luxurious mask for when you get home.)


Weleda Travel Skin Food

Weleda Travel Skin Food

This deeply hydrating cream is a cult classic for a reason⁠—it does it all! It’s great for dry hands, elbows and feet, and it can even be used on cheekbones as a highlighter.


Essence Double Trouble Waterproof Mascara

Essence Double Trouble Waterproof Mascara

This waterproof mascara’s double-sided brush means double the benefits: The elastomer side delivers volume while the fibre side gives curl and definition.


Youth To The People The Youth System

Youth To The People The Youth System

If you’re going to be away for awhile, you might want all your skincare faves with you. This set includes everything from a mini cleanser and serum to eye cream and face oil.


Smashbox Mini Photo Finish Control Mattifying Primer

Smashbox Mini Photo Finish Control Mattifying Primer

Take on shine and help your makeup last longer with a mattifying primer. The one in this tiny, 10-mL tube is infused with witch hazel and salicylic acid to control oil.


Hello Whitening Toothpaste Tablets

Hello Whitening Toothpaste Tablets

Ditch the tube of toothpaste for this little jar of whitening toothpaste tablets, formulated with natural peppermint and coconut oil. Just chew one up to form a paste and brush away with your toothbrush.


Charlotte Tilbury Quick & Easy 5 Minute Look

With a mini eyeshadow stick, lip and cheek stick, and highlighter stick, this handy kit has everything you need to create a gorgeous look on the go. Plus, there are five shades to choose from.


Burt’s Bees Hydrating Facial Towelettes

Burt’s Bees Hydrating Facial Towelettes

Of course there’s nothing quite like a proper double cleanse, but on a long flight, one of these soothing, hydrating wipes will do the trick. They’re made from 60 percent repurposed cotton and are ideal for removing makeup or cleansing without the need to rinse.


Stila Color Cocktail Travel Cheek, Lip and Eye Palette in Malibu Sunset

Stila Color Cocktail Travel Cheek, Lip and Eye Palette in Malibu Sunset

Toss this slim compact into your purse or makeup bag for a date-ready look in a snap. It includes a pinky-nude lip and cheek colour along with four eyeshadows in matte, shimmer and pearl finishes.


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