In a recent Slack channel, our team was discussing the ever-present Q of how on Earth Emily Cooper traveled to Paris with all of her Chanel bags. To my surprise, my fellow colleagues had a lot to say about their luggage always being over 50 pounds. I’ve come close, but that’s never happened to me. This launched into a whole discussion in which I experienced a massive bout of imposter syndrome as I almost exclusively travel with a carry-on. How on Earth can I possibly be a Beauty Editor who manages to travel with a carry-on? Should I change professions?
Nope, I’ve just learned how to pack beauty products in the absolute most efficient way. (I get to keep my job!) Packing beauty products in a travel bag in a way that won’t make TSA hate you is a challenge I’ve managed to defeat. I love products, and I refuse to live without my 10-step skincare routine just because I’m traveling. Heck, I need my skincare while on a crowded plane or in a new environment even more than I need it at home. Over time, I’ve mastered packing a carry-on with all of my beauty essentials—no checking required. Ahead: my biggest packing tips, as a lover of beauty products.
1. Separate Makeup and Skincare/Haircare
If possible, forgo using a giant bag to carry every single toiletry under the sun, and instead, opt for smaller bags for each. For one, think about how you are when you get to your destination. Do you just dump everything out, or do you usually work out of your makeup bag? For me, I usually dump all of my skin and haircare onto the bathroom counter of wherever I’m going, but I try to keep all of my makeup in a bag. I usually won’t do my makeup in the bathroom (rarely the best light), so it doesn’t make sense to keep it there. This makes my life easier when I get to a destination, but it’s even more necessary if you don’t want to piss off TSA when you travel with 3847238 products.
I always like to keep my makeup and skincare with me on the plane (they’re my prized possessions, after all), but sticking a gigantic, heavy bag in my already-small personal item is a no-go. Having two smaller bags always makes more sense, and if I need to dig into them for any reason (like a mid-flight face mask?), I don’t have to dig to the bottom of a bag to find what I need. Contrarily, I rarely need anything more than my mini dry shampoo, a hair tie, and a brush on the plane, so my non-liquid hair products can be stuck in my suitcase. Figure out what works best to configure your products for you.
2. Use A Clear Bag
We already know this, but I’m not talking about the clear Ziploc bags that TSA recommends. Instead, get a 1 qt.-sized reusable clear makeup bag. First of all, the ability to reuse this over and over again will save you from having to make that dreaded pre-vacation trip to Target to get sandwich bags. But these often are a lot less finicky when you’re trying to stuff as many products as possible into them. I’ve broken too many Ziploc bags to count, but I’ve never had a problem stuffing these to the brim.
Fitting all of your products into the bag can be somewhat of a game of Tetris, but I find that I can always fit a lot more in one of these bags than a sandwich bag (and TSA has never yelled at me).
3. Opt for powders for exfoliants, dry shampoos, and cleansers
If it comes in a powder instead of a liquid, guarantee I’m bringing it. I use this hack to be able to bring all of my extra-very-important beauty steps without sacrificing the precious space in my 1 qt. liquids bag. Exfoliators, cleansers, body washes, serums—a lot of products come in powders nowadays that you can just mix with water to get your desired effect. I also opt for powders over aerosol cans for dry shampoo and volumizing/texturizing spray. This has helped me tenfold, as I can stick these in my carry-on suitcase without having to worry about them.
Some of my favorites:
Pineapple Exfoliating Powder
(Re)setting Powder Sunscreen
4. Bring Samples
If you’re anything like me, you have a stash of beauty samples stockpiled somewhere in your home, and traveling is the best time to use them. I bring all of my sample shampoos and conditioners, foundations, primers, perfumes, cleansers, and more any time I leave my house. These take up practically no space and are perfect for short trips when you’ll only need to wash your face a handful of times. I hoard all of my sample perfumes for this exact reason; there’s no reason to ever bring a full-size perfume with you on a trip.
Similarly, before any trip I go on that I want to look my best without having to bring full bottles of my expensive primer, foundation, or concealer, I take a trip to my local Sephora and get samples. One foundation sample will last me about a week’s worth of applications (especially with a dewy, spreadable foundation—Armani Beauty Luminous Silk is my go-to for this). I always make sure to put these in a tiny Ziploc in the event of spillage (which has surprisingly not happened to me yet), but this hack is a winner every single time.
5. Buy Refillable Travel Sizes
Having refillable travel-size bottles on hand for your favorite cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, and more will not only make the days before your trip easier but ensure you have the best skin and hair you could ask for on your trip. The key is to fill as much as you actually think you’ll use. If you’re only going away for three days, you probably won’t use up a full 3 oz. bottle of shampoo and conditioner, but for a two-week Hawaii vacation, you might want to pack as much as you can. If you get moldable refills, this will help save you a lot of space, but if anything, avoiding any extra weight is helpful.
Refillable Flat Pouch Travel Bottles Set
I'm obsessed with these refillable travel pouches because they lie flat, making them easy to stack in a liquids bag and take up barely any space.
6. Coordinate With Your Travelers
Not everyone on your girls’ trip needs to bring their own personal Dyson Airwrap, flat iron, 1 in. curling iron, hairspray, and dry shampoo. If you’re going on a trip with other people, coordinate with each other before packing so everyone isn’t bringing doubles. Have one person bring a flat iron, one bring a blow dryer, one brings a curling iron, and another bring dry shampoo. There’s no reason you all need to be bringing the same products. Similarly, if you are the one packing the shampoo and conditioner, offer to share with another traveler, and then you can borrow one of their products. Somehow, I always end up the one who brings everything, but then I get extra space in someone’s bag for more snacks. Win, win.
7. Use A Contacts Case
Arguably my most genius hack of all time (you’re welcome), I keep contact solution cases in my travel drawer at all times to use for filling up travel sizes of foundation, concealer, powder—any makeup products I own that I don’t need to bring the full container of. A contacts case is the perfect size to fit enough makeup for a few days, and it saves me tons of space in my liquids bag (or overall makeup bag in general). Will your shelfie look as cute? Prob not, but the space-saving makes up for it.
8. Downsize the Products You Bring
Don’t get me wrong: I am not telling you to skip steps here, but if one product can do the job of two steps, I’m bringing that instead. For example, I don’t know if I’ve ever brought a hairspray traveling because my texture spray gives me the hold I need. In the same vein, if I bring a dry shampoo, I sometimes won’t also bring a texture spray. I won’t bring a vitamin C mask if I’m already bringing my vitamin C serum. I avoid bringing a clear lip gloss if I’m already tucking a lip mask or oil in my bag to wear on the plane. In any area I can downsize and use the same product for two uses, I do it. Then, when I want to bring three very different foundations for different coverage levels and uses, I can.
9. Opt for Solids
When in doubt, grab a solid version of your favorite products and call it a day. I swear by a solid perfume for traveling, and shampoo and cleanser bars were practically made to make TSA agents happy.