Finally—A Step-By-Step Guide to Packing All Your Skincare in a Carry-On

Our beauty editor spills her secrets.

By Langa Chinyoka
How to pack skincare for travel.

We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

I love to claim the term “minimalist” despite all evidence to the contrary. I call my interior design style warm California minimalism, but that just means my furniture is mostly white and beige. The piles of books, excessive tchotchkes, and disco ball don’t exactly scream pared down. My closet is the same—a far cry from the idealized capsule wardrobe I have in my head. Still, none of this compares to my hoard of beauty products. As an editor who’s always on a plane to somewhere, it was high time I learned how to pack skincare efficiently. And today, I’m sharing my secrets with you.

Janessa Leone how to pack skincare.

How to Pack Skincare for Travel

Being on vacation feels amazing. Packing for vacation, on the other hand? A whole different story. But somehow, I feel a thrill when I win the expert-level game of Tetris that is packing my beauty products in a carry-on. Anyone who has traveled for longer than a week with only a carry-on must have their rules. I stick by Camille’s genius 3-bag and 2-shoe rules to streamline my outfits. Then, I implement my tried and true technique for how to pack skincare.

Packing Rules

My packing principles are simple: brutal honesty and versatility. The first is about process. Give it the same energy you give a closet clean out when you feel like changing your life in the middle of the night. Take out everything you want to bring, then ask if each products checks the following boxes:

  • Under 100 ml. Domestic flights within the US are more lenient with this rule—especially if you have TSA pre-check. But international flights? Don’t risk it.
  • Use at least every other day. Your products should be versatile and those that you use morning, noon, and night. But an exfoliator and a retinol can pass, too.
  • Weather appropriate. My favorite moisturizer (the EADEM Cloud Cushion Moisturizer, if you’re wondering) works best on my skin in the winter. So I wouldn’t bring it to a hot city, no matter how much I wanted to.
  • Top shelf, not holy grail. I like to bring my favorite products with me, but nothing I’m not ready and willing to lose at London Heathrow Airport or to an unfortunate spillage incident.
  • Lightweight, tight packaging. No glass jars. No fickle lids. Keep them light and tight.
Travel skincare products.

Prioritize Powders

Some airports are strict about how much liquid you can bring in total—not just per product. I’ve lost many a setting spray to LHR, so I make sure all my liquids can fit into one of their tiny plastic bags and then be repacked into my makeup bags.

A loophole: stock up on powders and solids. These breeze through TSA and are often less bulky to pack than liquids. It’s a win-win.

Supercharge Your Skincare

When I travel, every product has to boast a bevy of benefits. I travel with one or two serums max—one for the night and one for the day. So everything from my cleanser to my sunscreen has to maximize its impact.

Embrace Minimalist Beauty

Alternatively, use vacation as a time to go back to the basics. When I’m on vacation in a city, I do the most to combat pollution and sweat with the fewest products. When I’m on a beach or by a pool, I barely want anything on but sunscreen. Like digital detoxing, taking the opportunity to try skinimalism and give your barrier a break will automatically pare down your choices. For lightweight, high-impact products, here are my picks:

Make the Most of Multifunctional Makeup

Take a page out of Gen-Z’s book and embrace multitasking makeup products. Kids these days stick to multi-sticks and lip-cheek-nose-eye-everything products. While I don’t think an eyebrow palette is cringe, I do think it’s too bulky to take on vacation. So embrace multi-sticks, tinted serums, and multi-functional makeup products alongside your classics.

Summer packing travel.

How you pack matters as much as what you pack

Here’s my hot take: I don’t love the travel-sized bottles you can transfer your own products into. It’s always a messy process that ends up in an unfortunate spill. So, I make sure to choose travel-sized products that close tightly and fit neatly into a makeup bag.

Choose the right bag(s). I use a clear bag for gels and oils and a mesh bag with more give for everything else. These keep your clothes safe in case of any leaks. If you have a little more room in your carry-on, I have traveled with a vanity bag that includes a mirror and pockets for flat things like my contacts and hydrogel masks.

Keep that skincare on you. If you’re following the 3-bag rule, you’ll have a carry-on, a tote, and a small purse or fanny pack that fits inside. I keep my skincare in the tote, so it’s accessible and easy to take out at TSA if necessary. It’s also within reach if I need to do any in-flight skincare.