Can You Bring Spray Sunscreen on a Plane?
Yes, you can bring spray on sunscreen on a plane. That said, the TSA and the FAA do have some rules about how much you can have and also where you have to keep it during travel. This can be a little confusing, of course, so let’s get into the specifics.
Transportation Security Administration Rules
- The total aggregate quantity per person cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces). The capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces).
The Transportation Security Administration gets their rules on sunscreen and other medicines and toiletries from the Federal Aviation Administration. Sunscreen falls under their rules for medicinal and toiletry items. Aside from sunscreen this includes things like asthma inhalers, hand sanitizer, hairspray, rubbing alcohol, nail polish and so on. They offer a pretty basic way to understand anything in this category. If it doesn’t touch your body when you use it, it’s not in this category. If it does, then these rules apply.
So, for spray sunscreen, you can’t bring more than 2L but that would have to be broken down to 4 separate 500 ml containers. Seems like more than enough, right? However, that’s what you can have with you in your luggage on the plane. This does not mean you can have it with you in your seat in your carry on bags.
Carry On Bags
According to the TSA website, although you are permitted to have up to 2L of any product like sunscreen, you cannot have that amount in your carry on. Carry on bags are limited to 3.4 oz or 100ml only. That would be a very small amount. So small, in fact, it effectively prohibits you from having most brands of spray on sunscreen as part of your carry on.
If you go do some comparison shopping for spray on sunscreens you’ll find most bottles are around 5 to 6 oz in size. These can be packed in your luggage to be checked, but all of these would be too big to take in your carry on. As a result, if you tried to bring sunscreen of this size on a plane it’s most likely that TSA officers would not allow them to board with you.
If you are committed to having spray on sunscreen available with you in your carry on bags, there are a few brands you could look at. Some travel sized 3 oz cans of spray on sunscreen are available.
The 3-1-1 Rule
The TSA tried to make it easier to understand their rules for bringing liquid onto planes with the 3-1-1 Rule. Unfortunately it’s still a little vague in terms of what it means. On their website it states the following:
- Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or100 milliliters. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols.
The wording of the rule actually made it more confusing than it needs to be. Because, as you read it, is it clear what the 3, 1 and 1 even refer to? Not really. So here’s what it means.
Every liquid you bring in, and this includes sunscreen, toothpaste, hair gel, or whatever, can be no more than 3.4 ounces. That is the “3” part of the rule, they just rounded it down.
You can only bring as many of these 3 ounce bottles as can fit into a one quart-sized plastic bag. So that’s the first “1” of the rule.
Each passenger is only allowed to have one of those bags in their carry on, so that’s the second “1” of the rule.
It probably would have been easier to understand in reverse – you get ONE bag, that is ONE quart in size, which can only be filled with THREE ounce bottles. But anyway, that’s the rule.
Other Rules for Spray On Sunscreen on a Plane
One of the additional regulations for any kind of aerosol spray is that it needs to have a lid. Anything that sprays from a nozzle at the touch of a button has to have a protective cap on it. This is to prevent any accidental release while you’re traveling.
In addition, and here’s a bit of a tough one, the final say on anything is up to the TSA officials at the time. That means if you feel like you have met all the requirements but they are still not letting you take your sunscreen on, it doesn’t matter. The TSA can make a judgment call if they so choose and not allow anything they decide to get on that plane, so keep that in mind. Enough people have experienced this sort of thing in the past to ensure that it’s not a random thing that isn’t likely to happen. It happens quite a bit, actually.
Are Aerosols Even Allowed on Planes?
This is another rule that has had ups and downs over the years. Some people think sunscreen is okay but aerosol sunscreen is not. But, as we have seen, that is not true. You can safely bring aerosol sunscreen on a plane according to the TSA’s official rules. Aerosol medicines and toiletries all fall under the same guidelines as other medicines and toiletries that may be liquids or gels. As long as it doesn’t break the size limit of 3 ounces it is safe to bring.
Keep in mind, aerosol spray sunscreen can be a little unstable sometime under pressure. When packing sunscreen, consider double bagging it or wrapping it in a cloth. No one wants to see their spray sunscreen explode but it can happen.
Aerosols that are not considered toiletries are not allowed in your carry on and may have restrictions for checked bags. This includes things like insecticide, spray paint and so on. The distinction is based entirely on how the aerosol is used, not on whether or not a product is an aerosol at all.
Didn’t The TSA Change The Size Rule in 2021?
A lot of the confusion about sunscreen on planes was caused by the TSA itself back in April 2021. A statement on the TSA website, which was then repeated in the media, said that TSA had changed their rules regarding sunscreen. According to that story, they had reclassified sunscreen as something that was medically necessary and were going to treat it the same as other medicines. That meant that full sized sunscreen was going to be allowed in carry-on baggage. The only stipulation was that the passenger needed to notify the TSA that they were carrying larger amounts of sunscreen.
Unfortunately, that story was not true. Even more unfortunate is that most of the media outlets that reported it, in detail, never retracted it. So you can still Google it and find details of how this new rule is supposed to work. But the TSA themselves issued a correction about five days after the original change was publicized that the rule was incorrect.
The ruling, which is what you read above and which is still in place on the TSA website, is that sunscreen must follow the 3-1-1 guidelines. No container larger than 3.4 ounces will be allowed in carry on bags. If you do have something more, it needs to go into your checked bags.
It looks like the change was initially made because of, and celebrated by, Brown University’s Department of Dermatology challenging the TSA and suggesting that 3.4 ounces was too little an amount of sunscreen and it’s a medical necessity. Why the TSA made the change and then less than a week later changed it back doesn’t seem to have been made clear.
Why Can You Only Have 3 Ounces of Sunscreen on a Plane?
Three ounces of any liquid is considered safe to bring on an airplane and not an explosive risk. While a lot has been made of what you can and can’t bring and how much, most of us don’t know the story behind why.
Back in 2006, terrorists had devised a plan to try to get around airport screening measures that included the use of explosives in liquid form. After they were caught, it was determined that the easiest solution, rather than trying to commit to the impossible task of inspecting every bottle of every liquid for dangerous materials, was to limit their size. Based on research, a three ounce bottle of any liquid cannot achieve the critical diameter to blow up a plane.
Now, even if someone were to smuggle a dangerous substance onto a plane, the size limits mean it will be far less dangerous and unlikely to succeed. So it’s certainly a nuisance for the rest of us, but if the goal is preventing disasters in the air, you can see why they do it.
The Best Method for Using Sunscreen on a Plane
Even though spray sunscreen is allowed on a plane, if you’re nervous about it I would just avoid the issue altogether. I would recommend packing a tube or small bottle of travel sized sunscreen rather than spray on sunscreen in the carry on luggage. Put your spray stuff in your checked bags for later use. Historically, it seems like too many people have had issues trying to get aerosol sunscreen on a plane in the first place. If they are small enough they are usually not a problem, but they do get confiscated sometimes, which is a real hassle.
If you’re someone who already has travel anxiety and is worried about the TSA having an issue with what you packed, then a small tube or travel bottle of sunscreen may make things easier.
Obviously we all fear losing our luggage and we want to have things we need on hand in carry on. But that’s why a small tube of cream or lotion type sunscreen is the best bet. It limits your chances of the TSA having an issue with it and ensures that you’ll at least have something, even if your luggage goes missing.
Remember, these rules are per person as well. So if you’re traveling with family or friends, you can all carry a little bit of it to ensure everyone has sunscreen. Pack sunscreen for everyone and you can ensure there’s enough to go around, even in small containers.
The Bottom Line
Spray on sunscreen is allowed on airplanes, but it’s subject to size limits. You can carry a good quantity, up to 2L in your checked baggage, but your carry on bag will have to limit the amount to 3 ounces or less. That’s true of any liquids or gels, not just sunscreen. Spray on kinds must also have a cap on them to help prevent accidental exposure if they go off.