If you are traveling this summer, chances are that sunscreen is high on your family packing list. Whether you are headed to a pool, beach, theme park, or simply touring around a big city in the summer sun, it is crucial to protect your children and yourself from harmful sun damage.
Several members of my family have had skin cancer, so I know all too well about the dangers. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, yet only 20% use sunscreen daily. I know my kids are especially at risk with their fair skin. I love my daughter’s red hair, but those same genes that gave her the beautiful color can also be quite harmful when it comes to the sun!
Wherever your travels take you and your family this summer (or any season of the year for that matter), make sure to follow a few simple sunscreen tips to stay safe. And make sure you know the essential rules for travel with sunscreen – especially for air travel – so you don’t get your sunscreen confiscated at a TSA checkpoint.
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Essential Travel Sunscreen Tips
1. Sunscreen is a travel essential, even if you aren’t traveling to a beach or pool destination.
We all know to apply sunscreen when we plan for a day by the water at the beach or pool. But sunscreen is equally important every other day you spend time outside as well. Frequent travelers should be especially vigilant. If you are headed out for a day of urban sightseeing, for example, you might not realize how much sun exposure you are getting by popping in and out of museums and tourist attractions. Make sure to pack and use sunscreen no matter where your travels take you.
2. Pack a little sunscreen in multiple bags.
When traveling with kids, I juggle several different bags depending on the situation and destination: a purse or diaper bag, a carry on backpack, a beach bag, checked luggage, etc. I put a little sunscreen in as many of them as I can (either before the trip or as soon as we arrive at our destination), even if it is just a travel size tube that will work in a pinch.
That way, when I’m frantically packing a day pack or my purse for a specific outing, I know that the sunscreen is already in the bag and won’t be forgotten. Spreading the sunscreen around in different bags ensures you have it when you need it, even if your preparation time is cut short.
3. Remember that the risk of sun damage may be greater in some destinations.
Back home in the foggy San Francisco Bay Area, I have our family’s sunscreen routine down: apply about 15-30 minutes before sun exposure (as the experts recommend) and then reapply every two hours. That seems to do the trick to keep the burns away.
On vacation, however, we’ve found that our usual routine isn’t always enough. Different environments present different risk levels. When our family travels to Hawaii, for example, we have to reapply much more often or we all get burned. We also make sure we use the highest broad spectrum SPF possible there.
Remember that the sun’s rays are stronger in tropical destinations. The risk of sun damage can also be greater when you are around bodies of water due to the reflection off the water. You might also find you need to reapply more often if you are in and out of the water and toweling off frequently (both of which can remove sunscreen – even the water resistant kind!).
Be prepared to adjust your sun protection practices for new places during your travels. And be sure to plan for or pack enough for that increased usage.
4. Make sure your sunscreen is ready for airport security!
If you are flying to your destination and plan to check bags, you don’t have to worry too much about sunscreen sizes and amounts. You can put as many full size sunscreens as you’d like in checked luggage.
Passengers with carry on bags, however, need to be ready to navigate liquid restrictions. For domestic travel in the United States, TSA rules require that passengers not bring liquids or gels in carry on luggage in quantities larger than 3.4 ounces. And most sunscreens (pump sprays, aerosols, and creams) count as a liquid for TSA checkpoint purposes. This means big spray sunscreens or sunscreen creams are not allowed if you are traveling light with just a carry on bag.
My workaround? Look for smaller containers of creams or aerosol travel-sized sunscreens.
Better yet: bring sunscreen sticks instead. TSA has confirmed that stick sunscreens are not classified as liquids or gels and can be carried in larger quantities. I have found over the years that sticks made for much quicker sunscreen application with a squirmy toddler – bonus!
If you have TSA Pre-Check, you can pack any size compliant liquid or gel sunscreens anywhere in your luggage. But if you don’t have Pre-Check, you’ll need to place all liquids and gels into a quart zip top bag and remove the bag from your bag before sending it through the scanners. One more reason to get Pre-Check! (See all my expert tips for airport security with kids).
5. Try out sunscreen close to home before taking it on your travels.
I find it is always a good idea to pack a brand and type of sunscreen you have successfully used at home before on your family’s travels. Why? My kids have sensitive skin and have had reactions and rashes from different types of sunscreen over the years. As parents, we’d all hate to find ourselves on vacation with something new that caused a problem. I always stock up on the brands and types that I know are tried and true for my kids so we can be sure to have them at our destination.
6. Check for destination-specific sunscreen rules, recommendations, and needs.
Before you travel with sunscreen, make sure it is right for your destination. Be a good guest by complying with local requirements. Some destinations – particularly those with beaches like Hawaii – will strongly recommend reef safe sunscreen to protect their oceans.
Also, consider what personal need you’ll have for sunscreen in specific destinations. Personally, I find that the heavy stuff is a little sticky and gross when I’m wearing something other than a bathing suit. I really like using a daily facial sunscreen designed to be lightweight for use under makeup when I’m touring in urban destinations.
Best Sunscreen for Air Travel? Top Travel Sunscreen Picks
Looking for more sunscreen recommendations? Here are several choices we’ve used over the years, all of which are under the TSA’s 3.4 ounce rules so they are small enough sizes to carry on a plane.
- Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Lotion: Reef-safe & vegan 3.0 ounce SPF 50 cream
- Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Mineral Sunscreen Stick: stick for easy application and no TSA concerns, SPF 50
- Banana Boat Sport Ultra SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion: simple, easy, and inexpensive 3.0 ounce cream. We keep one of these in several bags at all times!
- Hawaiian Tropic Antioxidant Sunscreen Spray With Green Tea Extract, SPF 30, 3.4 Ounce: Love using this face spray when I already have makeup applied and need some extra protection without the greasiness of body sunscreens.
This post was originally published in partnership with Influence Central for sponsor Neutrogena. It has been updated independent of that relationship since that time. As always, all opinions are my own.