TSA On Allowing Sunscreen Through Security Checkpoints: Our Fingers Were Crossed

TSA posted to its website that sunscreen had been added to the list of medically necessary items that passengers could bring through security checkpoints, independent of the rule limiting each liquid to 100 milileters and liquids in total to 1 quart per passenger.

All passengers would need to do is separately declare the sunscreen, and there might be some additional screening.

This change made sense because sunscreen protects people from skin cancer. Sure, passengers can buy sunscreen at their destination or check it in luggage. However,

  • For short trips, passengers may not be checking luggage – to do so is costly (checked bag fee) and time-consuming (getting to the airport earlier, waiting at baggage claim) so many people go without.

  • Buying sunscreen when you already have it is an extra cost, not to mention the hassle of finding a store which takes extra time, and when you might not be renting a car it involves a separate rideshare trip. That cost and time encourages people to go without.

However the TSA now says that the change on their website was posted in error.

Our website incorrectly reported that sunscreen containers larger than 3.4 oz. were allowed in carry-on bags, if medically necessary. Travelers (will) still need to ensure liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags meet the 3-1-1 requirements and are no larger than 3.4 ounces.

Nearly 10,000 people per day are diagnosed with skin cancer. “[I]ncreasing sunscreen use by 5 percent per year over 10 years would lead to a 10 percent reduction in melanomas in the United States.”

Skin cancer researchers led the push for this change at TSA, in other words TSA is ignoring the science,

Because inadequate access to sunscreen can lead to severe sunburns and subsequent skin cancers, this is an important public health initiative. We hope that this change will promote sun-safety and encourage travelers to use the recommended amount of sunscreen. The average adult requires 1.4 ounce of sunscreen per application, and reapplication is recommended every two hours.

Banning full-sized sunscreen from carry on bags discourages use of sunscreen, and causes more people not to use it. Across an entire population that means more skin cancer, and ultimately more people dying eearlier than they already would. There is a very real cost to the liquid ban, yet fifteen years in it’s easier for the TSA to keep it in place than modify it.

Perhaps the TSA error was posting the change before it was fully authorized (after 15 years what are they waiting for), we can only hope!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Waiting in a congested checkout queue at a store to acquire sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer may significantly increase your chance of getting a COVID-19 infection from asymptomatic spring-break adolescent party people trying to purchase sunscreen or alcohol and waiting in the same line. Some stores now have minimal customer assistance because 80% of their workers are quarantined, out sick, incapacitated, or hospitalized with COVID-19.

  2. Most hotels have caught onto us using Amazon. For years (especially when traveling with kids in diapers) I would order things like bottle water, sunscreen, snacks and diapers to be delivered to my hotel and there was a box waiting when I arrived. Now most hotels are charging $50 or so to receive a box for you and hold till you arrive.

  3. So what happens if its an obviously half-full 4 oz bottle of sunscreen- do they let you carry it on?

  4. @LK, in practice yes, but officially no, the container must be 3.4oz or less, regardless of how full it is.

  5. So wearing sunscreen on a vacation is the only time to wear sunscreen?

    I think there would be a decrease in skin cancer if people were sunscreen all the time.. not just on vacation where they’re excuse is ‘but TSA didn’t allow me to have it’.

    Allowing it over 3.4 Oz on the plane isn’t going to suddenly decrease the percentage of skin cancer.

  6. I fed ex my liquids to my hotel. It’s cheap and hassle free. The box is small and is waiting for us upon hotel check in.

  7. While the limit on liquids is burdensome and maybe not even effective, this whole complaint seems whiny. Surely you could bring 2 small containers with you, or if you’re really worried about it, you could limit your time in the sun – probably the most effective solution. Or just buy a big bottle at your destination… because if you’re planning to spend extended time in the sun, you’re probably on vacation, which comes with various expenses anyway. Why would anyone expect the TSA to adjust the rules so it’s easier for some people to spend all day every day in the sun? I imagine anyone who is diligent about applying sunscreen effectively would not be deterred by this. Those who aren’t diligent about it, aren’t applying sunscreen on a regular basis anyway, so a trip is no different

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