Are bath salts a liquid? Are body scrubs allowed in toiletry kits? And I've always traveled with St.Ives Apricot Scrub - but is it a liquid or not?
On my first trip to Italy, I had booked myself a hostel bed in the village of Finale Ligure. Up, up, up I climbed, hundreds of steps, until I came to the hostel's door at the top of the hill. Of course, it was closed for a mid-day cleaning! So down, down, down I went to kill some time at the beach. A whipping wind coated my sunscreen-clad body in a thick layer of sand. After a few hours, it was time to haul myself back up the hill. That was one well deserved shower! The effort it took to scrub off all the sweat, sunscreen, and embedded sand left me with remarkably smooth skin. Talk about a backpacker's spa treatment!
There's no denying that traveling can leave you gritty, grimy, and in need of a good scrub but I prefer to use something other than sand these day! Alas, not all skin treatments are so cheap and so travel-friendly. And I know I'm not the only traveler carting along bath scrubs and bath salts and trying to fit everything into my toiletry bag and 3-1-1 kit. Now readers want to know if any of these products are carry-on friendly. That's a great question! So let's talk about exfoliating body scrubs and relaxing bath salts. Are they liquids? Can they have a spot in your toiletry kit?
The 411 on 311 Kits - What is a Liquid, Anyway?
First, a lesson on liquids. Maybe you're passionate about only traveling withjust one carry-on bag like me - or maybe you check your luggage but you want to keep some key travel essentials on hand in case of delays. In either case, you've probably heard of 3-1-1 kits.
A 3-1-1 kit refers to a rule for restricting carry on liquid products. It was first adopted by the TSA in 2006 and most countries have followed their lead. It states that carry on liquid products can't just go in your toiletry bag like they used to. They have to be screened. And there's restrictions on what you can take, how much you can take, and how you can take it. You can carry on just 1 bag of liquids, it has to be 1 quart in size, and the liquids within have to be contained in containers of 3 ounces or less.
The TSA bans liquids and gels that are in containers greater than 3 ounces and not stored in a clear 1 quart bag. At first it sounds straight forward. Liquids go in the clear, 1 quart bag so they can be easily inspected as your carry on bag goes through security screening. All other toiletry items - like toothbrushes and eye shadow and combs - can stay in your toiletry kit bag. Nobody has to inspect the dry products in your toiletry bag.
But while some products are very obviously liquids (shampoo) and gels (hair gel), others are trickier. One good rule is to ask yourself: does the product pour, spread, squeeze, or spray, and does it hold its shape when it's outside the container? These are the key clues to determining a product's status as a liquid or a solid. So where does this leave bath salts and body scrubs?
Are bath salts a liquid? What about "bath bombs"
In theory, bath salts and bath bombs are very TSA friendly. And are one of my favorite non-liquid toiletries to bring along. They do not pour, spread, squeeze, or spray and thus they are not liquids (or gels, of course!)
My personal favourites are made by Lush, which produces some of the most creative bath bombs I've ever seen, as well as a play dough-like bubble bath bar. I love the bath bars - they're so fun and they're fantastic after a long day of walking around cities. With something so pretty and relaxing, who would ever worry about 3-1-1 toiletry rules?
(Take note that if you are buying or making homemade bath bombs with a significant quantity of dried fruit or botanical products in it, it may be considered an agricultural product by countries with strict quarantine rules. But that's a story for another day!)
Are essential oils essentially okay? Are moist bath salts a liquid?
Hold on - it's time for me to backtrack a bit. Maybe bath salts aren't so straightforward after all. Some bath salts are wet to the touch when the salts are coated with essential oils or bath oils. "Wet" bath salts or salt based body scrubs are NOT considered liquids. The salts do not pour, spread, squeeze, or spray, just like their "dry" counterparts.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, there's an exception to this rule. If the added oils were excessive and a layer of liquid oil settles on the top - well, that would be a liquid! In fact, some of my favourite bath salts (including these awesome ones from Aveda) have this liquid "pool" on the top quite a bit. Not so travel friendly!
This situation of over-saturation aside, my research revealed no instances of "wet" bath salts or salt based scrubs being challenged or confiscated by the TSA but ultimately individual agents are allowed to use their own judgement on these matters. And as a few people have commented on messages, sometimes even dry products have been confiscated, with no real explanation. Sometimes all the research in the world about liquid toiletries and 3-1-1 carry on rules doesn't help in these frustrating situations.
So what's a relaxation-seeking traveler to do? I think that, in general, bath salts and bath bombs and bubble bars are not liquids for the purpose of assessing carry on liquids in your toiletry kit. However, you should never travel with anything you don't want to lose, be it jewelry, designer sunglasses, or very posh bath salts. Take a small amount with you but leave your large container at home.
Scrubbing up for an experiment: Are thick body scrubs a liquid? Should they go in your 3-1-1 toiletry kit?
While bath salts are (mostly) in the clear, body scrubs are not. While some are obviously liquids, with scrubbing beads suspended in a gel like solution, others can be quite thick. One travelers' staple is St. Ives Apricot Scrub - I love it and and I always travel with it. It's affordable, it's effective, and it is found all over the word. (No, I'm not their ambassador - I wish!) One of the reason it works so well is that it's so thick and covers your skin so thoroughly. In fact, it's so thick that it seems impossible that it could be considered a liquid - or is it?
I purchased a new container of St Ives, turned it on its side, and watched it for 3 hours. All in the name of research! It held the swirl at the top of the product and didn't move an inch. Doesn't seem very liquid-y to me! But I was wrong. Body scrubs are liquids. Really, they are!
While it doesn't seem to move I CAN squeeze and spread it. I bet if I put it in cheesecloth and pressed it, liquid could come out. Sadly, body scrubs ARE considered liquids. While some might be very thick, they still belong in a 3-1-1 kit.
Finding a TSA Friendly body scrub that passes the "liquid" test 100% of the time.
If you're looking for a TSA friendly body scrub or exfoliate that you don't have to fit in your 3-1-1 kit, I recommend using a dry product. You can get 'gritty' soaps made with oatmeal, herbs, crushed seeds, and other embedded scrubbers. Or you can travel with a small exfoliating scrubbing pad. Or you can also bring along a dry powder based exfoliate that only needs water to form a travel friendly scrub.
I love Eminence's Strawberry Rhubarb Derma-foliant, which is a dry powder you add to water to create a creamy scrub. I've also added to my face cleanser to make a deep cleaning solution. A tiny amount goes a really long way (I've had containers that have lasted me well over a year) so I don't feel bad when I use a larger than usual amount to create a defacto body scrub. Truly, dry toiletries rock - here are some more of my favourites.
Finally, if you really want a traditional liquid scrub or any other liquid toiletry and want to bypass security, take heart. St Ives Apricot scrub is frequently sold at airport drug stores; and toiletry stores like the Body Shop are widespread. Chances are you can find everything you need on the other side of security!
Is it really worth it to travel with just carry on luggage? There are so many rules about carry on toiletries and liquids.
My answer is a resounding yes! There are so many advantages to having light luggage, from never worrying about things getting lost to never having to wait around to check things in. And, with a bit of research and planning, it's pretty easy to take your favourite toiletries along in your carry on bag and to conform to 3-1-1 kit rules. Products like bath salts are travel friendly and there's lots of great alternatives to your favourite body scrubs.
Do you have a travel related question? Send it our way and we'll do our best to help!
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
My 3 Favorite Things I'm Never Without
My Packing List: Anywhere in the World with Carry-on
10 Tips to Keep Your Carry-on Safe
Readers Want to Know: Sleeping Bags on Planes, in Hostels.
Top Ten TSA Friendly Products
All About 3-1-1 Kits
Posts by Location
Posts by Date