Bringing Sunscreen With You to Hawaii


From my article  Six Strategies for Packing Light, Dana asked an excellent question about bringing sunscreen to Hawaii. She asked:

Curious what you do about sunscreen since it has to be packed in “checked” luggage. Is that a “purchase when you arrive” item?

With the current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) 3-1-1 rules, passengers are limited to bringing liquids, aerosols and gels in containers sized  3.4 oz or less in their carry-on luggage. Plus, all your liquids, aerosols and gels must fit into a single quart-sized zip-top bag.

The TSA rules make bringing sunscreen a challenge for people like me who are bound and determined to travel with only carry-on luggage. (See my article, Savvy Reasons Why You should Travel Light.) As you know most sunscreens are sold in containers much larger than 3.4 ounces.

Here’s how we continue to travel light, while still bringing sunscreen to Hawaii:

– We shop around to find containers of sunscreen packaged in 3.4 oz or less containers. They can be found in stores like Target,  Walmart, drugstores and online. Our favorite sunscreen is ThinkSport which is fairly inexpensive, rated very wall for safety and conveniently available from Amazon. ThinkSport does not contain Oxybenzone or Octinoxate, which are both known to damage coral. It’s a tad bit thick, but applies the best of the many mineral-based sunscreens that we’ve tried. For a chemical-based sunscreen, we really like the Sun Bum brand, which we also purchase from Amazon.

– We stuff in as many of the  small-sized sunscreens that we can fit into our one-quart, zip-top baggies along with our other essential liquids. We both bring a one-quart baggies to maximize the amount of liquids we can bring between the two of us.

– We haven’t tried repackaging our larger sunscreens into empty 3.4-ounce containers, but that’s definitely a useful option. We found these these empty containers that look like an excellent option.

– We both have rashguard tops with built-in sunscreen. We love our rashguard tops and highly recommend them, especially for water sports like snorkeling and surfing. If you don’t have a rashguard top,  some great places to order them online are at Amazon, Zappos and LandsEnd.

– If we think we’re going to use up the sunscreens that we’ve brought from home, we purchase more sunscreen in Hawaii. The prices of sunscreens at Walmart, Target, ABC and drugstores are comparable to what we pay at home on the US mainland. The resort shops might charge a bit of a premium, but paying a couple dollars more will still save you bunches of money as opposed to paying checked-luggage fees. Right?

No matter which sunscreen you use in Hawaii, if you are planning on being in the ocean, make sure your sunscreen is coral-safe. Essentially, that means that you purchase a sunscreen without Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. Both of those chemicals were banned in Hawaii in 2021.

What about you? Are you a light packer, too? How do you bring sunscreens while still traveling with only carry-on luggage?

  1. We did the same thing as Sheila. I took the one I like for my face and a cream body one to get started then went to the local grocery store for a body spray. We discovered that we could not mail back anything with alcohol in it via the post office so that eliminated most aerosol sunscreens. For bug spray, and hand disinfectant wipes, we took towelettes but did not have them handy when we needed them at Byodo temple. We also travel light with only hand luggage. All we needed was shorts and t-shirts plus one nicer outfit for a special occasion dinner. I use hotel shampoo for quick washing of clothes.

  2. I forgot something –I also purchased a long sleeved spf50 swim jacket, like a rash guard, for when I was snorkeling and playing at the beach. I found one on sale at LL Bean and it worked wonderfully.

  3. Sunscreen? Can’t stand the stuff, never use it. I’ll bring a hat, lightweight long sleeved shirt, etc if I know I’m going on an all day hike or something like that. Otherwise I don’t worry about it at all.

  4. I like to pack light even if I check a bag. There’s just a little more variety in Hawaii, so I like to see what’s out there. I love to pick up Maui Babe products there! The traditional kind (the brown lotion), the 30 spf and the after-sun are amazing! Then I end up with the opposite problem, I want to take them home with me. So I just end up putting them in zip lock bags and shipping them with other souvenirs I may pick up.

  5. My first trip to Maui was last year. After our long flight to the island and much drama getting to the hotel (long story) I opened my luggage late at night after a very long day and found my sunscreen had exploded all over some of my clothes. The perfect end to a not so great day. But then I awoke the next morning to beautiful Maui and didn’t care anymore. 🙂 Lesson learned: put it in a ziplock bag. duh. 🙁

  6. I would like to know more about the ‘safe’ for the environment sunscreens for the fish. When we were snorkeling in Kona, I learned that all that oil in the water is hard on the fish and coral. Can you recommend an environmentally sound option other than a hat that does not work well with snorkeling!

  7. I finally realized what a waste of space it is to pack sunscreen for carry on or checked suitcase. I hit the ABC store right off the bat when arriving and purchase sunscreen, hair spray, and any other things I need. I’m either going to spend the money for this on the mainland and take up suitcase space, or spend the money for the products in Hawaii. I try to buy smallest possible and then just leave whatever is left in the hotel room.

  8. Claim the sunscreen as a medical supply. TSA is required to exempt liquids and gels from the 100mL/3oz. limit when the passenger identifies them as medically necessary. Look up the specifics of how to claim medical supplies and what TSA can and cannot do.

  9. I often ship (think FedEx or UPS) my luggage ahead of myself when traveling. I’ve been doing this for YEARS (since 9/11 anyway) to avoid the hassle of TSA and checking vs. carry-on. Plus it makes for such nicer travel without having to lug anything or worrying if your checked bag is going to show up, not to mention the time saved from having to claim checked baggage. For me the shipping cost is very similar on most vacations (sans international travel) as it would be to check it but I avoid all the frustration of the checked bag experience and don’t have to worry about the “rules” for carry on (full size shampoo, more outfits, shoes, etc). I ship my luggage well in advance of my arrival straight to my resort, hotel, etc and then check to make sure it’s arrived before I even leave home! Now that’s stress free traveling!!

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