In April 2021, the Transportation Security Administration quietly changed its policy to include SPF on its list of medically necessary liquids, meaning it would no longer be subject to the 3.4-ounce liquid limit. However, just as skin experts and avid travelers began celebrating the long overdue update, the TSA quickly reversed the decision days later, stating that the website change had been made in error.
"Our website incorrectly reported that sunscreen containers larger than 3.4 oz. were allowed in carry-on bags, if medically necessary," read a TSA statement. "That error has been corrected. Travelers 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."
But experts warn that limiting sunscreen size could have unintended impacts. Ahead, dermatologist Corey L. Hartman dissects the effects of TSA's limit on full-sized sunscreen.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Corey L. Hartman is a board certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology.
Dermatologists Have Urged the TSA to Reconsider its Limit
The policy reversal is a major disappointment for experts in dermatology, who have been pushing for the TSA to update its regulations to be more sun-protection friendly. In a proposal published last October in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, experts from Brown University challenged the TSA's sunscreen limit, arguing that "barriers to accessing sunscreen may be preventing optimal use, particularly among travelers."
Experts Say Sunscreen Should be Categorized as "Medically Necessary"
"We would never deny a person access to any other medication that a physician has deemed medically necessary," says Hartman. He argues that if the TSA were to designate sunscreen as a medical necessity, it would force others to recognize SPF as a crucial component of skin cancer prevention. According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and around 4.3 million adults are treated for it each year.
Sunscreen Is Especially Important When Vacationing
Hartman also notes that permitting full-size sunscreens would allow passengers to be more consistent with their SPF application, especially on vacation when they’re most likely to experience prolonged exposures. “We know that compliance increases with familiarity. When patients are forced to use new products, they can develop allergies or breakouts due to differences in formulation.”
If anything good has come from this debacle of mixed messages, it's that SPF is now officially at the top of our minds. Until TSA addresses this longstanding issue, keeping travel-friendly sunscreens handy is important. A few recommendations: Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 ($16), Banana Boat Light As Air Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 ($11), and Live Tinted Hueguard SPF 30 ($32). However, you can check out an entire list of Byrdie-approved sunscreens here.
Siegel JA, Yudkin JS, Craker K, Hwang A, Libby TJ. Uncapping the bottle: A proposal to allow full-sized sunscreens in carry-on luggage to promote sun protection and prevent skin cancer. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2021 Apr;84(4):1206-1207. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2020.10.066
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Melanoma of the Skin Statistics. Updated June 6, 2022.