The Ultimate Makeup Bag Packing Guide
Packing Tips

The Ultimate Makeup Bag Packing Guide

Packing makeup is about one thing: curation. Your 18-shade eyeshadow palette? It might have to sit this one out. Don’t try to jam a whole shelf or multi-drawer kit into your carry-on. Instead, focus on your all-star team of products. Which ones could you leave behind? Here, we’ll help you pare down your list. And we’ll tackle some of the most commonly asked questions about packing makeup. What’s the best travel makeup brush? We'll tell you.

See recent posts by Kate Reynolds

Travel Makeup Packing List

Here’s our packing list—otherwise known as your crash-course in makeup minimalism. These 17 products should satisfy most makeup fanatics and keep you covered for anything from an overnight jaunt to a two-week trip. Mix and match these to create tons of looks: an edgy cat-eye, a red lip, a smoky eye, a bronzed-and-beachy look. It’s all about versatility. 

Can I Pack Full-Size Makeup in a Checked Bag?

If you’re operating a RuPaul-level beauty routine, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing full-sized makeup can go in a checked bag. Travelers doing checked luggage don’t have to pay attention to the TSA’s regulations on liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols. On the downside, you’ll have to pay that pesky bag fee. Still, you’ll have the freedom to pack any sized products (hello, jumbo bottle of bronzer!), and you can bring as many as you like, or as many as will fit in your suitcase.

Can I Bring Full-Size Makeup in a Carry-On Bag onto the Plane?

Unfortunately, no. This is where traveling with makeup requires a bit more thought. If you’re bringing your suitcase on the flight, your liquid, gel, cream, and aerosol products must adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 rule (3.4-ounce bottles or less; in one quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; one bag per passenger). So double-check the size of your products. If they’re smaller than 3.4-ounces, these items are ready to pack. If they’re more, you need to to transfer them into a TSA-compliant container (or buy a new travel-sized version). 

Best TSA-Compliant Makeup Containers

  • Squeeze Bottles and Mini Pots: Amazon vendor Oursunshine really nailed the ideal size variety in this pack. And not only are these silicone bottles completely leak-proof, they come in a pretty sleek color palette, too.
  • Mini Jars with Spatulas: We repeat. This set comes with mini spatulas. These jars are great for transporting creams and scrubs. 
  • Contact Lens Case: They’re best for products you’ll use sparingly like eye cream and concealer. These cases are pretty air-tight, too, so they could transport liquids, like toner, as well. 
  • The Variety Pack: The mad-scientist kit of makeup transfer. This kit has every format covered including products that require a pump or spray bottle. This set includes two handy funnels.

Am I Packing Too Much Makeup? How Do I Cut Down?

The place where most people overpack is in the lip and eyeshadow department. You only need some versatile neutrals and a few bold options. Challenge yourself to stick to only two lipsticks and two eyeshadows.   

Bring Two Neutral Makeup Items

When curating a neutral look, ask yourself if you’d feel confident wearing it every day of the trip. Look for a lip shade that gives your face a little boost but isn’t overpowering. Rihanna developed a universally flattering neutral gloss shade for her Fenty Beauty line. If you’re looking for a goes-with-everything shade, this is a great purchase. Pair this with a shimmery taupe eyeshadow.

Bring Two Bold Makeup Items

If you want to paint the town red (or coral, or hot pink), you’ll need something punchy. We recommend one smoky eyeshadow in a dark brown, gray or black and one bold lip color in red, coral, or pink. You don’t have to double-up your bolds together. You can use each individually to amp up your look in those moments you’d like to look a bit fancier, whether that’s dining, clubbing, or gallery-hopping.

Essential Travel Makeup Products

Aside from investing in quality TSA-friendly makeup containers and miniature versions of your go-to products, here are three items that can make a big difference for a beauty-on-the-go routine.

Travel-Size Setting Powder

Translucent powder scored a spot on the pack list because it sets makeup and makes it last longer—ideal for long days of sightseeing and active excursions. Most translucent powders come in big clunky containers, but a few brands, like Hourglass, do make travel-size versions. These smaller pots are perfect for packing.

Travel Makeup Brushes

Please don’t be that person who brings a 50-piece brush set to Jamaica. You can do a lot of precise makeup work with just a trusty few. We recommend one for creams, one for powders, and one for eyeshadow. You might be wondering, what separates a standard makeup brush from a travel one? A few very critical features. 

Brushes With Caps

Give us a big fluffy face brush that winds up and has a cap. This brush can get chucked into a makeup bag without dragging leftover bronzer all over the bag’s cute liner. We love the capped brushes by Sephora, Hourglass, and Too Faced.

Brushes With Dual Heads

You gotta love a two-for-one. This dual-sided brush-head gives you flexibility and variation without taking up unnecessary space. It’s the ideal eye brush and a must for a smoky eye. SHANY Cosmetics sells a 5-piece kit on Amazon for $9.99 that people rave about. 

Travel-Size Mini Mascara

Trip or no trip, travel-size mascara is our go-to. Why? Mascara’s shelf life is next to nothing, and it gets super gross. Don’t use the stuff past its expiration date (spotted on the label)—these are your eyes we’re talking about! Having this in miniature ensures you’re always using safe, fresh product. If you frequently buy makeup at a major retailer (Sephora, Ulta), it’s really easy to get a freebie mini as a sample or with loyalty rewards. Keep your eyes peeled for mascara rewards from Benefit. And we’re also big fans of trial boxes from Sephora and Birchbox

Travel-Size Sunscreen for Your Face

It’s 2020. We’re all on the same page about the dangers of UV rays. Still, travelers often forget that sunscreen should be part of your daily routine. And while makeup with SPF will give you a good boost in coverage, every dermatologist on earth will still tell you to put on sunscreen alongside your makeup routine. For this, we’re going with Supergoop. It’s everything you want in a sunscreen: weightless, scentless, and non-sticky. And bonus! It can double as your priming moisturizer, too.

How Do I Get Free Travel-Size Makeup Samples?

Everyone has that one friend who seems to score free stuff all the time. How do they do it? In our experience, it’s the bold who get the complimentary cosmetics. If you’re not the alpha of your group, here are a few tactics that might score you free swag.

Ask Salespeople at Any Store for Travel Samples

There’s only one way to find out if you can get a free sample: Ask! Be confident and speak up. The worst thing the clerk can say is no. Here’s our go-to spiel: “I’m interested in a few products, but I’d like to test them with my normal makeup routine before I buy. Is it possible to get a couple of samples?” It doesn’t work every time, but it does work. 

Know the Brands That Are Sample-Friendly  

Lush, Clinique, and Bluemercury are sample-friendly and will often offer freebies straight up without a purchase. If you’re nervous about making the ask, mosey into one of these shops and just start browsing. There’s a good chance, they’ll offer up a sample without being prompted. 

Join Rewards Programs and Shop Online Where Checkout Minis are Offered

If you’re shopping at Sephora, Ulta, or Dermstore without a rewards program membership, you’re doing it wrong. That’s like flying on your favorite airline without earning reward miles. In truth, this method of obtaining freebies isn’t entirely free—you’ll need to make a purchase. But, you’ll get that added bonus. If you know you need to buy product, time it right around trip so you can redeem points for minis. When redeeming rewards, always shop online; you’ll have more options. And Sephora, Ulta, and Dermstore allow you to select three free samples with every purchase when you order online. Win-win!

Follow Your Brands on Social 

Do yourself a favor and go follow your favorite makeup brands on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest. A lot of companies will post instructions on how to get free trial products. Plus, who doesn’t love watching a two-minute makeup tutorial on their commute?

Get Your Makeup Done at a Counter

Here’s a secret: Getting your makeup done at a counter by a pro is 100% free. At Nordstrom (and many other high-end retailers), you can call and make an appointment. They’ll do a full face of makeup and even apply lashes in some cases. Now, there is an expectation that you’ll buy some product, but you don’t have to buy everything used. It can be just a lip gloss and a bronzer. Here’s another secret: the makeup artist manning the counter is the gatekeeper to oodles of samples. Make nice with this person and you could be showered with minis. And feel free to be completely honest with your artist about your travel plans. Our go-to closer: “I’d love to try a couple things for my trip? Could you hook me up?”

Best Makeup Remover for Travel

Do you love pain? No? Then stop using alcohol-laced, eye-stinging makeup wipes. Try a remover that is effective and kind to your skin. Our top pick is the Milky Jelly Cleanser from Glossier (one-time Allure “Best of Beauty” winner). This cleanser uses the same science that’s in contact solution, and can really go to town on a heavy smoky eye. Plus, there’s absolutely no sting. There’s also two-ounce, TSA-compliant version. It comes in a lockable pump bottle that protects against leaks and makeup-bag spillage. Beware: This brand has a very serious cult following, and you might be the next inductee.  

The Recap: Our Top 10 Tips for Packing Makeup for Travel

  1. Packing makeup is all about curation. Be ruthless. Just bring along your A-list products. 
  2. Understand TSA’s 3-1-1 rule and how it affects liquid and cream makeup in your carry-on.
  3. Challenge yourself to bring only two eyeshadows and two lipsticks.
  4. Get creative with creams and liquid containers. Contact lens cases are a great when you need just a dollop.
  5. Ask for free product samples every time you hit up a beauty store.
  6. Join beauty loyalty programs. Redeem those points for minis!
  7. When shopping, look for combo products like a bronzer/brush duo. 
  8. Plan to wear sunscreen everyday, and get bonus coverage with makeup that contains SPF.
  9. Invest in a painless, alcohol-free makeup remover you can take on the road.
  10. A vacation is time to play! Go ahead and try a new look. If it’s a fail, you’ll never see these people again.  

What to Wear on Your Trip

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Related Stories

All products have been hand-picked by our writers and editors. Items purchased through links may earn us a commission.