Essentials to Pack in Your Travel Makeup Kit

Laura Lopuch

You want to look great while you travel. I get it; I do too. But it’s a challenge when you travel with only a carry on. 

Specifically, the problem is with TSA’s guidelines for liquids in carry-ons

“You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item”.

Makeup falls into at least three of those categories that must travel in your quart bag: liquid, cream, and paste. 

Cue the frustrated stomping around the room.

Hang on, there’s a solution. Makeup that’s travel-friendly in its:

  • Size (so it doesn’t hog all the room in your quart bag)
  • Ability to travel well (meaning it doesn’t burst open or take up tons of space)
  • Powder vs liquid (so it can hang out in your carry on not your quart bag)

Here are some killer makeup recommendations that you’ll love traveling with. 

Kate of The Small Things Blog was pretty skeptical: 

“As a liquid foundation user, I like the look of full coverage and sometimes it’s hard for powder foundations to accomplish that.”

But she wanted to try this 12-hour, waterproof powder foundation.

“While I was applying it I was saying to myself, ‘My gosh. . . this may be the most beautiful powder foundation I have ever used. . .’ It lasted all day, without a single change in coverage or tone. And I kept checking in the mirror to make sure the coverage was still decent.”

Jane Iredale Loose Powder ($44)

Powder foundation. Sheer to medium coverage. SPF 20 with broad spectrum coverage. Water resistant to 40 minutes.

228 reviewers gave this powder foundation 4.7 stars out of 5.

Whew, that’s a lot of numbers.

Here’s the distilled version according to one reviewer: “I have been using Jane Iredale Loose Powder for almost 15 years. Always getting compliments. I love how light it feels.”

NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation ($48)

An oil-free foundation that gives you 16-hour coverage.

You get natural-looking coverage with one drop of foundation. So, decant some into a contact lens case or a small bottle, and hit the road ’round the world, beautiful.  

This foundation — and the one below it — are the only 2 liquid foundations on this

list for good reason. Over 1,300 of Sephora’s very opinionated reviewers rated this foundation 5 stars out of 5. Pretty freaking impressive to get over one thousand people to agree like that. That’s how you know this foundation is awesome.

Nikki Ogunnaike, Senior Fashion Editor at Elle Magazine, loves this foundation. She says:

“I LITERALLY (like, literally, for real, not in an exaggerated girl sort of way) get compliments on it each and every single time I wear it. It really is lightweight, unlike other brands. I never feel like my pores are being clogged by a heavy, oily product. It just evens out my skin tone for a look that feels like a more polished version of my natural self.”

Armani Maestro Foundation ($64)

A lightweight, long-lasting foundation that you can wear alone… or layer over it to create more coverage. 

“Just watch, Maestro will win you more compliments than Scream Queens’ Chanel #1 on night of 1,000 compliments,” says Julie Schott, Beauty Director at Elle Magazine. “You don’t need Snapchat’s pretty-face filter with this IRL skin perfector.”

Thanks to its 1-ounce bottle, this foundation was born for travel.

This reviewer summed it up well: “If you’re looking for a foundation for a more natural look, this is the best one. literally looks like you have no makeup on and doesn’t feel like it either. Extremely lightweight.”

bareMinerals Matte Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($28)

Jenn, Packsmith’s editor, has been using this foundation for years. She says: 

“I fell in love with bareMinerals because it was so great for my skin (liquid makeup always caused breakouts). As a full time traveler for ten years, anything that created space in my quart ziplock bag was a win, so making the switch to powdered makeup was both practical and pretty.”

This powder foundation is the vanguard of powder foundations. Oil-free and lightweight, it floats on your skin. Blurring redness and imperfections while excess oil and pores vanish from sight.

Sephora’s reviewers agree: this powder foundation rated 4.2 stars out of 5 from a whopping 7,572 reviews.

Plus, it comes in a super travel-friendly size of 0.2 ounces. Meaning its slender size keeps you looking amazing, while leaving tons of room in your bag for mementos from your travels.

Alyssa Bailey, Assistant Editor at Elle, has been using BareMinerals since high school.

“I still use it today because I love its effects (solid coverage from a light powder). I switched to their matte version because my skin tends to be oily in the summer. It keeps the shine down. Truly a solid, essential product in my makeup kit that has held up for years.” 

Tinted Moisturizer 

Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector B.B. Cream ($10)

Hello, old friend. You make me look well-rested and protect my skin from the sun’s rays.

This BB cream is my secret weapon to hide imperfections (yes, I mean you, nasty little zit).

This cream spreads nicely over my daily moisturizer. A little dab goes a long way, so I squeeze this cream into an old contact lens case for my trips. 

The gold standard of tinted moisturizers. Saturated enough to act as foundation, it’s still lightweight so your skin breathes. At 1.7 ounces it comes in a soft-sided tube that won’t shatter in your carry on. Plus, the SPF 20 protects your skin from the sun.

Lia of Practical Wanderlust travels with this moisturizer. She likes that it doesn’t slide off your skin when you sweat or during a long day. 

This natural-looking, creamy blush comes in a stick. Push up from the bottom to get more product up top. I use this blush on the road (and at home). It’s also vegan friendly. 

Bonus: no brush required. You blend it into your skin with your fingertips, so one less thing in your bag. 

Lia of Practical Wanderlust loves this blush. She says:

“The perfect long lasting creamy blush in a travel-sized container that will not break in your bag! I am pale and deathly white, so blush is one of my must-haves to avoid looking like the cryptkeeper. This blush does the trick. You don’t even need to bring a brush: just smudge it a little with your fingers, and voila. Natural flush.”

NARS Blush in Orgasm ($30)

This pressed powder blush is a multiple Allure Reader’s Choice award winner. Meaning over the span of several years, Allure’s discriminating, makeup-loving readers voted this blush as their favorite.

This is the blush to rule all other blushes.

Stowaway believes in giving you makeup you love… in a convenient size that you’ll actually finish. ‘Cause, seriously, when was the last time you finished a lipstick? Yeah, me too. 

This essential eye palette is a must-have of powders to take you from day to night. In a compact the size of a credit card. 

One reviewer raves, “An eyeshadow palette that helps me pull off a smokey eye! I love how slim and portable the compact is and the colors are versatile, easy to blend and highly pigmented, so a little goes a long way. It’s a day – to – night game changer for sure!”

Another reviewer agrees: “SO versatile and easy to use. Day, night, dressed-up, or casual it is my go-to for any look. The shimmery options are fun additions and are easily blended to create the ideal fun, flirty look.”

Face Masks

S.W. Basics Hibiscus Mask ($22)

This powder face mask has only three ingredients. But it feels fuller, and richer thanks to the luxurious feeling of black clay. The dark green, nearly black mask is a potent blend to draw out toxins and soothe your complexion. 

You add water to the powder and mix in the palm of your hand. After a frustrating experience of trying to mix the clay with water, I used almond oil per reviews on S.W. Basics’ website.

Ta-da. That gave me a beautiful, spreadable face mask that left my face feeling hydrated and refreshed. Slam dunk.


Cover FX Perfect Pencil ($20)

This waterproof concealer with a creamy, stay-put formula won Allure’s 2016 Best of Beauty award.

Its tiny, precise point is its most awesome part. So the concealer stays exactly where you put it.

Kate of The Small Things Blog adores this concealer. It’s perfect for blurring lines and wrinkles, camouflaging dark undereye circles, and hiding signs of fatigue. In other words, all the awful side effects of a long day of travel. 

She says, “I like this concealer for blemishes or dark spots best.” 

The picky reviewers on Sephora agree. This concealer rates a 4.2 stars out of 5 from over 7600 reviews. And the research on this concealer backs up the love. After 12 hours of use, 98% of the test panels showed improvements in skin moisture levels.


Beware: lipstick will most likely have to go in your 3-1-1 quart bag. I have forgotten to put my Burts Bees chapstick in my bag — and not gotten in trouble for it.

Finding Ferdinand ($6)

Angela of the Tortuga Team recommends this company. They let you create your custom lipstick color, in a mini lipstick that’s travel-friendly. And budget-friendly. 

So you don’t have to cart around 5 different lipstick colors in full-size tubes that take up tons of space. It’s a win-win. 

Most Valuable Products

These are the products that multi-task — saving valuable room in your bag — or those that are just so damn inventive they’ll make your trip much easier (on the makeup front). 

SU:M37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick ($28)

A solid form cleansing stick — perfect for washing your face — that has flecks of rose petals in it. Made from 90% natural ingredients, it frees up valuable real estate in your quart bag.

Oh, and it has 4.5 stars from 211 reviews.

One reviewer loves how gentle this product is on her sensitive skin. Even the makeup-obsessed editors at Allure Magazine love it

“A solid cleansing balm in stick form that a) won’t leak or drip and b) couldn’t be easier to use. Just twist the dial at the bottom (like you would a Chapstick), then massage it into your skin and rinse or wipe off. It’s so simple, you could even do it on an airplane.”

First Aid Beauty Hello Fab Vital Greens Face Mist ($18)

Keep your skin hydrated on those notoriously dry international flights with this face mister. It hydrates with rose of Jericho, aloe, and spinach (its vitamin C may block environmental aggressors).

An all-around perfect multi-tasking product, raves Amber of daydreaming beauty

“You can use the bronzer size to contour, bronze and it works beautifully as a crease shade for your eyes! You can use the highlight as an eyeshadow as well. The peachy, pink blush may work as an eyeshadow if you aren’t super fair!”

Tips for Traveling with Makeup

Pressed Powder Makeup Hack

In my research for this article, I found many mentions of powder pans coming loose or breaking in bags, wreaking powder havoc.

Your fix: put tissue in all your powder palettes. Please. Slave to Sephora on this Reddit thread recommends this measure in case one pan comes loose. 

Create Your Own Travel Size

Decant your favorite makeup and put it into a smaller container.

I like contact lens cases for small quantities of liquids (like my BB cream). Others like these hard-sided, leak-proof containers, or the GoToob containers

Worried you’ll run out of product? Don’t be.

As Lipstick Queen 1 on this Reddit thread says, you probably will never use 3 ounces of product anyway. If you are only traveling for 1-2 weeks, you probably don’t need more than 1 oz of any individual product.

Typically, she doesn’t put her lipsticks or dark mascaras in with her liquids. (Author’s note: neither do I.)

“But if it’s a clear brow gel (or something that looks obviously liquid), I do put it in. Anything that is non-liquid stays out of this quart sized bag.”

Her pro tip: stick any non-liquid makeup in one cosmetic bag (or freezer quart bag). Put all of your brushes in another bag.


Opt for powder-based makeup that’s travel-friendly, so you don’t have to worry about messy foundation spills in your bag. Put a tissue inside compacts to prevent powder breakouts. These are some of the best makeups for travel:

  • Powder foundation like bareMinerals or Jane Iredale
  • Nars Blush in Orgasm: just do it
  • Cover FX Perfect Pencil for its tiny, precise point
  • SU:M37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick for face-cleaning power
  • Finding Ferdinand’s small, custom blended lipsticks

Want more like this?

Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.