Travel Tips

5 min read

Jet-Set Manicure: Nailing Airplane Travel with Polish

Ever wondered if your nail polish can jet-set with you? Well, buckle up as we dive into the high-flying rules of traveling with your favorite shades!

Tobi Miles
May 31, 2022

Airline rules and regulations seem to be constantly changing. As a result, it can be confusing knowing whether your personal items will pass through TSA scot-free. Liquid cosmetics are one category that people are often unsure about. Passengers regularly ask whether they can bring nail polish with their liquid cosmetics.

Naturally, many people want to look refreshed and presentable upon arriving to their destination. This may involve grooming or a quick touch-up to their manicure once they land. For that reason, a person may want to keep their nail polish close by when they travel.

Credit: Shutterstock

According to TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid rule, nail polish can be brought on a plane, as long as it does not exceed 3.4 ounces or 100 ml. Also, it must be placed inside of a plastic bag prior to get through security. The same applies for carry-on items and checked bags. Toiletries, including nail polish, are allowed in your carry-on if they conform to TSA regulations about liquids.

Will TSA Confiscate Nail Polish?

Not usually, unless it is larger than 3.4 ounces or deemed unsafe in some other way. A standard, off-the-shelf bottle of polish from a drug store is generally fine. To that end, some airports have convenience stores that offer cosmetic items including nail polish. Granted you are through your security checkpoint already; you can pack that freely in whichever bag you prefer.

With all that in mind, it helps to limit the amount you bring. With liquids and cosmetics, packing them in a quart-sized bag is the most common practice. If you plan to bring shampoo and other liquids, you will have to account for those when you pack as well. This makes it manageable 1) for you to travel with and 2) for TSA to quickly screen the safety of your items.

It is important to underscore that TSA agents have the discretion to determine whether an item is unsafe at the security checkpoint. If your nail polish appears to have anything sharp or heavy about it that could be used as a weapon, they may take it away. It is their role to keep passengers safe, and enforcing their rules is a major part of that.

Related Read: 25 Fun Things to Do on a Long Flight

Does it Matter if it is a Carry on vs. Checked Bag?

No, not really. If your nail polish is compliant with TSA rules, either is fine. As a reminder, compliance for liquid cosmetics means the following: cosmetics are not more than 3.4 oz. Secondly, it should follow TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, meaning it is in a resealable container and fits in one clear, plastic resealable quart sized bag.

Credit: Shutterstock

As for checked luggage, you can take nail polish on an airplane without restriction. It is wise to pack it in a plastic quart sized bag for convenient access. That way, if TSA pulls your luggage aside to look inside, it will be easier for them to locate.

Can I Bring Nail Polish on a Plane in My Purse/Carry-on?

Yes, definitely. Nail polishes are allowed in purses and backpacks (i.e. carry-ons). Provided the nail polish is well sealed and enclosed in a clear plastic bag, it is okay to be placed in a small carry-on bag.

A pro of this is that your nail polish will be easily accessible. A con is that it is frowned upon to paint your nails on the plane. In other words, it is possible but it may not be all that helpful.

Related Read: How to Choose an 18x 14x8 Bag

Can I Carry Nail Polish on in My Pocket?

No, this is not recommended. Having anything in your pockets as your travel through security checkpoints is likely to get you stopped. To avoid additional screening or pat-downs, place it in your luggage as directed. That is, inside a plastic, quart-sized bag.

Does it Matter what Type or Size of Nail Polish it is?

Yes, to some degree. Ensuring the polish does not exceed 3.4 ounces is the most vital thing to consider. Additionally, being mindful of the glass bottle and doing what you can to prevent breakage is helpful. Bottles that are extra fragile or already broken should not be packed or taken on the plane.

Beyond that, no brands of polish are explicitly restricted by TSA. When traveling through security, your items are still subject to the discretion of security professionals. So long as they packed neatly and safely to avoid breakage, most nail polishes should be OK. There may be exceptions, for instance, if the applicator brush has a very sharp tip.

To reiterate, it is unlikely, but ultimately up to the security agents to make that determination.

What About Other Nail Care Tools?

This depends on the type of item, but overall, most nail care tools are fine. Once again, the main things to consider are whether they pose a safety risk. Items that are extra sharp or feature blades of 6-8 centimeters are better suited for checked bags.

Credit: Shutterstock

Popular Manicure Items (and Whether they are Typically Accepted):

  • Cuticle cutters: Created to combat hangnail, these small and thin nail clippers come with a sharp, thin point. As with regular nail clippers, if they do not surpass 4 inches in length and are secured to prevent injury, they – and your cuticles – should be okay.
  • Nail polish remover: Nail Polish remover is permitted in checked bags but because it is flammable, it cannot exceed 18 ounces. For carry-ons, the bottle of nail polish remover would have to be 100ml, or travel-sized and placed in your bag of liquids and cosmetics.
  • Nail scissors: Small scissors that are typically found in manicure kits would be permitted in hand luggage or a checked bag. TSA scissors rules prohibit blades longer than 4 inches, so most cosmetic scissors are within that requirement.

Overall, grooming and cosmetic items of this sort travel through security checkpoints often. Provided they are packed appropriately and do not obviously go against rules, they will be okay. If you are unsure, you can contact your airline directly for confirmation.

Additionally, the @AskTSA feature (detailed below) can help. You can have your burning questions answered simply by tweeting at the account.

Related Read: Can You Bring Nail Clippers on a Plane?

How Should I Pack my Nail Polish?

Great question! Given nail polishes usually come in small glass pots, it is important to prevent breakage. If the bottle were to break, it could create a huge, fumy mess in your bag. And trust, no one wants that. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to prevent this.

Step 1: Protect the Polish from Damage

To avoid breaking your bottle and ruining anything in your luggage, a good rule of thumb is to wrap your polishes up with cloth or bubble wrap.

Step 2: Place into TSA Compliant Bag

If packing in your carry-on or checked bag, be sure to place them in a plastic quart-sized bag for security.

Step 3: Put the Polish in a Good Place

Place the quart-sized bag atop your packed clothing. That way, it will be compliant with security rules and easy to locate.

Can I Paint my Nails on the Plane?

This may depend on individual airlines’ standards, but in general, it is good form not to paint your nails on the plane. It is not technically illegal, but it may not help you make friends on board.

As with TSA, flight attendants also have the right to ask you to stop or refrain from doing so. Their role is to ensure the flight experience is pleasant for all passengers, and that may include limiting preventable odors.

Credit: Shutterstock

Nail polish tends to be smelly and can be messy. While planes are well ventilated, the smell can be very powerful and even toxic if inhaled at length. For your ‘neighbors’ or anyone with sensitivity to fragrance, this could be a big nuisance. The same goes for acetone or nail polish remover, which has a very potent smell.

Additionally, it restricts your ability to use your hands. You may end up ruining your hard work when you must reach for other items. For that reason, it may be better to wait until you safely land and have more space.

Related Read: How Strict Is JetBlue with Personal Item Size?

Still Not Sure? You Can Ask TSA

If you are still uncertain or feel your nail polish may be an exception, you can contact TSA prior to traveling. TSA has an account on Twitter that is dedicated to answer questions. It is called @AskTSA, and the purpose is to assist travelers with a seamless security experience.

All you need to do is tweet @AskTSA with your question, some details about the item in question, and leave the rest to them. They often respond with all you need to know to travel with that item.

If you want, you can also search the @AskTSA twitter page for your item of interest. In this case, you would search “nail polish” on their account, and you can review how they responded to other travelers’ inquiries.

Summary

Packing for trips is not always intuitive! It can be challenging to keep track of what is OK to pack and what security may not allow. Nail polish is certainly one of those items that can be tricky to pack, but it is allowed by TSA!

As long as you follow the guidelines for safely packing items (e.g. clear quart sized back; does not exceed oz. limit), you should have no trouble.

Now that you know, you can have peace of mind as you travel to your destination. Your items will properly packed and will safely arrive with you. Once you land, the pampering can begin!

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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