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Exploring the 3-1-1 Rule: Can You Bring Hairspray on a Plane?

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In today’s world of travel, it is essential to understand the myriad regulations and restrictions surrounding what can and can’t be brought on a plane. Having this knowledge in your back pocket can help you have a smooth and hassle-free journey through airport security – hopefully.

One common question about acceptable items is whether hairspray can be taken in a checked bag on a plane. And one common response to this query is “3-1-1,” courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The 3-1-1 Rule determines what liquids, gels, and aerosols are allowed in carry-on luggage. By familiarizing yourself with this rule and its purpose, you can confidently navigate the guidelines and ensure that your beloved hairstyling products, like hairspray, adhere to these TSA regulations.

Understanding what items they can bring on a plane is crucial to avoid any inconvenience or delays during the airport security screening. TSA agents love any excuse to rummage through people’s belongings.

Being aware of what can’t and can be brought on a plane, you can plan accordingly and decide which items are essential to carry with you in the cabin. This also prevents violations of aviation security standards, giving those pesky security agents fewer reasons to rifle through your stuff.

See Related: Clear vs TSA Precheck: What’s Better?

What is the 3-1-1 Rule?

The 3-1-1 Rule is a regulation implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that governs the transportation of liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on baggage. Here’s how it works:

Explaining the 3-1-1 Rule

3-1-1 Rule Graphics

The 3-1-1 Rule set by the TSA regards transporting liquids, gels, spray deodorant, and other aerosols in carry-on baggage. So where do the “3” and the other two “1s” come into all this? It’s not immediately obvious, but this is where that snappy name comes from:

Any liquid brought through a TSA checkpoint must be in a 3.4-ounce (100 milliliters) or smaller bottle (or other container). These containers must be placed inside 1 clear quart-size (near as makes no difference 1 liter) plastic bag, and each passenger is only allowed 1 of these plastic bags; 311.

This rule is the fallout from a foiled terror attack in the years following 9/11. The planned attack centered around the idea of blowing up multiple US-bound airliners with homemade explosives made from combining liquid chemical compounds. Before this rule, you could check any amount of liquid in your luggage, and limits on liquids brought into the cabin were largely up to the crew’s discretion.

This rule remains in place to make it easier for TSA to identify potentially harmful liquids and hazardous materials that can be used as explosives or accelerants.

However, it also puts a safe limit on reasonable everyday essentials that are potentially explosive or an accelerant, such as nail polish or aerosol cans of deodorant or hairspray. Sure, these things are flammable, but you’d have to be a pretty determined terrorist to take down an airliner with a 3.4-ounce can of Axe.

Understanding the restrictions on liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on baggage

Illustration of the Different Types of Suitcases

Passengers must adhere to the regulations set by the TSA regarding liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on baggage. If you don’t, you won’t get through that checkpoint.

The items mentioned above are subject to the 3-1-1 Rule. If you want them in your carry-on, they must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less, in the clear bag, and that’s your only clear bag, buster.

Remember that any liquid bags, larger containers, or items not securely sealed in a tamper-evident bag should be packed in your checked baggage. This way, you can help ensure a smooth and efficient security screening process at the airport and bring extra essentials for personal use, even if you don’t have them close to hand.

There’s no disputing that these TSA rules are annoying, but they do make sense (efficacy of the TSA screening for everything else notwithstanding). But regardless of how you might feel about it, adhering to the 3-1-1 Rule helps navigate TSA security checkpoints smoothly and without unnecessary delays.

3-1-1 Rule Exceptions, Exemptions, and Additional Considerations

While the 3-1-1 Rule applies to most travelers, there are exceptions for certain items. Medically necessary items, such as prescription medications, baby formula, and breast milk, are exempt from the liquid restrictions.

These items may be carried in quantities exceeding the standard limit considered liquids but require additional screening. It is advisable to inform security personnel about these items before going through the checkpoint.

Additionally, consider organizing your carry-on baggage for quick and easy inspection when packing it. Keep all liquids in a separate bag and place it at the top of your luggage for easy access during screening.

Remember that physically testing these exempt liquids (i.e., taking your meds or giving your baby some milk) doesn’t exempt you from this additional screening. The TSA is gonna TSA, and additional screening means additional screening.

Medically Necessary Liquids

Packing a liquid products in a zip lock bag
EDER / Adobe Stock

Medically necessary items, such as prescription medications, are exempt from the liquid restrictions of the 3-1-1 Rule. These items may be carried in a carry-on bag or checked bags in “reasonable quantities” greater than the standard limit but will require additional screening. You must inform security personnel about these items before going through the checkpoint to avoid delays and the obligatory public shaming.

Organize your carry-on bag for quick and easy inspection when packing it. Bring liquids in bottles 3.4 ounces or smaller in a separate bag and place them at the top of your luggage for easy access during the additional screening.

See Related: Essential Travel Tips for Flying with Vitamins

Breast Milk, Baby Formula, and Baby Food

Woman packing baby items and a bottle of milk
Pixel-Shot / Adobe Stock

New parents know the importance of having a baby’s favorite tipple close to hand. Infants need regular bottles or breastfeeding, so if you’re worried about having baby formula, and breast milk in your carry-on, good news!

These are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. That said, you must declare the milk/formula to the TSA agent, and you will have to go through an additional screening. And they will screen every bottle, so bear that in mind.

And if your child has just started solid foods, there are some exemptions, too. Again, “reasonable quantities” of baby food can be brought with your carry-on luggage. I recommend grabbing some fruit puree pouches.

See Related: Tips for Traveling with Toddlers and Kids

The Big Question: Can You Take Hairspray on a Plane?

Yes, you can take hairspray in hand luggage on a plane if it adheres to the 3-1-1 Rule set by the TSA. The container of hairspray should not exceed 3.4 ounces and must be packed in a clear quart-sized plastic bag for screening purposes. It’s important to note that different airlines may have additional restrictions, so it’s always a good idea to check with your specific airline before packing.

Determining if hairspray falls under the 3-1-1 Rule

Woman using a hairspray
zigres / Adobe Stock

Consider its characteristics to determine if your hairspray falls under the 3-1-1 Rule. As hairspray generally comes in aerosol cans or pump bottles and contains liquid or gel-like substances, your hairspray will likely fall under this rule.

One easy hack is to shop for a “travel-size hairspray” in your favorite brand. These are often sized with the TSA 3-1-1 Rule in mind.

The same can be said for any aerosol products you consider bringing in your carry-on bag. And you might want to consider your gels or any other liquid in TSA-compliant toiletry bottles. You’re welcome.

Alternatives to Traditional Aerosols and Sprays

Alternative options to traditional aerosol products can be considered when traveling. One option is to explore travel-sized or solid hair products, such as hair wax or hair mousse.

You can take a similar approach with your deodorant. A roll-on deodorant or solid deodorant won’t have the same restrictions as spray-on deodorant.

Exploring Alternative Hairstyling Products

Different hair care products bottles and hair brush
White bear studio / Adobe Stock

When traveling with hairstyling products in your carry-on, there are alternatives to the trusty, tall can of hairspray. Most travel-sized mini hairspray bottles offer convenient options that comply with the 3-1-1 Rule. These smaller sizes make it easier to pack and carry without exceeding liquid limits.

Solid hair products, dry shampoo, or hair wax in compact containers are some of the best hairspray alternatives. Natural or homemade hair styling solutions like aloe vera gel or coconut oil can provide hold and texture without needing aerosol cans or other sprays.

Exploring these two natural alternatives allows you to maintain your desired ‘do while adhering to airline regulations – and it’s better for your hair and scalp! But there are a few more benefits I’ll mention later.

Switch to a Solid Deodorant

Solid antiperspirant with color pink background
Maryia / Adobe Stock

When it comes to smelling good on the go, neither a roll-on and or solid deodorant are bound by the same rules. These days, most major deodorant manufacturers produce roll-on or solid stick variants of their standard spray-on deodorants, most of them now being aluminum-free.

There is also a broader scope of solid deodorants using natural ingredients too. This means you aren’t just smelling fresh, but potentially contributing to overall hygiene and health!

Ditch Sprays and Aerosol Cans Altogether!

Packing a suitcase with clothes and liquid bottles
faithie / Adobe Stock

While exploring alternatives for your carry-on, why not consider removing all your aerosols and sprays? Even the ones in your checked luggage – why eliminate them? A few reasons:

  • Liquids are Messy: The cap of your nail polish could come loose, or your hairspray bottle could break. Either way, when you pack a liquid, it risks spilling all over your luggage.
  • Liquids are Prone to Accidents: Air travel is rough on luggage, from disgruntled baggage handlers to tumbling around in turbulence. I’ve seen the results of an accidental release of an entire can of shaving cream due to pressure changes in the cargo hold. That alone made me switch to a non-aerosol cream for life.
  • More Natural Alternatives: There is a big market for solid deodorants and hair products that are kinder to your body and hair. This is much rarer for anything in an aerosol can. Plus, there are many effective natural alternatives to spray-on deodorant and aerosol hair spray, notably coconut oil or aloe vera. These two, in particular, are multi-purpose. Aloe vera is great for the skin and very good at easing the effects of sunburn. Coconut oil is also a healthy cooking oil and is great for styling hair, hair and skin health and hydration. It can also be used as a rudimentary toothpaste and sun protection balm, and it’s a surprisingly good deodorant and bug-repellant.

Tips for Packing and Navigating a TSA Security Checkpoint

Travelers at MSP Airport CLEAR biometric security lanes
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Efficiency is key when it comes to preparing for the security checkpoint at the airport. To ensure a smooth process, follow these tips:

  1. Don’t dress fancy; dress smart: Covering yourself in bling, cosplaying as a cat-girl, or just wearing ill-fitting jeans that need a belt is just more stuff you’ll have to take off and put back on. Also, cargo pants will likely result in a “random” search. Keep your outfit simple, fitted, and comfortable.
  2. Wear easily removable shoes: Opt for slip-on shoes or sandals to speed up the process of removing and putting back on footwear. Stay away from boots, especially combat boots, which will heighten your chances of another “random” search.
  3. Organize your carry-on: Keep all liquids, including hairspray, in a separate bag and place it at the top of your luggage for easy access during screening.
  4. Arrive early: This means you won’t feel like you have to rush through TSA, giving you some buffer room if you have to undergo additional screening.
  5. Remove electronics: Take laptops and large electronic devices from your bag and place them in a separate bin for X-ray screening.
  6. Follow instructions from security: Pay attention to any instructions given by security personnel and be prepared to comply with additional screening if necessary. The TSA also really appreciates it when you follow signage, too.
  7. Declare any exemptable liquids: In addition to having your liquid medication or baby food out and ready to be inspected, ensure that you declare to the security agent that you are bringing these. Expect additional screening.
  8. Keep a low profile: TSA agents do a job nobody wants to do and are grumpy enough as is. Don’t give them a reason to want to search you, and they will want to if you’re argumentative or an entitled douchebag. As well as following instructions keep your head down.

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