Solid Toiletries and Beauty Products to Love for Travel

Traveling carry-on-only can be a frustrating task when it comes to packing travel toiletries. Here's how to beat carry-on limits and support sustainable travel by reducing plastic waste.

Soap and beauty products on a counter

How many bottles of liquid skincare and hair products do you have in your toiletry kit? I used to carry at least half a dozen, but in my move towards traveling carry-on only, I discovered a newfound freedom in solid toiletries and beauty products. Imagine: no more worrying about having enough product or too much product for five or seven or 11 days; no more fiddling with tiny caps and messy leaks.

Thanks to greater environmental awareness, solid toiletries and skincare products have come a long way in the past few years to offer far more options for different skin and hair types. If you’re trying to pack lighter, these solid toiletries – some of them multipurpose – may have you falling in love.

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Woman on car with windblown hair. Photo: Averie Woodard / Unsplash

Solid toiletries for your hair

Solid shampoo. The first of my travel toiletries to go solid was my shampoo; Lush’s Godiva solid shampoo/conditioner bar accompanied me on my first solo backpacking trip. However, its rich formula gave me an itchy scalp and the bar fell apart all too swiftly.

As with normal shampoo, some trial and error is needed to find a solid shampoo that works for your hair. I’ve since had luck with Ethique’s shampoo bars (currently using Pinkalicious), while Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve’s Honey Beer & Egg Shampoo is also highly recommended.

Solid conditioner. Unless you have coarse and curly locks, conditioner isn’t an must-have! I was surprised that my fine, frizz-prone waves were decently soft and manageable just with Ethique’s shampoo bars. However, I do still pack a bottle of liquid conditioner for when I’m in a place with exceptionally hard water.

Solid beauty products for your face

Solid cleansing bar (facial wash). I was introduced to solid face soap thanks to a Peter Thomas Roth Moisture Infusion Facial Bar that came with my stay in a hotel – and I’ve since realized that facial bar soaps last for ages!

You’ll need to be careful of which solid cleansing bar you choose, as low-quality ones may throw off your skin’s pH balance and strip it of natural oils. Low pH, soap-free ones like Drunk Elephant’s Pekee Cleansing Bar and Gallinée Cleansing Bar have gotten rave reviews to date.

Besides solid face cleansers, face wash powder is also popular among travelers. However, powders portioned in tiny plastic capsules like the Kanebo Suisai or CosRX Centella Cleansing Powder should be avoided for all the plastic waste they generate.

Solid cleansing bar for travel: Drunk Elephant Pekee Bar on Amazon

Shop Neogen Cleansing Stick on Amazon

Solid makeup remover. When it comes to solid beauty products, this excites me the most because for ages, the traveler’s alternative to makeup cleansing oil or micellar water was makeup remover sheets. In other words, packs of wet wipes…some biodegradable, many not, and all waste-generating.

I use One Step Oil Cleansing Stick from K-beauty brand Dailyskin, and absolutely love it. Not only is a solid makeup remover, but it’s also a moisturizing facial cleanser – just a few swipes over my face, lather carefully, and I’m done. Other options include It Clean Oil Cleansing Stick, also from South Korea, but it’s been said that the DE and Gallinée cleansing bars mentioned above can remove makeup as well!

Solid toiletries for your body

Plain ol’ bar soap. Before “moisturizing body wash” and “shower gels” took over supermarket shelves, everyone used soap bars. While the soap of old was often drying to the skin, most modern bar soap is just as creamy and luxurious as liquid soap. There are tons of options out there, but I transitioned to the Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar from its shower gel equivalent and I’m happy with it.

Solid lotion bar. I seriously want a solid lotion bar since it would eliminate the frustration of trying to get thick lotions out of bottles and tubes. Unfortunately I hate the taste and scent of coconut, so the beeswax-based Moon Melt Lotion Bars from Moon Valley Organics is top on my wish list – for when I finish all those tiny bottles of lotions acquired from hotels.

Woman smiling in the sun. Photo: Jernej Graj / Unsplash

Solid sunscreen. Sunscreen formulations are one of the tougher choices you’ll have to make in the travel toiletries. While solid sunscreen won’t hold you up at the security screening line, applying and achieving even coverage may require you to either seek help from a friend or contort yourself like crazy. They’re definitely more suitable for urban travel than the beach!

Solid sunscreen also doesn’t come in as many varieties and options, but a good broad-spectrum sunscreen like the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Stick should perform just fine. If you’re worried about whether your sunscreen may harm the environment, this (lengthy) report sheds light on the reality behind “reef-friendly” sunscreens.

I’d also advise using solid sunscreen on your face as it may be comedogenic or cause reactions in sensitive skin. Instead, use a good SPF50 and PA++++ sunscreen that also functions as a makeup base, like the Kanebo ALLIE Exra UV Facial Gel or Kiehls Daily UV Defense (both came out tops in this sunscreen test that went viral in China).

UIJ Hotel private bathroom sink

My travel hack for keeping solid toiletries dry and gunk-free

One issue I encountered early on with using solid beauty products for travel was storage. Sure, solid soap uses less plastic packaging, but they’re hard to keep dry when you’re constantly packing and unpacking on the road – and soggy, mushy soaps or solid shampoos feel gross. Here’s how I’ve worked around this problem!

First, I always leave shampoo or face bars out to dry as much as possible after use. Then, I place each solid shampoo/soap/cleansing bar in a small filter pouch – the sort you’d use for soup stock or tea. Finally, it goes into a fabric bag that can absorb any remaining moisture.

If you have plastic containers or metal tins, you can easily reuse them to store solid toiletries – just make sure they have some holes to allow your solid bars to dry. You can also line containers with wax/baking paper to prevent the solid bars from sticking to the container.

Travel toiletries. Photo: Monfocus / Pixabay

Not everything can be solid, but…

In addition to the beauty products covered here, there are still more solid alternatives to travel toiletries: toothpaste tablets, deodorant sticks, solid face toner, and solid perfume compacts, to name a few. But in reality, we can’t give up all liquids in our toiletry kit – especially if you’re a woman with sensitive hair or skin, or wear contact lenses. And that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure use good refillable travel containers to prevent leaks and plastic waste.

If, on the other hand, you’ve found success switching to solid toiletries and beauty products, share your recommendations with us!

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