Beauty and the Baggage: Beauty Products to Pack or to Buy Abroad

Smiling retro woman with curled hair holding bar of soap in magazine advertisement from Life, 1950s

Even if you’re not that interested in make-up in everyday life, travelling can change that. For one thing, any combination of jet lag, rough ferry crossings, late night road trips and weird eating patterns can play havoc with your skin, and that’s before sizzling heat or bitterly cold winds come into the equation too. Suddenly a slick of colour or a soothing skin cream seems like a very good idea, and it’s the perfect time to invest in travel beauty products.

With a slew of special offers running in high street stores all year round, World Duty Free isn’t always the cheapest place to shop. Rather than pinning your hopes on airport bargains, I suggest you stock up on basics before you travel, and save some room in your suitcase to bring home new and distinctive beauty products – either for yourself or to use as souvenirs. And if you go to South Korea, expect beauty-savvy friends to be insanely jealous, as it’s a mecca for cosmetics.

Cosmetics for vacations including primer, concealer and liquid 24hr lipstick
L-R: Batiste Dry Shampoo, Benefit Roller Lash and The Porefessional, Miss Sporty Liquid Concealer, Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet Lipstick. Individual product image credits:

Basic Cosmetics and Toiletries for Any Destination

  • Batiste Dry Shampoo – preferably the XXL version, which has added oomph to save your hair from grease and grime. Just shake, hold and spray a fine mist, which you then rub into your hair. If you’re travelling with hand luggage only, switch to a powder version rather than a spray.
  • Benefit Rollerlash Mascara – gives you fluttering lashes with minimum effort and no clogging. It’s also really easy to remove (hooray!). Try to bag a travel-sized sample from the Benefit make-up counter if you’re only going on a short trip.
  • Benefit The Porefessional – the ultimate primer for anyone whose skin regularly resembles an oil slick. Just apply a tiny amount to oil-prone areas of pre-moisturised skin, and let it melt into your pores with no residue. The result is a matte base which helps make-up stay put. Admittedly the Porefessional is expensive, but I’ve tried loads of cheaper products and they just haven’t compared.
  • A Hard-Working Concealer – either liquid (try Miss Sporty) or solid (try Kiko, MAC or Vichy Dermablend). Apply after your moisturiser and foundation has soaked in, or ditch them in favour of concealer alone, then seal with make-up fixing spray or any decent pressed powder.
  • Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet Lipstick – long-lasting liquid lipstick that doesn’t dry out or flake. This is extra-important in a hot climate, when a normal wax-based lipstick could melt in the heat and turn into the wrong kind of hot mess. I prefer a deep red shade like Hot Pepper, but there are quite a few to choose from.
Essentials for vacations including sun protection, antiseptic cream, cleanser and a solid foundation.
L-R: Bobbi Brown Foundation Stick, Sudocrem, 8 Hour Cream, Eucerin Sun Fluid, Garnier Pure Active Micellar Water. Individual product image credits:, John Lewis and Look Fantastic.

Space-Saving, Multi-Tasking Travel Beauty Buys

  • Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick – no liquid spillages from this compact little gem. Apply using a brush if possible, and layer up depending on how much coverage you need. Bobbi Brown has a wide range of shades to suit all skin tones.
  • Sudocrem – great for sunburn, spots, minor burns and grazes… you know, all the really glamorous moments of your trip. Buy the squeezy tube version, rather than the chunky original pot.
  • Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream – useful for anything from cracked lips to general moisturising and tackling dry patches of skin; the smell annoys some people, so seek out the unperfumed version if you need to. Also try the solid lip balm.
  • Mattifying Sun Cream – either by Eucerin or Boots (Soltan range). Keep safe in the sun whilst combating that sweaty look. If you come back home with loads of product left over, remember you can actually keep your sun cream for the following year and you’ll still be protected from UVA/UVB rays.
  • Micellar Water – my favourite is by Garnier. Easier than carrying cleansers, toners and wipes, this product removes all your make-up with just a few drops on a cotton wool pad (or on a cotton bud to clean those eyeliner mistakes). It’s gentle on skin and contains moisturising ingredients too.
Miracle skin cream from Portugal with retro packaging and typography: 'Creme de posto'
The vintage packaging is very tempting, but Benamor is a cult classic for other reasons.

International Beauty Products

  • Benamor Cream – a gentle moisturising cream from Portugal that’s kind to pores, wrinkles and blackheads. It smells pretty grim (think geraniums mixed with sweaty 1p coins), but don’t let that put you off. Buy Benamor from A Vida Portuguesa, in Lisbon or Porto, and admire the retro packaging as much as the product itself.
  • Lucas’ Papaw Ointment – a cult favourite, this savvy little tube from Australia has hundreds of uses. Apply to cuts, dry skin, cuticles and chapped lips for instant relief, or choose a tinted version if you want a splash of colour.
  • Philosophy Falling in Love Eau de Toilette – not readily available in the UK (unless you want to pay inflated eBay prices), this delicate perfume is best picked up from Sephora stores in the USA. Cutting through the flowery language describing the scent, it’s essentially a blend of blackberry, jasmine and vanilla.
  • Manufaktura Beer Face Cream – just one of the products by Manufaktura, a Czech cosmetics brand, aesthetically not a million miles away from The Body Shop in its early days: making nature a priority, and refusing to test on animals. Look out for traditional Czech ingredients like Moravian wine, Carlsbad thermal salts and lavender. Find Manufaktura across Prague (including Melantrichova 190/17), in Czech cities like Brno and Plzeň, and in Slovakia.
  • After Bite – a pungent but super-effective bite treatment from Thailand, containing camphor. It’s not the greatest colour in the world, looking suspiciously like a urine sample, but this stuff really does work magic. Also look out for Monkey Balm, a cheaper version of Tiger Balm, which sells for as little as 30 baht and is handy for headaches or muscle aches.

Do you have a favourite product to travel with, or have you been inspired by a local beauty trend?