Now that the world is slowly returning to normal, it’s time to plan for your next holiday! For those of us traveling with contact lenses, keep reading to find out all you need to know about traveling with Contact Lens Solution.
Even though the contact lens solution seems harmless and normal to you, there are a few ways it might set off the alarm when you’re going through airport security. Here are our tips on traveling with Contact Lens Solution through Airport Security in the UK.
Why can’t I bring liquids on planes?
There are several answers to this question, and none of them are pretty. It’s important to remember restrictions on liquids apply to every single airport on earth, not just airports in the UK. There are no exceptions.
The obvious and main reason is safety. There are many ways liquids can be used to transport dangerous substances. Many of these can potentially explode and/or be set on fire whilst on the aircraft.
It goes without saying that airlines and governments want neither of those things to happen to a sealed metal bird traveling between 31,000 and 38,000 feet off the ground. Which is the main reason why liquids of all kinds are closely monitored at airport security.
What is so unsafe about liquids?
If you’re thinking at this point, what can be dangerous in contact lens solution? Or even toothpaste, or face cleansing solution – whatever day-to-day liquids you want to bring on the plane with you – well, you might be surprised.
Even though most household liquids are harmless when in contact with your skin, or in the case of contact lens solution, your naked eye, the same cannot be guaranteed when these liquids are carried on an aircraft.
At the end of the day, liquids like contact lens solution are chemical compounds with components that may not be as stable at higher altitudes (which generally means lower pressure) and lower temperatures (which generally occurs at higher altitudes). Both of these are expected environmental conditions for any civilian flights.
So yes – whilst liquids like contact lens solution can be harmless on the ground, their stability are harder to predict in the air. Which is what makes them unsafe when carried on an aircraft.
What’s so unstable in contact lens solution?
Specific to contact lens solution, common issues are usually caused by one of its compounds: hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2.
Although molecularly like water (H2O vs H2O2, so with one extra oxygen), hydrogen peroxide is much more unstable. At its commercial concentration, hydrogen peroxide is usually harmless and pretty useful. The reason why it’s in your contact lens solution is that it acts as a disinfecting and bleaching agent. Hydrogen peroxide is what keeps your lenses clean.
At different pressures and temperatures, however, hydrogen peroxide doesn’t fair too well and becomes unstable. So, even though the concentration of the compound in contact lens solution is not likely to be dangerous if carried on an aircraft, some countries may still ban passengers from carrying it in their hands and/or holding luggage.
It’s best to be safe than sorry. And if your bag sounds the alarm because of hydrogen peroxide, it’s better to hand your contact lens solution over to the airport security staff. As the chemical is known to ignite if it comes into contact with combustible materials… Which there are quite a few of on an aircraft.
Can you bring contact lens solution into the UK?
Yes, absolutely. There is nothing on the UK government website that specifically bans visitors from carrying contact lens solution into the country in their hands or holding luggage.
Airport security usually scans for explosives and other potentially harmful materials in passengers’ bags. However, the amount and concentration of hydrogen peroxide in contact lens solution is usually too low for machines to pick up as dangerous. So, expect a relatively smooth process through airport security in the UK.
Depending on the airport you’re arriving at, and the machines they use in security, this might change. For example, some travelers have reported being stopped for carrying certain types of contact lens solution in Wales, whilst others can pass through security in London with large quantities of contact lens solution without problems.
It’s difficult to be sure of what individual airports and their security allow passengers to carry when it comes to types of contact lens solution. Those of your frequent wearers will know there are many varieties and brands of them! Your best option would be to check with your solution provider and the airline themselves.
Hand or hold?
Which luggage to store your contact lens solution in depends on what quantity you are traveling with.
The standard airport security regulations usually allow passengers to take liquids such as contact lens solution on board in their hand luggage if they don’t exceed 100 ml. This is the quantity restriction that applies to all liquids carried in hand luggage. Easy!
If you want to make sure you pass through security without issues though, it’s best to double-check the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in your contact lens solution. Any concentration of the compound at 3% or lower is usually considered harmless and unreactive. If you are a frequent contacts wearer, you might already know hydrogen peroxide in contact lens solution usually has to be activated by another container anyway to be effective. So, a machine is unlikely to flag this as explosive. This goes for storage in both hands and holding luggage.
What can go wrong when carrying contact lens solution through UK airport security?
There are several ways you might bump into trouble when carrying contact lens solution through airport security in the UK.
If you are arriving in the country and your luggage scanned positive for dangerous substances, it might take a while for security staff as well as yourself to sort the situation out. Don’t worry though, usually when they open your bag or suitcase and actually read the label on the bottle of contact lens solution, they will let you go without further investigation… Unless you have other suspicious items with you. Because, well, it says what it is and what it does on the bottle.
Worst case scenario would be security taking your bottle of contacts lens solution to be disposed of – which to us shouldn’t put a damper on your vacation! There are plenty of opticians dotted around shopping areas in the UK where you can restock your solutions from. The common and affordable favorites are Specsavers and Vision Express.
Are there alternatives to contact lens solutions?
If you search for alternatives to contact lens solutions online, the saline solution comes up as a common replacement for when you’re traveling.
However, it’s important to know that saline doesn’t have the same properties as your contact lens solution. The saline solution does not disinfect or clean your lenses. So, just using saline solution won’t work, and might even damage or infect your eyes.
If you’ve just cleaned your lenses, then feel free to use saline on your lenses before putting them in. You should never keep reusable lenses in saline solution, as they won’t be clean and are unlikely to be in the best condition for your next use.
What’s the best option then?
As contact lens solution is a combination of multiple disinfecting, wetting, and comfort agents, you should always travel with it to make sure your eyes are safe from infection. There might be other alternatives to contact lens solution that are less likely to test positive for dangerous substances when going through airport security, but they are less likely to be suitable for your eyes. If you do choose one of these alternative solutions, you should definitely consult your optician or a medical professional before you do so.
However, if you want to avoid having to deal with airport security, our best advice is to either wear daily lenses or simply wear your glasses for the flight! It’s best to be able to see without risking infecting or irritating your eyes during vacation.
There are multiple reasons why contact lens solution might not be allowed on planes, and we hope it’s clear why some regulations might be stricter than others. If you do get stopped by airport security whilst entering the UK, it is important to remember that the security staff are only trying to do their job in ensuring the safety of everybody in the airport and beyond. Although this might start your vacation on an unpleasant note, just remember: it can only get higher from this point on!
At the end of the day, contact lens solutions are chemical mixtures fully capable of causing accidents. In this case, it’s always best to be safe than sorry.
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