Q: On a recent flight from Phoenix, USA, I was selected to have my palms swabbed by the TSA. Then they told me my hands tested positive for explosives and put me in a room and searched me from head to toe. Of course, they found nothing.
The agent told me it must have been the Lubriderm hand lotion I used that set off the false positive. How can this happen? - Creamed
A: It is not an urban legend. Lubriderm, like many lotions and creams, contains glycerin, which in some cases can set off sensitive airport Explosive Trace Detection swab machines, the TSA tells me.
Harmless glycerin is a component of nitroglycerin, used in explosives.
Other things that the TSA acknowledges can cause an ETD hand swab to read positive for explosives: using nitroglycerin heart medication, being exposed to fertiliser (on a golf course or farm, for example) or working in the mining industry.
There even have been reports that hands of people who hold a Styrofoam / polystyrene cup before going through security can test positive for trace explosives.
So skip the lotion, but if you get selected for a search, don't panic. It's the unfortunate price of today's imperfect security.