People with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy are accustomed to reading ingredient labels to know what they can or cannot eat. But what about cosmetics? Is it necessary to avoid gluten in makeup or shampoo? And if so, how easy is it to spot on a label?
Whether celiacs and gluten-sensitive people need to avoid gluten in their cosmetics, including makeup, lotion, and hair products, has been the subject of debate. During my gluten-free life, I have heard two different schools of thought about this. The conservative one is that celiac disease is a digestive disorder and that to exacerbate the condition, one would have to consume gluten, so lipstick would need to be checked because you are literally consuming it when you wear it. Because this school of thought maintains that gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin, gluten-containing shampoo would be considered safe, as would any other cosmetic or beauty or hygiene product that is not being eaten. The Mayo Clinic’s website is one resource that supports this idea, in their answer to Can gluten be absorbed through the skin? (Their answer is no.)
The other school of thought is that gluten on the skin, or anywhere on the body, can aggravate celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, especially if someone has any associated skin conditions. At the American College of Gastroenterology’s 76th Annual Scientific meeting, doctors presented a case of a 28-year old woman who experienced worsening of her celiac symptoms, including gastrointestinal complications and a recurring skin rash after using a body lotion advertised as “natural.” When she stopped using the lotion, her symptoms resolved. This was just one case, but how common is it to react to gluten in skin products? It’s hard to say, as most of the information is anecdotal, and few studies have been conducted, but I know from the people I have contact with in the gluten-free community that it is a problem for many.
The case of the 28-year old woman prompted researchers to explore how readily available information is about cosmetic ingredients. What they found, and what most of us already know, is that ingredients are difficult to obtain from cosmetic companies. Even if you can obtain all the ingredients, they are difficult to understand. Unlike the food industry, which requires labels to list the top 8 allergens in plain language so we can understand it, the cosmetics industry is not required to make ingredients understandable or list allergens.
I did find some information to help sort through the confusing labels and hopefully locate the gluten ingredients to watch out for.
CosmeticsInfo.org is a website that gives specific information about individual ingredients. In a search for “gluten”, “wheat” and “oat”, I was able to find the following ingredients and their definitions, including what type of cosmetics they are used in:
- Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil
- Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Gluten
- Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Kernel Flour
- Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Starch
- Wheat Germ Glycerides
- Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Meal
In addition, I found a commonly circulated list from L’Oreal of ingredients they state “contain wheat and other grains.” It’s not clear to me if all of these ingredients contain gluten (they may contain another grain like corn, for example).
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour
Hydrolyzed Malt Extract
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Wheat Flour
Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer
Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch
Secale Cereale (Rye) Seed Flour
Sodium C8-16 Isoalkylsuccinyl Wheat Protein Sulfonate
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Gluten
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Starch
Wheat Amino Acids
Wheat Germ Glycerides
Wheat Germamidopropalkonium Chloride
Wheatgermamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
What about you? Are you careful about the ingredients in your cosmetics, shampoo, lotions? What brands have you found to be gluten-free?