Gluten in Cosmetics: What You Need to Know

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Cindy Kuzma

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If you follow a gluten-free diet, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about what you put in your body. But should you also consider what goes on your body? Some experts have raised concerns about gluten in cosmetics, prompting calls for better labeling.   

Are You Sacrificing Health for Beauty?

Cosmetics used on your hands and face are sometimes produced with oils, extracts, and flours derived from wheat, barley, and rye. This means there’s a chance they contain gluten.

At a recent meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, researchers from George Washington University discussed the case of a woman with celiac disease who developed a rash and gastrointestinal difficulty after using a lotion labeled “natural.” Her symptoms disappeared when she stopped using the product.

This led the group to study the ease of finding information about the gluten content of cosmetics. The results? Only two of the top 10 U.S. cosmetics manufacturers offer detailed information about the ingredients in their products, and none offered specifically gluten-free options. This means consumers may inadvertently expose themselves to gluten as part of their beauty regimen, researchers point out.

The Harms of Cosmetics Aren’t Clear

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However, no studies have shown that the gluten in cosmetics is harmful to people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. That’s true even for those who tend to develop skin rashes when exposed to gluten in foods. Unless you have sores on your skin, it’s unlikely that much gluten from lotion or makeup would enter your system.

It’s also not clear that significant amounts of gluten remain in the finished product, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For this investigation, researchers tested lip products and lotions that contained at least one ingredient derived from wheat, barley, rye, or oats. None contained measurable levels of gluten, they report.

Guidelines for Playing It Safe

Still, more research is needed to assess whether cosmetics and lotions contribute to gluten-based reactions. If you’d prefer to keep your makeup bag gluten-free in the meantime, follow these tips:

  • Search for products specifically labeled gluten-free. An increasing number are appearing on drugstore shelves.

  • Read labels. Avoid the ingredients wheat, barley, malt, rye, oats, triticum vulgare, hordeum vulgare, secale cereale, and avena sativa.

  • If there aren’t ingredients on the jar or bottle, look for them on outer packaging. Or they may appear on a separate sheet next to the store display. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.

  • Wash your hands after applying lotion or beauty products, especially if you’re eating soon afterward. This can reduce ingestion of any gluten they may contain.

 Key Takeaways

  • Cosmetics are sometimes produced with oils, extracts, and flours derived from wheat, barley, and rye.

  • No studies have shown that the gluten in cosmetics is harmful to people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. Still, more research is needed to assess whether cosmetics contribute to gluten-based reactions.

  • You can now find cosmetics labeled gluten-free. Also, wash your hands after applying lotion or beauty products, which can reduce ingestion of any gluten they may contain.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 31, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Gluten in Cosmetics: Is There a Reason for Concern? Thompson T., Grace, T. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Sept. 2012;112 (9):1319-23.
  2. Celiac Patients Face Potential Hazard As Information on Cosmetic Ingredients Difficult to Find. American College of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/media/press.asp

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