If you suffer from Celiac disease or other conditions with sensitivity to gluten, reading labels is second nature and your gluten-free lifestyle began by eliminating the obvious; breads, pastas and baked goods. Over time, you’ve learned to find gluten in other food products as well. You may even look for it in nonfood products, but have you considered the risk of gluten in beauty products?
The beauty industry has an array of body lotions, cosmetics and skin care products containing gluten. Gluten is found in everything from toothpaste to sunscreen and lipstick to shaving cream. In most of these products gluten is used either as an emulsifier to keep oil and water from separating or to stabilize the physical and chemical properties of the ingredients. It is what makes some lotions creamier. Gluten may go by the name of wheat germ, Hydrolyzed wheat protein, Avena sativa (oats usually found in lotions) or Triticum aestivum (wheat).
Should you worry about gluten in your beauty products? It depends on the product in question. The risk of gluten exposure from your favorite body wash is minimal. Experts point out that the gluten protein molecule found in lotions is too big to pass through the skin and into the blood stream. They stress there is no evidence to support the contrary. Gluten exposure must come through the digestive tract and not through skin contact to cause illness. You are unlikely to swallow products such as hand creams, shaving creams and deodorants and, therefore, they pose little threat to those with celiac disease or those with gluten intolerances. Your skin will absorb the lotion but gluten will not pass through to your bloodstream. You may ingest trace amounts should your hands be near your mouth after applying cream. In that case, you should wash your hands after applying a body lotion with gluten in it to avoid any incidental ingestion.
On the other hand, anything that you could ingest, like toothpaste, mouthwash or even your favorite lipstick does pose a potential problem. When you swallow minute traces of gluten, it enters the digestive tract and passes easily through the gut wall and into the bloodstream where it is free to run amuck.
Before switching up your products and routine, think about the products you use and your level of risk associated with them. Consider the amount of products you use, the odds they have heavy amounts of gluten and the likelihood of ingestion. No two people are the same, and even small-ingested amounts may affect people differently. You need to be aware of how your body reacts to small amounts. If you react violently you may want to avoid all personal care products with gluten. If you have mild, almost nonexistent reactions to trace amounts of gluten, you may not have any need to be concerned. The best rule of thumb is if you use it near your face and mouth, opt for gluten-free products. If you use it elsewhere on your body, the risk is greatly reduced.
Reading the labels may be difficult, as there are no clear guidelines for labeling nonfood products as gluten-free. It does not help that the top ten cosmetic companies in the world do not label their lotions, shampoos or cosmetics as gluten-free or with any list of ingredients for that matter. They make it difficult to be proactive at the cosmetics counter.
If the thought of giving up your favorite Estee Lauder lipstick is giving you heart palpitations, the only way to vet the product is to call their customer service and ask if they use gluten, or gluten products in their lipsticks. Then, if the chances of you actually swallowing enough to trigger an episode are slim, go ahead and enjoy your Black Cherry lipstick.
If you would rather err on the side of caution, there are health and beauty products available that are gluten-free. Specialty companies like Juice Beauty, NARS, Arbonne, and Sephora offer a selection of gluten-free options that will keep you looking pretty without the added risk. JASON, available at Whole Foods and Target also has a line of body lotions and soaps that are gluten free. They have been around for years, and are always considered one of the more natural companies on the market.