Anyone suffering from gluten intolerance should also pay attention to the ingredients of cosmetics to be on the safe side.
Risk with celiac disease: gluten in cosmetics
People suffering from celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet. This is because even the smallest traces of gluten can lead to numerous complaints, especially diarrhea or other gastrointestinal complaints. If celiac disease remains undiagnosed for a long time, it can lead to serious health problems such as intestinal damage and even cancer. The big challenge is that gluten is contained in numerous foods and people also come into contact with it unintentionally. Baked goods in particular, but also finished products, are risky, because the gluten protein is found in all common types of grain such as wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt.
What many do not know: Numerous cosmetic products also contain gluten. This can become a problem for people with celiac disease if these products accidentally enter the gastrointestinal tract through the mouth.
Particularly dangerous are toothpaste and mouthwash, but also lipstick and other lip care products. Gluten in face creams, makeup or facial cleansing products, and hand creams can also be risky. Fortunately, the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet has spread to the cosmetics industry, and cosmetic brands are becoming more sensitive to the addition of gluten in cosmetic products.
However, cosmetics are still not labeled as "gluten-free."
While gluten-free foods are easily recognizable by the label with the “Crossed Grain symbol”, cosmetics are not yet officially labeled as "gluten-free". This, of course, makes the search for them much more difficult.
That's why those affected should pay close attention to the ingredients. Indications of gluten include the following designations:
- Triticum aestivum, Triticum vulgare or Triticum turgidum durum (wheat).
- Triticum spelta (spelt)
- Avena sativa or Avena strigosa (oats)
- Secale cereale (rye)
- Hordeum districhon or Hordeum vulgare (barley)
Depending on the concentration in the product, these ingredients may therefore be of concern to those affected.
What are the risk factors?
Gluten from superficially applied beauty products generally cannot penetrate the skin due to its molecular structure. So, if you apply a product to your skin and not near your eyes or mouth, and wash your hands immediately afterwards, you most likely won't have a reaction either. "Most likely" because, of course, the possibility may still exist depending on your level of sensitivity.
Another risk factor are powders that contain gluten. You can either inhale them or these can get into your eyes or mouth. Again, the risk is manageable in most cases, but it is there and depends on your personal sensitivity.
What are the possible reactions?
Again, it depends on the degree of sensitivity. Both people with celiac disease and people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can react to a beauty product containing gluten.
Common reactions include:
- Rashes, skin irritation, hives and/or redness.
- Itchy, watery, red and/or puffy eyes.
- Runny nose and/or congestion.
- Headache and/or dizziness.
- Digestive tract problems
How can I minimize the risk of a reaction?
Find out about the ingredients of the products before you buy them. If you are not sure, contact the seller or brand/manufacturer directly and ask if the ingredients and excipients used in the product, contain gluten. Meanwhile, there are some apps that provide information about the ingredients of the product through the barcode on the back of the product.
- Read/study the product label carefully and check the ingredient information available online.
- Wash hands as soon as you apply a product containing gluten.
- Avoid powder or aerosol (hairspray) products containing gluten as they can be accidentally inhaled.
- Buy only toothpaste and lip care products that are gluten-free.
Research presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology shows how difficult it is for consumers to find out if their cosmetic products contain gluten. Even if you don't actually eat cosmetics, even a small amount of gluten in a lip balm could be a problem - just think of how often you bite or lick your lip. Researchers have raised the question of whether lotions and moisturizers containing gluten could trigger a reaction in the skin of people with celiac disease. The investigation was triggered by case studies of two women who had skin irritations that disappeared when they stopped eating gluten in their diets and stopped using cosmetic products containing gluten. In cosmetic products, hydrolysed gluten is used to make emulsifiers and stabilizers. Here it depends on the molecule size in the end (3500 Da). Certainly, too little is known about the effects or influence of gluten in cosmetic products on health and further research is needed. However, people with celiac disease who need to lead a gluten-free lifestyle should pay attention to the ingredients in their cosmetics.
Caution with oral and facial care products
Therefore, caution is advised especially with cosmetic and hygiene products that are used on the face or mouth. These primarily include mouthwashes, dental floss and toothpaste.
Shampoo and body cream - a risk for children?
In the case of products for purely external use, such as shampoos, shower gels and body creams, there is no known harmful effect for adults with celiac disease. After all, gluten does not enter the body through the skin. However, since children may swallow bath water or put their creamed hands in their mouths, gluten in body care products can also become a problem for them. Therefore, only gluten-free products should be used for the personal care of children suffering from celiac disease.
Because all of these products, particularly dentifrices and lipsticks, may contain small amounts of gluten and may be used by individuals with gluten intolerance who must follow a strict gluten-free diet, it would be desirable for manufacturing companies to more clearly label the presence or absence of gluten in these products.
Although gluten intake from non-food sources is unlikely to contribute significantly to gluten exposure and symptoms in the majority of patients with celiac disease, it should be considered in cases of persistently active disease or symptoms.
Hall, S.W.; Shaoul, R.; Day, A.S. The Contribution of Non-Food-Based Exposure to Gluten on the Management of Coeliac Disease. Gastrointest. Disord. 2020, 2, 140-143.
Verma, A.K., Catassi, C. Contribution of Oral Hygiene and Cosmetics on Contamination of Gluten-free Diet: Do Celiac Customers Need to Worry About? Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 68(1): p 26-29, January 2019.