CosmeticsFor the millions of people who suffer from celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and or dermatitis herpetiformis (a blistering, itchy skin rash) and can’t ingest gluten-containing products, it’s good news that increasing awareness of the conditions has fueled an explosion of dietary options. Food manufacturers, grocery stores, and even cookbook authors have responded both to media attention and consumer requests for more glutenfree products. The latest salvo aimed on behalf of this growing population is the push for gluten-free cosmetics, but are these products really necessary? “If you lick your lips after putting on lipstick, or apply make-up and then put your fingers in your mouth, then yes, you might want to consider gluten-free cosmetics,” says Alice Bast, founder and president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), who adds that for some people, even a speck of gluten can set off an autoimmune reaction, with such symptoms as bloating, and gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, rash, tingling/numbness, headaches, and depression.

While a small amount of gluten can be toxic to some people, that’s true only of gluten that’s ingested. “There is no evidence that gluten crosses the skin barrier,” says Bast, suggesting that glutenfree cosmetics may be a choice, but for the majority of celiac and gluten-sensitive individuals, they’re not a necessity.

Carol Shilson, executive director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, agrees, suggesting that manufacturers may be jumping onto a consumer-driven bandwagon that’s not really a necessity. “From the science that’s available, for most people, gluten-free cosmetics aren’t necessary,” Shilson says.

“There’s a lot in the media, but there are no studies that suggest you need to use these products,” adds Donna Bilu Martin, MD, a dermatologist at South Beach Dermatology in Miami Beach, Florida.

That being said, if there is a chance the cosmetics you use could inadvertently be ingested or if you are simply more comfortable using gluten-free products, read the labels on cosmetics before making purchases and avoid products, including shampoos, toothpastes, and mouthwashes, with any of the ingredients listed in the sidebar. If there’s no ingredient list, check the company’s website or call its consumer hotline. Some gluten-free product lines include those from Kiss My Face, Burt’s Bees, Afterglow, Ecco Bella, and Bare Minerals.

Whether or not you choose to use gluten-free cosmetics, Bast says the bottom line is to use common sense. “If something bothers you, just don’t use it.”

COMMON GLUTEN-CONTAINING COSMETIC INGREDIENTS
  • Avena sativa (oat) kernel flour
  • Cyclodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrin palmitate
  • 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
  • Maltodextrin
  • Secale cereale (rye) seed flour
  • 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
  • Wheat protein
  • Wheatgermamidopropyl ethyldimonium ethosulfate
  • Yeast extract