Gluten-free beauty products... say what?

00:11, Sep 02 2014
ONLY FOR THE GULLIBLE? Since you're probably not planning on drinking your body lotion anytime soon, how can gluten in your moisturiser really impact upon your gut health?

There may be more to a gluten-free lifestyle than just cutting bread out of your diet. Gluten, that protein found in wheat, barley and rye, may also be lurking in the makeup and toiletries you use on a daily basis.

Thankfully, the beauty companies have caught on, releasing a slew of skin, hair and makeup products that promise a gluten-free ingredient list.

Appealing to sufferers of coeliac disease and gluten allergies, they claim that gluten - even in miniscule amounts, topically applied - may trigger skin conditions and adverse reactions such as bloating and cramps.

Sceptical? You're probably right to be.

Everyone knows there's a bucket-load of money to be made from jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. The $10.5-billion gluten-free food and beverage industry has grown 44 per cent in the last two years. You can't blame savvy beauty marketers for wanting to reap the profits as well.

There are also questions as to their effectiveness. Even if you suffer from legit gluten sensitivity, does it matter that the products you apply topically contain the ingredient?  Since you're probably not planning on drinking your body lotion anytime soon, how can gluten in your moisturiser really impact upon your gut health? How much of it comes down to meaningless, yet persuasive, marketing drivel?


Gluten, to trigger a reaction, must be ingested. Applied topically, there's no research that suggests it can penetrate the bloodstream and produce sensitivity when it touches the skin. However, that doesn't mean gluten-free beauty products are completely redundant.

Though research is scant, some people with coeliac disease have anecdotally reported suffering symptoms after wearing non-gluten-free makeup.

As Refinery29 had a dermatologist and gastroenterologist point out, the main reason for avoiding gluten in beauty products isn't because of what the wheat derivatives could do topically - which, as mentioned above, may be nothing - it's what you might do after applying them.

Apply a gluten-containing lipstick, lip balm or lotion, for example, and you may inadvertently ingest the product throughout the day. Even when applied to your outsides, that gluten could eventually make it to your insides - into your gastrointestinal tract, to be specific.

"Lipstick, lip gloss, mouthwash, toothpaste - they can all trigger a reaction in people with coeliac disease," says Alice Bast, founder and president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) in the US.

"If you're sensitive to gluten, you should be using gluten-free cosmetics and toiletries. Even if you don't experience any symptoms, you could be doing damage on the inside."

This thinking, though accepted by many, is yet to become mainstream. Scientists remain split over whether sufferers should avoid cosmetics that contain gluten.

While some are adamant that gluten-free beauty products prevent flare-ups, others suspect that the amount of gluten in your eye shadow or lipstick is too small to trigger real problems.

As it stands, there's no standard protocol - and the question will remain murky until more research exists.

Want to err on the side of caution? Since gluten-free beauty products go largely unregulated - and rarely are they explicitly marked 'gluten-free' in New Zealand - your best bet is to read the label thoroughly.

Gluten can appear in many different ingredients, including wheat, barley, malt, rye, oat, triticum vulgare, hordeum vulgare, secale cereale, and avena sativa so it's best you avoid them if you have a legit intolerance.

Alternatively, opt for gluten-free ranges by reputable, well-known companies such as Murad Skincare, Dr. Hauschka, EO, MyChelle, Acure Organics, SebaMed and Derma-e. 

Our advice for concerned gluten-sensitive shoppers? Do your homework. Click onto the brand website for more information and contact the manufacturer to confirm whether a product contains gluten before going into the store.

- Daily Life