Should I Use Gluten-Free Makeup?

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If you suffer from celiac or have gluten intolerance, you're probably already a pro at avoiding gluten in the foods you eat. But some research suggests that there may be more to maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle than staying away from wheat products in the grocery store aisle. Gluten may also be hiding in an unlikely place—your beauty products, says Jody Levine, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. So, should those who can't have gluten make the switch to gluten-free cosmetics? Read on to find out.

Surprisingly, gluten is found in a variety of beauty products, including foundations, lipsticks, lip glosses, eye makeup, lotions and shampoos, according to Levine. "It acts as a binder, helping ingredients stick together," she explains. Some products, like creams and lotions, contain gluten-derived oils to help add moisture. For example, the vitamin E found in beauty products may be derived from wheat (which means it contains gluten).

Most experts agree that gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin. However, in a case study on a 28-year-old woman with celiac, researchers at George Washington University found that when the woman switched body lotions to one with gluten, she developed an itchy, blistering rash on her arms, as well as abdominal bloating and diarrhea [Source: Science Daily]. When she stopped using the lotion, her symptoms disappeared.

While gluten may not be able to enter the body through the skin, it's important to note, "it can be accidentally ingested through the mouth via lipstick, lotion or other products," says Levine. "This can trigger a host of reactions such as rashes, bloating and diarrhea."

So should people with celiac or gluten intolerance avoid gluten-containing beauty products completely? "The amount of avoidance depends on the person," says Levine. "Some people may need to be absolutely certain that whatever they're putting on their lips is gluten-free while for others, it's not as big of a concern."

If you've cut gluten from your diet and notice you're still suffering from symptoms like rashes, bloating and diarrhea, it's a good idea to switch over your beauty products to those that are gluten-free. Luckily, many brands like Afterglow Cosmetics, Hourglass, Lavanila and Alterna now offer gluten-free products (available at Sephora) so you can look great—without sacrificing your health.

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  • Levine, Jody, M.D. Personal correspondence.
  • Science Daily. "Celiac Patients Face Potential Hazard as Information On Cosmetic Ingredients Difficult to Find." (November 25, 2011).