Using Gluten-Free Makeup is Controversial
But There's No Scientific Evidence To Support Either Viewpoint
When it comes to gluten-free makeup, skin-care lotions, and beauty products, there seems to be a lot of controversy about whether or not those of us with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to use products without gluten. If you’re wondering if makeup or other non-food products are something you should worry about, the answer will depend on whom you ask.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, or some other form of gluten intolerance, you’ll always find yourself on a gluten-free diet. There’s no argument about that. Eating something that contains wheat, barley, or rye will trigger an autoimmune reaction that destroys the lining of your small intestine. That results in malabsorption and malnutrition. Eliminating gluten from the food you eat is standard treatment.
However, when it comes to using household items, cleaning supplies, and beauty products that don’t have gluten, opinion and theory are easily passed around as if they were fact. I’ve even seen opinionated folks take a strong stand in defense of their viewpoint by declaring how tired they are of others passing along false information – even though they are doing exactly the same thing!
Despite expert opinion to the contrary, this article will share several reasons why many of those with gluten intolerance issues, and especially those with celiac disease, need to choose gluten-free makeup and cosmetics.
Can Gluten Be Absorbed Through the Skin?
There was a preliminary study presented at a meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology a while ago that came to the conclusion that the top 10 cosmetic companies in the U.S. were not properly labeling the gluten in their products. That study raised some serious concerns. However, it did not provide evidence to back up the theory that gluten cannot pass through the skin. It simply pointed out the potential consequences for those who might accidentally ingest gluten through using these name-brand products. Even so, experts continue to debate how likely that might be.
Many of those who specialize in treating celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis believe the gluten molecule is too large to pass through the skin. Mostly, because there isn’t any scientific evidence that shows it can. But there also isn’t any scientific evidence that shows ingesting the minute amounts of gluten in body-care products is harmful either.
Despite the fact that those who don’t react negatively have difficulties understanding those of us who do, this preliminary study caused an upswing of bloggers and celiac forum members to come forward and share their experiences with gluten-free makeup, hair-care products, and beauty products. While lipstick has always been considered a major concern for those with celiac disease, little is known about the dangers of makeup, skin lotions, shampoo, hair conditioner, and other toiletries.
However, the idea that those of us who react to non-food products must be eating them, somehow, is just an attempt to justify the current theory that gluten cannot be absorbed. There is no proof one way or the other. Plus, many personal experiences talk about instantaneous skin-contact reactions. That isn’t ingestion. Rashes, swelling, and red, itchy, watery eyes are common symptoms that can occur from applying makeup with gluten. Whether that's because of dermatitis herpetiformis or allergies, the problem is serious.
Arguing over the source of the gluten contamination, or whether makeup contains enough gluten to matter, doesn’t help to solve the problem.
How Gluten in Makeup and Beauty Products Can Harm You
An article in Nails Magazine several months ago pointed out gluten’s inability to pass through the skin. The problem for those with celiac disease is gliadin, a protein molecule that author Doug Schoon said was about 15% too large. He reasoned that since gliadin can’t be absorbed, it obviously remains on the surface of your skin. Because of that, he concluded that personal-care products with gluten are nothing to worry about.
However, that conclusion showed a strong lack of understanding about how easily gluten transfers from one person to another.
Personal testimonies from individuals who react to products with gluten strongly disagree with the mainstream idea that gluten cannot be absorbed. Many people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance believe it can be. While that may or may not be true, symptoms triggered by coming into contact with the gluten in makeup, cosmetics, and other beauty products can’t always be attributed to ingestion. Sometimes, gluten can be inhaled or transferred by your hands. Think about all of the times you:
- touch your cheeks or mouth
- scratch your nose
- rub your eyes
- lick your lips
If the protein molecules in your self-care products actually sit on top of your skin as Schoons suggests, rather than being absorbed, then you just:
- ingested your lipstick or lip gloss
- rubbed gluten into your eyes
- inhaled it
- transferred it from your face to your hands
Despite Schoon's conclusion that gluten isn’t something to worry about, if it sits on top of your skin, it is extremely worrisome because it sets you or your child up for potential gluten contamination.
In addition, it is almost impossible to put on face powder or blush, without inhaling some of it. The following video clearly demonstrates this potential for cross contamination when it comes to makeup, cosmetics, skin-care lotions, hair-care products, and other toiletries.
How Cross Contamination Can Occur with Makeup and Cosmetics
Gluten-Free Makeup Protects Children
If it’s your child that has celiac disease or is on an autism diet, rather than yourself, you might believe that paying attention to your makeup or beauty products isn’t necessary. After all, you aren’t the one who needs to be on a special diet. However, it’s fairly easy to gluten a child. Children are notorious for putting their hands and other things into their mouth.
If you have makeup on your hands or face, it can easily transfer to your child. Think about all of the times you:
- hug and kiss your child
- hand them something to play with
- give them something to eat
- let the baby touch and feel your face or hair
- put your makeup on when your child is in the same room with you
The caution about children being in the room while you put on your makeup can appear to be a stretch, but like flour, powder molecules can stay in the air for hours once they become airborne. I saw that for myself when I used to grind my own rice into flour.
Nanoparticles in Major Brand Makeup and Cosmetics Raise Doubts
Nanoparticles (also called nanosomes) are added to many beauty products to help with skin absorption. Their role is to open up your pores so that the chemicals in your lotion or liquid makeup can penetrate your skin. Since their presence enables molecules to pass through your skin’s barrier that wouldn’t be able to pass through without them, it raises serious questions and doubts as to the gluten molecule being too large to cause harm.
The purpose of nanoparticles is to get large molecules into the deeper layers of your skin. That means it compromises your skin’s barrier. What is true under normal skin conditions is no longer true in the presence of nanoparticles. This is exactly what many medical authorities are saying cannot happen with gluten. But, why not? The cosmetic industry isn’t regulated. There is no way of knowing how far into the body nanoparticles travel once you apply your skin cream or makeup because they have never been studied or tested.
In addition, it’s also impossible to discern which products contain these nanoparticles, and which ones do not, because they do not have to be listed on the label.
My Own Personal Testimony
Many celiac disease experts such as Dr. Peter Green, Dr. Alessio Fasano, and Tricia Thompson all claim that gluten cannot harm those with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis if it is not ingested. Their opinion is based on there being no scientific evidence to prove that it can. Still, countless personal testimonies report blisters, redness, rashes, and even a burning sensation when they come in physical contact with gluten. While some reactions can be explained as an accidental ingestion, as portrayed in the above video, not all experiences can be explained away.
For example, a couple of years ago, we were having problems with the plumbing in our bathroom. We lived in a downstairs three-story apartment building at the time, and woke up a few mornings to a flooded bathroom. Since the plumbing in the apartments above us both flow into our kitchen plumbing and the garbage disposal in our kitchen flows into the master bathroom, we ended up with a lot of gluten residue inside our tub and on our bathroom floor once the problem was fixed.
If what the celiac experts believe is true, I should not have gotten glutened from simply scrubbing out the bathtub and mopping the bathroom floor. Nor from taking a shower. Yet, my skin dried up, my feet cracked and bled, I had a lot of systemic inflammation, and I had intestinal problems, as well as many other typical symptoms and rashes that flair up whenever I’ve been glutened. Those issues did not go away until I stopped using that bathtub and shower.
Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, and not scientific, but there’s nothing to back up what experts want to believe either. Due to my own experiences with gluten, I have serious doubts that dermatitis herpetiformis is not affected by physical contact with gluten, and I’m skeptical about the inability of gluten to penetrate the skin. Especially in light of the fact that these same so-called experts have been telling people with gluten sensitivity for years that their issues with gluten were not real because they didn’t fit the clinical diagnosis of celiac disease.
Powdered Minerals: All Natural, Organic, and Mostly Organic Makeup
Powder mineral makeup is extremely popular among women today. It’s made from internationally mined minerals, which have been purified, and then crushed into a powder. Even regular cosmetic companies use powdered minerals to add texture and color to their products. However, many brands also include gluten because it's sticky and helps the ingredients hold together. Even products that haven't had gluten added might still be contaminated due to manufacturing procedures or a supplier's ingredients.
The difference between powdered makeup and liquid products is that liquid makeup often contains waxes, petrochemicals, and fillers in a water or oil base. They also add dyes, preservatives, and generally perfume, which can be another hidden source of gluten. Perfumes are considered a trade secret, so unless a scent manufacturer is willing to state that their product doesn’t contain gluten, there is no way to know for sure.
Some people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity who react badly to makeup with gluten have started their own cosmetic companies. Other manufacturers have family members in that situation. Still others are trying to reach out to those who need safe makeup options. These particular companies offer complete lines of safe cosmetics for those who have problems with gluten, not just a few products that might carry the potential for gluten contamination.
While some manufacturers do have individual products that might be safe even for those who are extra-sensitive to gluten, such as Chanel makeup or Clinique products, you will have to call the manufacturer and find out which items are safe to use. In the case of Chanel, they will send you a list that discloses which products are gluten free.
List of Gluten-Free Cosmetic Companies
The advantage of going with companies that carry only gluten-free cosmetics is that you can relax while you’re shopping and concentrate on finding products you like, rather than having to worry about whether you can buy a particular product, or not. You’ll save time, since you don’t have to email or call the company, and you can rest assured that you’re getting the safest option available because there’s absolutely no worry about cross contamination.
- Afterglow Cosmetics
- Beauty Society Products
- Christine Marie Cosmetics
- Ecco Bella
- Joelle Cosmetics
- Monave Mineral Cosmetics
- NARS Cosmetics
- Red Apple Lipstick (lab-certified)
These are not the only companies with completely gluten-free lines, of course. Just the ones I’m currently aware of. I stopped wearing makeup myself decades ago due to my own reaction to it, so my list of safe gluten-free makeup brands is small.
If you know of other completely gluten-free companies or even individual gluten-free makeup products that are reliable, please leave a comment below and let me know.