Risky Business: Most Cosmetics Don’t Specify Gluten in Ingredient List

Finding the best kind of makeup for your skin is no cakewalk. Any woman can tell you that.

But for those suffering from celiac disease—an autoimmune digestive disease that affects at least 3 million Americans—the task can be even more daunting, and dangerous.

The problem is, most cosmetic companies don’t specify whether their formulas contain gluten, according to a study announced at the American College of Gastroenterology’s meeting in D.C. this week. And with approximately one in 100 people suffering from the disease (with up to 90 percent of them unknowingly!), it’s certainly an issue that should be top of mind.

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Amazingly, zero of the top 10 cosmetic companies in the study provided gluten information about their products—and only two cited detailed ingredients at all.

One common ingredient that is derived from gluten is vitamin E, which often comes from wheat sources. But on the label it only appears as vitamin E or it’s chemical compound name, tocopherol.

Binders in cosmetics (used to help the other ingredients stick together) can be derived from wheat, barley or oats, and skin-softening oils like wheat germ oil are also common.

In consequence, celiac patients may be unknowingly exposing their skin to gluten when they apply their makeup every day, potentially worsening disease symptoms like abdominal pain and intestinal issues.

Dr. Marie Borum, one of the study’s researchers, says one of her patient cases first prompted the new research. A 28-year-old woman with celiac disease, she used a “natural” body lotion that didn’t list gluten as an ingredient, and experienced a rash and gastrointestinal issues in result. Her symptoms resolved only when she stopped using the lotion entirely.

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The question is, what are similar celiac sufferers to do? Is there any way to bypass the risk? Complete gluten-avoidance is the only known “treatment” for the disease, after all, and surely telling sufferers to avoid makeup for the rest of their lives isn’t a realistic solution.

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For one, gluten-free brands like AfterGlow Cosmetics and Juice Beauty are certainly great options. Not only are they gluten-free, but they’re forthcoming about even possible trace amounts—an important distinction, since gluten allergies are molecular and sensitive to even the tiniest triggers.

Hopefully, though, leading cosmetic companies will soon be inspired to create gluten-free alternatives, or at the very least provide more transparency for celiac sufferers weeding through laundry-lists of ingredients. Because as always, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health and wellbeing.

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