Although gluten is mainly found in the diet, it can also be found in personal care products such as toiletries, shampoo, cosmetics, and skincare. When applied to the skin, gluten cannot cause a celiac-related autoimmune reaction as it isn't possible for the protein to travel from the blood vessels of the skin to the small intestines and cause damage. However, many self-care products are applied by the hands and can pose a risk of consumption if handwashing is not frequently practiced before eating.
With these concerns in mind, it is important to consider that if you take precautions and not ingesting, you may not need to get specific gluten-free cosmetic products.
Cosmetic and hygienic products that are used around the mouth to moisturize or inside the mouth to clean the teeth and gums are likely ingested. Therefore, certain personal care products such as lipsticks, lip liners, lip balms, toothpaste and mouthwash should be ideally gluten-free to prevent minimal intake of gluten, even more if used on a daily basis.
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Two studies in recent years have investigated the gluten content and related risk of personal care products for celiac patients. The first study was conducted in Italy in 2019 and aimed to investigate the degree of contamination in 66 cosmetic and oral hygienic products available on the Italian market that could easily reach the mouth of a celiac patient (1). This includes 36 toothpastes, 5 mouth washes, 2 dental tablets, 13 lip balms, and 10 lipsticks. The gluten-content in each product was determined to conclude if there was a risk of contamination if ingested. The findings of this study demonstrated that the majority (94%) of the tested products showed a gluten-level that was lower than 20 ppm (the acceptable level of gluten content required to be labelled gluten-free). It was also concluded that the amount of toothpaste possible to consume in a single cleaning would not pose a risk to a patient if gluten was included in the ingredient list. The authors note that the products tested in this particular study are only available for sale in Italy. However, the manufacturers of some of the specialty products also produce personal care items for Canadian retailers.
A second smaller study from 2012 tested 6 products (2 lotions, 2 lip balms, 1 lip gloss, and 1 lipstick) and also demonstrated gluten levels below 20 ppm when measured (2). Some of the ingredients included in the products tested were wheat germ oil, barley extract, wheat bran extract, and oat kernel flour. The authors of this publication provided some information on how to recognize ingredients containing gluten on a cosmetic ingredient list.
The evidence suggests that the overall risk of contamination from hygienic products and cosmetics for a celiac patient is quite minimal. The majority of personal care products available on the market have an insignificant amount of gluten that would not harm a patient if accidentally ingested. Despite the fact that gluten in personal care products is negligible, manufacturers are beginning to label products without gluten ingredients as gluten-free. For additional reassurance, keep a look out on the shelves as they become more commonly available!
1. Verma AK, Lionetti E et al. Contribution of oral hygiene and cosmetics on contamination of gluten-free diet – Do celiac customers need to worry about? JPGN 2019; 68:26-29.
2. Thompson T, Grace T. Gluten in cosmetics: is there a reason for concern? J Acad Nutr Diet 2012; 112:1316-23.