Gluten in Makeup: Debate on Celiac Safety

in Celiac, Features
Published: June 12, 2013
Gluten in makeup could pose a risk to people with celiac disease.Photo: John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Blend Images/Thinkstock

Doctors say you have to ingest gluten from makeup or skin care products to get symptoms. The question is: does this happen more often than we know?

Remember that first heady discovery of makeup? The memories flash back like a psychedelic slideshow: pastel lip gloss, electric blue mascara, hot pink blush and black kohl eyeliner that, intemperately applied, made one look like a raccoon. Then, there were the body products – lotions, toners, shampoos – that smelled of cotton candy and chemicals: who knew what they contained? Most of us didn’t care.

But what if, years later, it turns out you have celiac disease and there’s gluten in your new lipstick and more fashionably muted eye makeup?

So far, studies have suggested that such products don’t pose a risk because the gluten molecule is too large to be absorbed through the skin; it needs to be ingested. That’s why most gastroenterologists advise their celiac patients to take care when buying cosmetics that come close to the eyes and mouth, like mascara, which flakes, and lipsticks because they are easily licked off. But don’t worry unduly about gluten in lotions and shampoos, they say. There is one caveat: Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, cautions against using gluten-containing products near broken skin.

Yet the risk to celiac patients from gluten in makeup and personal products is not black and white. No large study has been done that specifically looks at the consequences of those with celiac applying products on the skin that contain gluten, the protein in wheat, barley and rye that triggers an autoimmune reaction and leads to a disparate array of symptoms, from stomach bloat and diarrhea, and longer term conditions like osteoporosis. How often does accidental ingestion of these products occur? We have yet to learn.

What is more apparent is the number of patients who report symptoms. From British Columbia to Colorado, Kentucky and New York, Allergic Living has received comments from people with celiac disease who link their use of personal products to skin rashes or intestinal issues. The products range from eye makeup to foundation, face creams, shampoos and conditioners.

While such reports are only anecdotal, a case study that was published in late 2011 and presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s annual meeting in 2012 has led to a flurry of debate in the celiac community, among doctors and patients.

Next: Lotion case causes a stir