Gluten in Makeup: Debate on Celiac Safety

in Celiac, Features
Published: June 12, 2013

If you decide you want to avoid gluten in most of your cosmetics, it won’t be easy. While some lines – Afterglow, Red Apple Lipstick and Gabriel Cosmetics to name a few – are gluten-free, you won’t find them in the aisles of your friendly neighborhood pharmacy, supermarket or department store. And finding out what is in the ingredients of the more readily available products can be daunting, as Borum and her colleague Dr. Pia Prakash discovered.

Spurred by the experience of Borum’s patient, the two doctors surveyed 10 of the top cosmetics companies in the United States to determine how easy it was to get information about which of their products contain gluten. In a time when one in 100 people in North America has celiac disease, considerably more have gluten sensitivity and the number of gluten-free food products in the marketplace has exploded, they wanted to find out what these companies did to meet a growing demand.

It turns out: not much. Prakash and Borum conducted their research, not as experts with recourse to company reports, but as regular consumers who happened to have celiac disease and wanted to know if a product they might purchase contained the protein. They surveyed websites, looking for phone numbers and keying the words, “gluten” and “gluten-free” into search engines, but the usual response was “0 results found.” Only two companies provided detailed product information, but even they did not mention gluten specifically.

“It was so frustrating,” Borum says. “With a growing market, with more awareness about the range of gluten sensitivities and intolerances, with public demand for more clarity about ingredients in food and increasing knowledge about clinical hazards, no matter how remote, shouldn’t these companies be more committed to marketing products that are safe to a particular – and large – group of consumers?” (Allergic Living’s attempts to get product information from some big cosmetics companies were also met with silence.)

The research of the two doctors was conducted for the consumer who shops in a pharmacy, department store or supermarket and wants information about a mass-market product, not the person who already goes to small specialty boutiques or Whole Foods Markets for cosmetics that are specifically labeled as gluten-free.

The findings resonate with people such as Lynne Grawemeyer Wagner, a retired physical therapist in Louisville, Kentucky, who was diagnosed with celiac disease seven years ago. She prefers to stick to gluten-free personal products after a run-in with a skin rash and a suspicious shampoo.

“Really, how difficult would it be for companies to say, ‘This product may contain gluten’? It’s simple, straightforward and can help people avoid unnecessary grief.”

While the jury may still be out on the degree of risk that gluten in personal care products presents, this much is certain: if you prefer to keep your beauty regime gluten-free, look to the specialty products, especially online. Most of the glossy mass-marketed products have yet to catch up.

What’s your experience been with gluten in beauty products? Let us know at

Next: Shopping advice and gluten-free finds.