Gluten is having a moment—and, sadly, it’s not in a good way. Between gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease (as well as people who might not realize they have one or the other), it’s no surprise gluten is being phased out of baked goods and beauty products alike. It may seem like major fear-mongering—since, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, only one in 100 people has an actual allergy to gluten—but eliminating gluten from beauty products means that those who have Celiac disease, a sensitivity or even a personal preference have more options than ever.
Gluten’s Purpose in Cosmetics
There are a surprising number of common ingredients in beauty products that contain gluten, such as hydrolyzed wheat protein, oats and talc, as well as some less-obvious starches and vitamins. “It’s present in almost all beauty-product categories,” says Ronald Cruz, Director of Scientific Affairs at natural manufacturing company Happy Farm Botanicals, Inc. “It’s in hair products with the use of extracts and natural oil emollients, in makeup—which contains vitamins, oils and natural emollients—and the skin care category, which contains protein, extracts and other actives that could be contaminated by gluten during processing.” While hair products are less likely to cause issues, since you rinse them out, skin care and anything that you apply near your mouth, like lip balm, could pose some concern.
Gluten is so prevalent in cosmetics for a reason. Gluten is a protein, and it’s considered valuable for its ability to bind water within the layers of skin. “Besides the moisturizing effect of protein on the skin’s surface, gluten helps form a protective layer on the surface of the skin or hair,” explains Cruz.
Why You Might Want to Opt for Gluten-Free Cosmetics
Whether gluten in cosmetics has a negative effect on those with gluten allergies or sensitivities is still debated. The FDA still allows small amounts of gluten (less than 20 parts per million, to be exact) in its rules for gluten-free labeling, which applies to topical beauty products. “Less than 20 parts per million is an amount that has been deemed safe by celiac disease experts for most people living with the genetic autoimmune disease,” says Cruz. So, odds are, a little bit of gluten in your moisturizer may not have a huge or even noticeable effect. Still, if you’re aware you’re very sensitive or have a severe allergy, it may be worth playing it safe and using only products certified as gluten-free.