Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder where the body mistakes an otherwise harmless substance – in this case, wheat gluten – for a harmful invader. When a celiac patient eats wheat gluten, their small intestine mounts an immune response in the same way it would to a virus or other pathogen.
People who suffer from celiac disease are unable to consume any products containing wheat gluten without risking serious stomach and intestinal discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, and sometimes even skin rashes. Celiac disease is a condition which must be diagnosed by a doctor, and those with the disorder usually require frequent checkups to watch for any problems which may arise.
While celiac patients are usually very well versed in how to keep gluten out of their diets, some are concerned about whether or not skin contact with products containing gluten could trigger an autoimmune response. Some cosmetics are made with constituents containing gluten, and there is confusion out there as to whether or not this could cause a problem.
To help you sort this out, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about gluten and beauty products.
Why Would There Be Gluten in Beauty Products Anyway?
Since we so often associate gluten with products such as bread or pasta, few of us would ever think to check our mascara or body lotion for the same ingredient – but it can sometimes be there.
For one thing, vitamin E, an ingredient used in many skin care products, may be derived from wheat germ, in which case, the vitamin E would be a source of gluten.
Another way gluten may show up in cosmetics is through oils which contain barley extracts, hydrolyzed malt extract, or yeast extract. Some starches used as thickeners or stabilizers such as triticum vulgare and hydrolyzed wheat starch also contain gluten.
Why is it So Hard to Find Out if There’s Gluten in My Beauty Products?
Cosmetics and beauty products are not required to adhere to the same labeling standards as food products. What’s more, an ingredient that shows up in food may be labeled or described differently when contained in beauty products. In other words, you will have to become a bit of a label-reading detective in order to discover whether or not the products you use contain gluten.
Can Celiac Patients Absorb Gluten Through the Skin?
For the most part, the answer to this question is a resounding NO! Although, there is some confusion about this because one of the ways celiac disease can manifest itself is through a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. However, it is important to remember that the rash appears after wheat gluten is consumed and enters the small intestine – and not because it came into contact with the skin.
Of course, doctors will hasten to point out that a beauty product containing gluten which is applied to broken skin or an area where there is a lesion could be absorbed into your system.
But then again, if you have large areas of broken skin or lesions, nothing should be applied to that area at all except for topical treatments prescribed by a physician. In other words, if you’re applying beauty products to broken skin, gluten may be the least of your concerns!
So is There Any Danger?
There is, but not in the way you may think.
As we have established, there is no danger of gluten being absorbed through your skin and triggering a celiac autoimmune response. There is, however, a chance that you could unintentionally ingest a small amount of a beauty product. And that’s where the problem lies.
First and foremost, anyone suffering from celiac disease should take great care to ensure that any lip balm, lip gloss, or lipstick is gluten free, as the chances of accidentally swallowing lip cosmetics is much higher than, say, eyeliner.
However, it is also important to recognize how easy it is to accidentally ingest something you didn’t mean to. The hand lotion you applied an hour ago could be transferred to your food when you pick it up. Also, makeup can be transferred onto your hands, which in turn can come into contact with your mouth – it happens all the time. Celiac patients with especially sensitive systems may experience a reaction through secondary contact like this.
Here’s the Bottom Line…
For the most part, you can continue using your regular cosmetics and beauty products without much worry. Just adopt good handwashing habits, and you should be totally fine.
However, nobody knows your system better than you. If, after switching to a new beauty product, you notice a sudden flare-up of your celiac symptoms, stop using it, and see if things improve. Then take this question to your doctor, along with the product so that it can be checked out.