“Gluten-free” has been a buzz word lately among foodies, the health conscious, and it has recently entered the world of cosmetics. Now not only will you be bombarded with the “gluten-free” descriptor at your local grocery store, but it will also be popping up on facial cleansers, make-ups and lipsticks.
Gluten takes on the role of a foreign invader in the intestines of people with Celiac disease. In this mistaken confrontation, the immune system attacks a part of the small intestine that is used to break up nutrients, damaging the villi (small finger-like structures responsible for absorption) and increasing intestinal pain. More people than ever before are being diagnosed with Celiac disease. Joseph Murray M.D. and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN are convinced it is an actual increase in prevalence over the last couple of decades, and not simply an increase in awareness and diagnostic tools. Their research concluded that Celiac disease is four times more common now than it was half a century ago, for a number of different reasons.
The question still stands, how far do people with Celiac disease need to go to cut gluten out of their lives? And how do cosmetics fit into that equation?
With the disease being a digestive disorder, many question the relationship between gluten-free goods and topical cosmetics products. Although there have been some consumers to speak out about topical rashes due to the presence of gluten in their face and eye creams, the hypothesis that the amount of gluten in most cosmetics products is too minute to cause such reactions still stands strong. Moreover, in scientists eyes, the only products that have the potential to transfer gluten into the digestive system, where it could be a potential threat, are products applied close to and around the lips and mouth such as lipsticks, toothpastes, and lip balms. Even then, some scientists claim that the majority of those products contain so little gluten that even accidentally ingesting particles would do little to no harm to the digestive systems of people suffering from Celiac disease.
On the flip side, research has shown that the average woman ingests about four pounds of lipstick throughout her lifetime, so gluten-conscious cosmetic seekers may be up to something after all! The bottom line is, there have been a limited number of cases where products containing gluten have been correlated with inflammation, rashes, red spots, and the like, and all of these cases come from personal testimonials. Highly technical, data-driven scientists question the validity and real causation of these outbreaks. That being said, buying and using gluten-free products is not going to hurt, and for some, it has only been shown to help enhance skin texture, color, and appearance.
There is no need to wheel in the garbage can and slide every glutenous product off your bathroom countertop, but there is also no harm in asking your cosmetic provider about the gluten content of your products, and trying out a gluten-free product next time you run out of your favorite makeup or face wash. There really is nothing to lose, and perhaps you’ll find a new product to know and love.
Kathryn Flaharty is a graduate of Canterbury School in Fort Myers and currently a sophomore at Williams College, Williamstown, MA. She is working for the summer at Trilogy Laboratories in Fort Myers, the manufacturer of the Azul Medical and IntegraDerm brand of skin care products.