Please see update below.
The bottom line: There is no scientific evidence that the use of gluten-containing products that are not ingested is harmful to persons with celiac disease. This includes individuals with dermatitis herpetiformis.
According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, Medical Director of the Center for Celiac Research, University of Maryland, “If you have celiac disease, then the application of gluten containing products to the skin should not be a problem, unless you have skin lesions that allow gluten to be absorbed systemically in great quantities.
“The reason why this should not be a problem is that, based on what we know right now, it is the oral ingestion of gluten that activates the immunological cascades leading to the autoimmune process typical of celiac disease.”
There aren’t too many individuals on the planet who know more about celiac disease than Dr. Fasano, so please, do not let anyone, including medical professionals convince you that gluten protein can be absorbed through the skin and cause a celiac disease reaction. It simply isn’t true.
If you still need more convincing, check out what Cynthia Kupper RD, Executive Director of The Gluten Intolerance Group, has to say.
“While investigating the possible absorption of gluten through the skin, I have talked with many regulatory organizations, and research and development people in the cosmetic industry. They all agree that gluten and all proteins are too large to be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, topical care products that contain gluten do not need to be avoided by persons with CD and DH.
“It is also important to understand that it is possible to have celiac disease and other sensitivities. When it comes to products labeled hypoallergenic, this simply means that the product is ‘less likely to cause an allergic reaction.’ So if you have a skin reaction to a product, you may have a sensitivity that you think might be related to gluten, but is actually related to something else in the product.”
As Cynthia suggests, you may have a skin reaction to any number of ingredients in any number of products for reasons other than celiac disease (such as an allergy). If this is the case, you should stop using the product and speak with your dermatologist.
So using common sense, what personal care products might you ingest?
Products that you use in your mouth, such as toothpaste and mouthwash and products that you apply to your lips, such as lipstick could be ingested.
You really don’t need to worry about products you apply to your skin, such as body lotion, sunscreen, shaving cream, deodorant, makeup, and perfume.
You also do not need to worry about products you apply to your hair, such as shampoo and conditioner.
Hand lotion is one of those in-between cases. If you use a lot of it and often and don’t always wash your hands before eating (yuck!) then you could ingest some hand lotion. Or if you always apply hand lotion after washing your hands, including before eating than you could ingest some hand lotion.
So using common sense how much toothpaste, mouthwash and lipstick might you ingest?
When it comes to toothpaste and mouthwash, if you spit out the toothpaste and mouthwash and then thoroughly rinse your mouth with water, you probably won’t consume much product. When it comes to lipstick, supposedly each woman “eats” 6 pounds of lipstick during her lifetime. (I have no idea where this information originally came from but it doesn’t seem accurate. Each of my lipsticks weights 0.13 ounces so supposedly I will eat about 738 of the lipsticks I use!)
I really have no idea how much gluten a lipstick might contain—to my knowledge lipsticks have never been tested. If for the sake of argument though, I assume that I eat 3 lipsticks a year (which seems reasonable only if I actually manage to ingest all the lipstick I put on my lips) then I eat 0.39 ounces or 11.4 grams (11,400 milligrams) of lipstick each year. If the lipstick I use is comprised of 1% gluten protein, my daily intake of gluten from lipstick is 0.31 milligrams. If the lipstick I use is comprised of 5% gluten protein, my daily intake of gluten from lipstick is 1.56 milligrams.
To put these numbers into perspective, based on studies conducted on the daily tolerance level of gluten for persons with celiac disease, 10 milligrams of gluten is considered safe.
Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
Cosmetics and Gluten: Test Results on Lipsticks and Lotions
My colleague Thomas Grace and I recently published test results on the gluten content of two lotions and four lipsticks containing gluten derived ingredients (Gluten in Cosmetics: Is There a Reason for Concern? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112:1316-1323). What follows is a brief summary.
Bottom line: None of the six products tested contained quantifiable gluten.
Why we conducted this study
Some individuals with celiac disease are concerned about using cosmetics that may be inadvertently ingested, such as lipsticks and lotions used on the hands. However, there have never been any published reports on the gluten content of cosmetics containing gluten-derived ingredients.
What we tested
Two lip balms, one lip gloss, one lipstick, and two lotions were tested in duplicate for gluten using both the sandwich R5 ELISA with a lower limit of quantification of 5 parts per million of gluten and the competitive R5 ELISA with a lower limit of quantification of 10 parts per million of gluten. The competitive R5 ELISA was used because it detects gluten from ingredients that have been hydrolyzed or partially broken down. In addition, spiked samples were run on three of the samples to make sure that any gluten contained in the products at or above the lower limit of quantification was being extracted.
What we found
Lip balm containing wheat germ oil: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
Lip balm containing barley extract and wheat germ extract: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
Lip gloss containing wheat germ extract and barley extract: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
Lipstick containing wheat bran extract: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
Lotion containing wheat germ oil: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
Lotion containing oat kernel flour: sandwich ELISA both extractions < 5 ppm gluten; competitive ELISA both extractions < 10 ppm gluten
What we concluded
“Preliminary test results on a small number of cosmetics containing gluten-derived ingredients found them to contain below quantifiable levels of gluten. A much larger formal study on the gluten content of cosmetics containing ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye, and oats is needed to draw any definitive conclusions on the gluten content of cosmetics that may be used on the lips and hands. Consumers may be concerned about using products containing ingredients derived from wheat, barely, rye, and oats that may be inadvertently ingested.”
What concerned consumers can do:
1. Read the ingredients listed on cosmetics looking for the words “wheat,” “barley,” “malt,” “rye,” “oat,” “triticum vulgare,” “hordeum vulgare,” “secale cereale,” and “avena sativa.”
2. Look for off-package ingredient lists when the product packaging is too small to include this information on the label.
3. Contact cosmetic manufacturers and ask whether their product contains any ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye, or oats.
4. Use cosmetics labeled gluten-free.
© 2012 by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. All rights reserved.
This article may not be reprinted, reposted, or republished without the express written permission of Tricia Thompson