Gluten-Free Cosmetics/Hair Care Products

When it comes to skin/hair/personal care products, gluten-free or gluten-full is a topic that has been debated for many years and continues yet today. It's an epic battle that rivals "Tastes Great - Less Filling". First, let us explore the science side of this.

Tastes Great! [Don't worry, it won't hurt you]

Several celiac experts (Dr. Peter Green - Celiac Disease Center at Columbia Univ., Dr. Stephano Guandalini - Univ. of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Dr. Alessio Fasano - Univ. of Maryland Center for Celiac Research) say not to worry about gluten in hair/skin care products because the gluten must be consumed in order for it to cause a celiac reaction [villi damage]. Their reasoning, based on scientific evidence - size matters. The gluten proteins are simply too large to be absorbed by your body's largest organ - your skin.

Did you know - skin makes up about 16% of your body weight?

Cynthia Kupper, RD, Executive Director of the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America says:

"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."


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.


Tricia Thompson, RD – The Gluten-Free Dietitian says:

"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.


Doug Schoon, President of Schoon Scientific (scientific consulting for the cosmetics industry) -

"There is no scientific evidence to support claims that gluten can absorb through the skin. The burden of proof should be on those who make these statements. They should provide credible scientific evidence to back this unlikely claim.

What makes gluten unlikely to absorb? Substances with molecular weights (sizes) approaching 500 daltons are considered very poor skin penetrators because they are so large. Any bigger, they can’t possibly absorb into the skin, so they just sit on the surface. Gluten is huge — about 600 daltons — which is pretty monstrous; 15% larger than the theoretical maximum size.

Also, gluten is a protein and so is skin. Protein is attracted to proteins, so gluten is likely to bond tightly to skin making it more difficult to penetrate. So it has two things going against it. This is just another example of an unfounded cosmetic myth used to frighten people. The same holds true for lipstick. There is little scientific study that supports the notion that gluten in lipstick is a problem for people with Celiac disease."


Update 3/23/16 - add additional information about the size of gliadin and glutenin. Note: Molecular weight = Dalton

Most gliadin proteins have molecular weights (MW's) of 16,000 to 50,000.

Glutenin, however, consists of subunits of MW's 20,000 to 100,000 linked through intermolecular disulfide bonds into proteins with MW's of 50,000 to 2,000,000 or more.


Less Filling! [Hey that hurts!]

Even though science/medicine is telling us gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin - and thus not causing a reaction [ie villi damage], it's hard to ignore the countless number of celiacs/gluten sensitives that report they react to gluten in personal-care products. The reactions people experience are varied, many are topical (redness, itchy, burning, blisters] - due to gluten contact. Absorption is not needed for something like
Contact Dermatitis.

Could it be that the experts are using intestinal damage as their only gauge for a reaction? It seems they are saying
“If it doesn't cause intestinal damage, there's nothing to worry about.” Does that sound familiar? It should, because the gluten-free community went through this with Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), where there is no intestinal damage. For years, experts told those with celiac-like symptoms and no villi damage that gluten was not the problem and NCGS didn't exist. Just because science fails to prove existence, doesn't mean that it fails to exist. Guess what - NCGS is now recognized. It does exist, who knew?

Could this be another instance where medicine hasn't caught up or it simply hasn't proven what patients have been experiencing? Not all medical professionals hold the status quo however...

Dr. Rodney Ford, Gastroenterologist & Allergist - Director of
The Children's Clinic & The Allergy Centre says

“Do not put food on your skin...Foods are for eating - not for skin care in people with food sensitivity. Although these creams promote that they are “natural”, it is best to put something inert on the skin (such as a fatty cream).”


People's reactions raise several questions:

Are they celiac reactions?
Are there other allergies at play?
Are the reactions
irritant dermatitis or allergic dermatitis?
Are they caused by gluten or some other ingredient in the product?
Science has studied only a handful of the proteins in wheat, could there be other proteins causing problems?

So many questions, so few answers.

You have the power

Regardless of the questions, the science, or the experts – you are in control – you can choose to listen to the science or “listen” to what your body is telling you - and make the appropriate choices. If you continue to have unexplained issues or you if you don't feel comfortable using products with gluten, seek out gluten-free personal care products. You just might be surprised at the results!



If you thought reading packaged food ingredient labels was difficult, it's child's play compared to the shampoo bottle. You'll need a degree in Molecular Chemistry and a secret decoder ring.

Cosmetics are not covered under the FDA's Food allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). This means wheat, barley, rye and oats do not have to be clearly or plainly listed – instead, they use complex chemical names. Here are some ingredient lists that should help decipher those labels.

Something to keep in mind, the ingredient “fragrance”could be from a gluten source. Even unscented products have fragrance that's used to mask the chemical scent. Also fragerances are considered “trade secrets” and their components do not have to disclosed on the label or on the phone.

I've also included rice, soy, corn, yeast, millet derived ingredients.

Wheat Derived Ingredients
Amp-Isostearoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Triticum Vulgare (wheat) Germ Oil
Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Triticum Vulgare (wheat) Gluten
Disodium Wheatgermamido Peg-2 Sulfosuccinate Triticum Vulgare (wheat) Starch
Disodium Wheatgermamphodiacetate Wheat Amino Acids
Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten & Wheat Flour Wheat Bran Extract
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer Wheat Germ Extract
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Pg-Propyl Silanetriol Wheat Germ Glycerides
Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch Wheat Germ Oil
Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Wheat Germamidopropalkonium Chloride
Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Wheat Germamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
Maltodextrin (verify starch source, may not be wheat) Wheat Protein
Sodium C8-16 Isoalkylsuccinyl Wheat Protein Sulfonate Wheat (triticum Vulgare) Bran Extract
Stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Yeast Extract (verify source, it may not contain gluten)
Triticum Vulgare (wheat) Flour Lipids
Triticum Vulgare (wheat) Germ Extract

Barley Derived Ingredients
Amino Peptide Complex Hydrolyzed Malt Extract
Barley Extract Malt Extract
Hordeum Vulgare (barley) Extract Phytosphingosine Extract

Oat Derived Ingredients
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Avena Sativa (oat) Kernel Protein Hydrolyzed Oat Protein
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernal Extract Oat Beta Glucanoat Extract
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernal Oil Oat Flour
Hydrolyzed Oats Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids

Soy Derived Ingredients
Glycine Soja (soybean)extract Peg-16 Soya Sterol
Glycine Soja (soybean)flour Peg-25 Soya Sterol
Glycine Soja (soybean) Oil Soy Phospholipids
Glycine Soja (soybean) Protein Soy Sterol
Hydrogenated Lecithin Soybean Extract
Hydrogenated Soy Glyceride Soybean Oil
Hydrolyzed Soy Protein Soybean Phospholipids
Lecithin Soybean Sterol
Mixed Soy Phospholipids Tocopherol
Peg-5 Soya Sterol Tocopheryl Acetate
Peg-10 Soya Sterol Tocopheryl Linoleate

Rice Derived Ingredients
Hydrolyzed Rice Extract Oryzanol
Oryza Sativa (rice) Bran Oil Rice Bran Oil
Oryza Sativa (rice) Starch Rice Starch

Yeast Derived Ingredients
Ceramide 2 Saccharomyces Extract
Ceramide 3 Saccharomyces Lysate Extract
Magnesium-Copper-Zinc Glycopeptides Saccharomyces Magnesium Ferment Extract
Saccaromyces/Magnesium Ferment Hydrolysate
Magnesium-Selenium-Copper-Zinc Glycopeptides Saccaromyces/Potassium Ferment Hydrolysate
Silicon-Zinc-Copper-Iron-Magnesium Yeast Glycopeptides Saccharomyces Zinc Ferment Extract
Saccharomyces Calcium Ferment Extract Yeast Extract Yeast Protein
Saccharomyces/Copper Ferment

Corn Derived Ingredients
Aluminum Starch Octenyl Succinate Corn Starch
Ascorbic Acid Corn Starch Modified
Ascorbyl Palmitate Corn (zea Mays) Oil
Caramel Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Corn Flour Sodium Ascorbate
Corn Oil Zea Mays (corn) Kernel Extract

Companies with Gluten-Free Products
Acure Organics Hugo Naturals
Afterglow Cosmetics - Gluten-Free by Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) Intelligent Nutrients
Alterna John Masters
Arbonne Jonathan Product
BIOMEGA Costco's Kirkland
DermaOrganic Max Green Alchemy
Desert Essence Morrocco Method – Vegan/GF
Dove - Derivatives of gluten will be clearly labeled if present in the product. No Gluten Natural Girl Products
Ecco Bella Botanique
Finess Original Sprout
Garnier Renpure
Gluten-Free Savonerrie Sei Bella
Griffin Remedy Suave - Any wheat, barley, rye or oat ingredient will be clearly labeled.
HBL Surface – Salon quality
Head Organics Synergy

Maybelline Gluten Containing Ingredients
Avena Sativa (Oat) Bran Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Oil Malt Extract
Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Maltodextrin
Cyclodextrin Secale Cereale (Rye) Seed Flour
Dextrin Sodium C8-16 Isoalkylsuccinyl Wheat Protein Sulfonate
Dextrin Palmitate Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acid
Disodium Wheat Germamphodiacetate Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract
Hordeum Vulgare Extract Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil
Hydrolyzed Malt Extract Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Gluten
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Starch
Hydrolyzed Oat Protein Wheat Amino Acids
Hydrolyzed Oats Wheat Germ Glycerides
Hydrolyzed Wheat Flour Wheat Germamidopropalkonium Chloride
Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten Wheat Protein
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Wheatgermamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein / PVP Crosspolymer Yeast Extract

Maybelline states they do not maintain a gluten-free list. Consumers need to read the ingredient lists of their products in order to determine the status.

Sources used in this post:


Gluten in Cosmetics: Results of Testing on Lipsticks and Lotions

´┐╝Inadvertent gluten ingestion from skin care products is a concern for those maintaining a gluten-zero lifestyle.

Two potential sources of ingestion are lotions and lipsticks. Tricia Thompson, MS, RD from Gluten-Free Watchdog and Thomas Grace decided to do gluten testing on two lotions and four lipsticks that contained gluten derived ingredients. This was a very small test, but I think the results will surprise you.

Sandwich and Competitive R5 ELISA test results on all six products returned less than 5 ppm and less than 10 ppm respectively. This means the products tested below detectable limits for each type of test.

To see the full results and get the authors' comments: