Should You Buy Into the Gluten-Free Beauty Trend?

"Gluten-free" is a huge buzzword right now, but not only in food. Beauty companies are increasingly labeling products gluten-free, but is gluten in cosmetics something we all need to worry about? Between lead in my lipstick and formaldehyde in my hair straightener, I don't know if I have the capacity for more beauty-product-related anxiety.
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"Gluten-free" is a huge buzzword right now, but not only in food. Beauty companies are increasingly labeling products gluten-free, but is gluten in cosmetics something we all need to worry about? Between lead in my lipstick and formaldehyde in my hair straightener, I don't know if I have the capacity for more beauty-product-related anxiety.
Photo: W/Mert and Marcus

Photo: W/Mert and Marcus

"Gluten-free" is a huge buzzword right now--but it's not limited to food: Beauty companies are increasingly labeling products

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Which brings us to beauty. According to Dr. Green, the only people who should really avoid products containing gluten are those with documented wheat allergies.

"We think that people who have celiac disease don’t have to avoid skin contact with gluten," Dr. Green said. "There are currently no studies, but we think you’ve got to ingest it or inhale it for it to cause a reaction."

The two product exceptions? Lipstick (because you actually swallow it, which... ew) and hair spray, though Dr. Green thinks the risk of a celiac flare is low with a spritz or two of hairspray.

Not that many beauty products actually contain gluten in the first place. "It's not really common for cosmetics to contain gluten," cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson told me. "There are so many ingredients that are used in skin care--wheat based products aren't typically the first choice." Basically, a lot of it's just marketing. Remember the fat-free craze in the '90s? Even things that never had fat in the first place (like my favorite candy ever, the red Swedish Fish) were advertised as fat-free.

"We are in the era of 'free' marketing: paraben-free, fragrance-free, oil-free and now the newest addition to the family is gluten-free," Wilson said. "This claim is becoming a frequent request--so yes, the beauty industry is moving in a gluten-free direction."

If you are interested in avoiding gluten in your blush, there are certain products more likely to contain it. "[Sometimes] a wheat-derived or barley ingredient will be used to firm up the skin," Wilson explained. "But these ingredients are more commonly found in hair care products to increase volume, hold, or to help strengthen the hair."

Your best bet? Don't spend more for something listed as gluten-free, unless you have a legitimate medical reason for doing so. When it comes to beauty, gluten is not necessarily your enemy.

Click through to the next page for a list of potential gluten-containing ingredients (courtesy of Wilson), if you're interested in really analyzing your products.

Ingredients Potentially Containing Gluten:

Amp-Isostearoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Barley Grass Barley Hordeum vulgare Disodium Wheatgermamido Peg-2 Sulfosuccinate Hordeum Vulgare Extract Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Pg-Propyl Silanetriol Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Semolina Triticum Stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Triticum aestivum Triticum carthlicum Triticum durum Triticum polonicum Triticum spelta Triticum turanicum Triticum turgidum Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Flour Lipids Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil Wheat (Triticum Vulgare) Bran Extract Wheat amino acids Wheat Bran Extract Wheat Germ Glycerides Wheat Protein Wheat Triticum Monococcum