If you are one of the estimated 2 million Americans managing celiac disease, the food you eat isn't the only thing you might need to worry about. What you place on your skin could affect you as well. That's because some lip, facial and body products may contain undisclosed gluten, finds a recent George Washington University study.
In people with celiac disease, gluten -- a protein found in barley, rye and wheat -- triggers a reaction that damages the walls of the small intestine that then makes it difficult for the body to absorb basic nutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and, in some cases, even water and bile salts. Untreated damage can be chronic and life threatening, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Unlike food allergies that some folks grow out of, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that will never go away. Avoiding the consumption of gluten is one of the major tools for managing the disease, which is why this study is cause for alarm for many.
When a 28 year old women with celiac disease experienced gastrointestinal and skin reactions from using a "natural" body lotion, there was no way for her to tell whether the lotion contained gluten, but once she stopped using it, her symptoms went away. This inspired the GWU researchers, who analyzed products from the top 10 cosmetic companies in the United States for their gluten content. But only two of the companies offered detailed ingredient information, and none offered gluten-free products, the researchers found. While some smaller cosmetic companies advertise gluten-free products, cosmetic giants should inform consumers whether their products are appropriate for those with gluten-sensitivity, said researchers.
"The findings are alarming because gluten-containing cosmetics can be inadvertently obtained by the consumer and use of these products can result in an exacerbation of celiac disease," said the study's co-author Pia Prakash, MD, in a news release. "This study revealed that information about the ingredients, including the potential gluten content, in cosmetics is not readily available.
What can you do?
Until the cosmetic giants offer full disclosure or label their products as gluten-free, those with celiac disease need to do some detective work. GlutenFreeRN.com maintains a list of 24 cosmetic ingredients in which gluten can hide, some a bit obvious, such as hydrolyzed wheat flour, and some you need a scientific degree to figure out, such as dextrin palmitate. The website also has an updated list of gluten-free cosmetic companies.