gluten-free beauty products

Secret Shopper: Is there a certification I should look for on gluten-free skin care products?

This month, NFM's secret shopper visited an integrative pharmacy in the West to test its staff's knowledge.

NFM: Is there a certification I should look for on gluten-free skin care products?

Store: There’s a seal called Certified Gluten-Free that you might want to look for on food labels, and I believe some skin care products carry it, too. But my understanding is that absorbing gluten through the skin doesn’t cause the same problems for gluten-sensitive people as eating gluten does.

NFM: How about for people with celiac disease?

Store: I’m fairly certain it is safe for them, too, although I’m not 100 percent sure. If you’re really concerned, ask your doctor or another knowledgeable health care provider before buying a product.

How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, founder of Gluten-Free Watchdog, an independent tester of consumer products labeled gluten free.

This retailer did a pretty good job. There is currently no scientific evidence to show that gluten used in cosmetics that are not ingested poses harm to individuals with celiac disease—including those with dermatitis herpetiformis, the skin form of the disease. Based on what we know right now, gluten must be ingested for it to trigger the immune response seen in celiac disease. Therefore, shoppers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity shouldn’t worry about most products applied to the skin, such as body lotion, sunscreen, shaving cream and deodorant, especially if they wash their hands after use. They also don’t need to worry about shampoo, conditioner and other hair care products.

However, hand lotion could be considered one of those in-between cases. If someone uses a lot of it and doesn’t wash his or her hands before eating, then, theoretically, some lotion could be ingested. Products used in and around the mouth, like lipstick, are a bit more suspect.

If customers are still concerned, tell them to look for products labeled gluten free or that have been certified gluten free by one of the third-party organizations—just as this retailer did. Also share with them that the Food and Drug Administration’s gluten-free labeling rule doesn’t cover cosmetics.

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