Study: Cosmetics May Be Hidden Headache For People Allergic to Gluten

(Photo by Flickr user F0t0Synth)

People who are allergic to gluten may be getting exposed, despite their best efforts, through an unexpected source: cosmetics.

In a study released last week, GW researchers found that ingredients were difficult to come by, if available at all, for the top-selling lipsticks and foundations offered by 10 companies. Everyday products, like some lip balms and vitamins, may contain gluten—information that could be important to people affected by celiac disease, in which gluten causes the immune system to damage the small intestine.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and primarily is found in foods, which are avoided by the more than 2 million people in the U.S. affected by celiac disease.

“If you’re just focusing on food intake, you may be missing something that’s very important and could make a difference in someone’s life,” lead study author Marie Borum, a GW professor and physician, told While gluten can’t be absorbed through the skin, she said, cosmetics users may be ingesting small amounts inadvertently.

The investigation was sparked by the case of a 28-year-old patient with celiac disease whose symptoms flared after using a body lotion, said Dr. Borum. Once the patient stopped using the product, her symptoms subsided.

Results of the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (and not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal), found that none of the 10 companies offered specifically gluten-free options, and only the websites for Avon and L’Oreal Paris offered ingredients for each company’s top-selling lipstick and foundation. The researchers then checked an independent website,, and found ingredients for products at four other companies: Cover Girl, Maybelline, Max Factor and Revlon.

None of the ingredients from those six companies’ products mentioned gluten.

Ingredients on similar products from four additional companies—Clinique, Estee Lauder, Lancome and Shiseido—couldn’t be found on either the company website or

The case of the 28-year-old patient “highlights the fact that celiac patients face a huge challenge in trying to determine whether cosmetic products contain gluten—and a risk of unknowingly exposing themselves to gluten,” said co-author Pia Prakash, an internal medicine resident.

—By Danny Freedman

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