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Cosmetic Ingredients And Products That May Contain Gluten

May 24, 2014

Following on from my earlier post ‘Gluten Free Cosmetics, Is There A Need?”  we identified that there is a small but engaged and highly motivated proportion of the population who need to avoid gluten in personal care products and a larger, less critical but equally engaged proportion of people who would feel better knowing that they were buying Gluten-Free products.

All well and good but cosmetics are not bread or pasta, how do we know if they have gluten in or not?

Well, never fear as my top tips to seeking and avoiding gluten are listed below.

  • Gluten – it won’t often be listed this way.

While I did happen to find 10 EU approved ingredients with the word ‘gluten’ in their name there are many more ingredients that could contain gluten that won’t be listed this way. Be prepared to learn some INCI names.


  • Identify the INCI names for the gluten grains.

Wheat oats barley


Triticum = Wheat (63 ingredients based on wheat)

Avena = Oat.  (31 oat based ingredients)

Secale = Rye. (8 ingredients based on Rye).

Hordeum  = Barley. (36 ingredients based on Barley).

So there are at least 138 ingredients out there that could end up on your face or body.  Scanning labels for those key words will help you with your gluten avoidance.

  • Consider ‘hidden’ ingredients that may not be labelled as any of the above.

While this family of ingredients are probably the least likely to cause issue you may want to consider avoiding ingredients that have originated from wheat, oat, rye or barley.  Typical examples might be amino acids or proteins which might originate from wheat.  Then there is beta glucan from Oats,  starch containing ingredients (not all starch ingredients mention the starch origin), Malt based ingredients and more.  Logically speaking I would assume that cosmetic ingredients that have been created using wheat, oat, rye or barley as a feedstock would most likely have the gluten removed as part of the up-scale processing and would therefore potentially post little to no threat to those wishing or needing to avoid gluten but as a brand owner wanting to adopt a ‘free from wheat, oat, rye or barley’ approach knowing the ingredient back story enables you to back up your position.

  • Check for cross contamination.

Those serious about their wish to avoid gluten would be wise to seek assurances from the product manufacturer that the finished goods remain gluten-free and haven’t become contaminated during processing. Just like with food where we see ‘made in a facility that processes nuts’ it may be that 100% pure gluten-free skin care has to be made in a similarly sterile factory.  For the consumer this would be something you can follow-up with the brand owner or hopefully see on the label but for the brand owner it would involve a few discussions with your supply chain and possibly a certification process.

  • Know your chemistry.

If all of this is looking a bit overwhelming it pays to keep the following in mind, gluten is a protein, proteins are denatured (broken down) by heat, acid and alkali and solvents such as alcohol which are typically used to make plant-based extracts.   While I haven’t been able to find evidence of this to date it stands to reason that the more ‘processed’ a cosmetic ingredient is (physically too, not just chemically) the less likely it is to contain gluten in its original and presumably active state.  Gluten is also water-soluble so it stands to reason that water based or water active ingredients are a higher risk factor than oil ingredients.    That said things like wheatgerm or oat oil can still pose issues, especially when they have been through minimal processing such as we find in Organically certified products.  The risks here are from the oil containing seed components that haven’t been filtered out.  Heat treating and refining these oils may lessen the potential risk.

  • Risk Assess.

While it is easier mentally to just say ‘OK I want to avoid everything that might have gone anywhere near to gluten’ that can be both difficult and expensive.  Therefore some intellectual risk assessing may be more realistic.  Products that are going to remain on your hands and lips are more likely to be ingested I guess,  maybe consider these more carefully than say your foot scrub or soap bar.   Cold-process ingredients may be more risky than heat-treated or refined ingredients due to the chemistry of the gluten.  Leave on will be more potentially troubling than rinse off and so on and so forth.

  • Proof please. 

For brand owners if you want to take an ultra-hard line on gluten-free do spend some money on testing your ingredients and products to get some evidence behind your claims or best still find a certification body to help you market and communicate your positioning.  Gluten free cosmetic standards are currently few and far between – I only managed to find standards for food here in Australia which is fine as that is how Organic Cosmetics started….

Overall it is still worth keeping in mind that the Auto-immune disease ‘Coeliac’ affects only a small proportion of the general population and of those only a minority suffer a direct skin allergy relating to their condition. Therefore for the majority of the gluten sensitive population being ‘allergy literate’ in terms of what to look for on a cosmetic product label is a great first step and is probably enough to keep them sane and beautiful while we wait for a reliable and all-encompassing cosmetic standard.

In the final part of our gluten series we will have a look at gluten and gluten containing ingredients and how they might irritate the skin.  Do they need to get very far to cause damage?  Let’s investigate….

Amanda x





One Comment leave one →
  1. Aline permalink
    May 29, 2014 12:39 pm

    I`m not allergic to gluten but I wanted to leave a comment just to say your blog is nice. I am learning a lot about cosmetics chemistry and other interesting matters.
    I am brazilian, so I apologize for any mispells.

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