Do I Need Gluten-Free Makeup?

woman applying gluten-free makeup
Do you need to use only gluten-free makeup?. Plume Creative/Getty Images

Question: I need to be gluten-free. Do I need to purchase all gluten-free makeup and other skin care products, or can I use products with gluten in them?

Answer: When you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your reaction to the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye stems from your digestive tract, not from your skin.

Therefore, makeup and skin care products (such as moisturizers) that you use on your skin but don't ingest shouldn't — in theory — be an issue unless you're using them on your lips.

That's what many experts on celiac and gluten sensitivity will tell you.

BUT (and this is a big but), the problem with this answer is that it's difficult or impossible to apply makeup or other skin care products without risking ingesting a tiny bit, either as you're spreading the product on your face, or later, because you got some on your hands or under your fingernails and didn't wash it off thoroughly enough.

How many times have you noticed that weird, sometimes metallic, often fragrance-y makeup taste in your mouth? If you use skin care products every day, I'll bet you notice it fairly often. And that's the problem, in a nutshell.

It Only Takes A Little Tiny Bit ...

When it comes to gluten cross-contamination in our food, it only can take a crumb (or for those who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten, even less) to induce nasty glutening symptoms.

    Many makeup and skin care products contain gluten ingredients (often in the form of hydrolyzed wheat protein, which is processed but not enough to remove all the gluten). So it only would take a taste of one of these products to potentially gluten you.

    Why take the risk? 

    I feel the same way about gluten-free shampoo, conditioner and other hair products — it's so easy (not to mention random) to get a little of this stuff in your mouth, so why risk getting sick from it every time you shower?

    If you want to stay as well as possible, you need gluten-free shampoo.

    But I Want To Take The Risk!

    Okay, so you love your products and you don't want to switch. I get it, I really do. Here's what you'll need to do in order to stay safe while using gluten-containing makeup:

    1. Avoid gluten-containing lip products like the plague (you obviously ingest some of these each time you use them, and so they're banned when you have celiac or gluten sensitivity).
    2. Never use a gluten-containing product anywhere near your mouth.
    3. Skip powders that contain gluten, since they could become airborne (inhaled gluten is a problem).
    4. Wash your hands thoroughly, including under your nails (especially if you bite your nails), every time you touch the gluten-containing product.
    5. Make sure you don't rub your face and then touch your lips (or worse, eat a gluten-free brownie or something) without washing your hands again first.

    If you follow these rules, you should be able to eliminate as much risk as possible ... and potentially pinpoint any symptoms you might have more quickly.

    Not up for the challenge? I freely admit that I wasn't, which is why I cleansed my bathroom cabinet of all gluten-containing products a while back.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of great gluten-free makeup products out there. Check out these manufacturers:

    So the answer to the original question, "Do I need gluten-free makeup?" is (technically): No, you don't. But I highly recommend you consider it anyway.