procrastinating like a particularly easily distracted loris with ADD fitting in a nifty bit of networking between urgent tasks today, when out of the blue I was asked a question on Twitter about whether cosmetics contained gluten.
Generally they don’t.
Intolerance to gluten is surprisingly widespread. There is a condition called coeliac disease where gluten in the diet interferes with the gut’s ability to absorb food properly. Given that gluten is found in most grains this makes finding suitable sources of carbohydrate a big problem for sufferers. And some estimates put the incidence of coeliac disease as high as 1% of the population. That is a lot of people so it is a very real problem.
But luckily, there is no particular need for these people to worry about their personal care products. Gluten is a big molecule that is not going to get through intact skin. It might manage to get through pores and cuts in the skin, but that is a very narrow gate to squeeze through. Again, it is a large molecule so it is only going to diffuse through to the blood stream very slowly indeed. I would be surprised if there was much absorbtion even if you covered your skin in neat gluten.
Even if some did somehow get into the blood stream it is very unlikely to do any harm. The evidence seems to be that the gluten is transformed into a dangerous form in the gut itself, so if it goes straight into the blood as is there will probably be no effect. We are talking highly theoretical here.
In any case, probably 99% of cosmetic and personal care products will have no gluten in any shape or form. There are some conditioning agents that are derived from wheat, oat and barley. The feedstocks from which these materials are made would contain gluten. But it doesn’t seem very likely that any would survive the processing that these materials would have undergone before they end up on your skin. But most of the ingredients that are derived from wheat and other gluten sources have names that make their origins pretty clear, so if you have this condition and you don’t want to take any chances you can look at the ingredient list and avoid products that contain them. You will still have plenty of choice of very good products so this at least doesn’t need to adversely affect your life very much.
So all in all, specifically formulated gluten free cosmetics doesn’t sound like something the world actually needs. But interestingly one of the people discussing the subject on Twitter said that she herself had had a reaction on her skin to a product containing gluten. I was intrigued and asked her the name of the product. I was also quite interested in how she knew that it was the gluten that she was reacting to, and indeed how she knew there was gluten in the product in the first place.
The personal care business is a small world so there is a good chance I could have made contact with the manufacturers. If they have a product on sale that does contain a high gluten level they could take steps to avoid it in future. It isn’t as if the gluten would be doing any good, so why not?
The woman hasn’t replied to me yet. But I did notice that she has a website where she sells special gluten free nutritional supplements. It would be nice to think that she would pass on the good news that whatever other problems they have, her customers don’t need to worry about seeking out gluten free cosmetics.
I never did get to hear from the woman which product caused her reaction.