Last Updated on July 11, 2022 by Verna Meachum
If you are one of the many people who are gluten intolerant, it is important to be aware that you can find gluten in hair products.
This could mean that you may need to be careful about the hair care and beauty products that you use.
In this blog post, we will explore what gluten is, why it is found in some cosmetic products, and how to identify it.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein mainly present in grains, wheat, barley, and oat. For wheat, it makes up almost 70-80% of the total protein present.
Wheat is the main source of gluten as almost all species of cultivated wheat varieties contains gluten.
It is associated with an allergic reaction in some consumers, particularly people suffering from Celiac disease and gastrointestinal disorder.
The gluten issue is a frequently encountered topic in the food industry. This is why bread and other grain-based items are required by law to declare the gluten content or put a “Gluten-Free” label on them.
Why Is Gluten Found In Cosmetic Products?
Gluten is often used as a binding agent in hair care and beauty products. It helps to keep the ingredients together and prevents them from separating.
Gluten is also used as a thickener in some cosmetic products. It can help to give shampoo a thicker consistency or prevent liquid foundation from leaking out of the bottle.
Commonly used gluten ingredients in hair care
Wheat or oat-derived ingredients are commonly used in hair care formulations. A common and frequently used ingredient is “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein”.
These ingredients are added for their hair conditioning properties and are also known to strengthen damaged hair fibers.
As described by the name, these ingredients are prepared by hydrolysis of protein. The large protein molecules are fragmented into smaller molecular weight fractions.
Products containing wheat and oat derived ingredients may contain gluten.
Does the gluten content pose any threat to your health?
The question is – does the gluten content in hair care products pose any threat to your health?
This is something to look into for consumers who are already on a gluten-free diet and are advised to eat that way.
Many blogs and writers have recently addressed this topic. Customers are concerned, and they want a scientific explanation for it.
In early 2012, the American College of Gastroenterology raised an alarm in their press release regarding the presence of gluten-related ingredients in cosmetics.
A particular case was discussed for body lotion and lip care products with the greater probability of ingestion and thus causing gluten problems.
This press release caused panic to some extent and as a result, consumers, as well as cosmetic formulators, began a new whole discussion regarding gluten and gluten-free cosmetics. Some manufacturers began labeling their products with a “Gluten-Free” label.
Based off our study and knowledge, there is no such scientific study discussing the gluten content in cosmetics and quantifying their potentially harmful impact on gluten patients.
Moreover, there is no available scientific investigation on whether shampoo, conditioner, or other hair care products when applied on hair or scalp can pose a threat of Celiac disease.
“In 2012, for the first time, a group of scientists examined the gluten content of skincare cosmetics.1
They quantified gluten in lip balm, lipstick, and body lotion. The results found less than 5ppm (part per million) in the given formulations.
The authors highlighted the small concentration of gluten found and the probability of its ingestion. They concluded that it is highly unlikely that this much trace amount of gluten would pose any level of threat to gluten sensitive patients.”Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
However, the Celiac Disease Foundation says,
“Because lipsticks and lip products are easily ingested, they must be gluten-free. According to research, gluten can’t be absorbed via the scalp or skin, as the gluten molecule is too large to be absorbed through the skin, except for those with active dermatitis herpetiformis, (a skin condition of celiac disease), they should use gluten-free products to avoid contact with any open skin lesions.”
For it to be a concern, it must be ingested to affect those with Celiac disease.
As you have just read, these studies seem contradictory, but they are very reputable sources. So, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Take the safer course of action.
In 2018, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reviewed wheat protein and wheat gluten for their safety in skin and hair care formulations.
The panel concluded these ingredients were safe at the current concentration level of practice. However, they restricted their molecular weight.
The molecular weight for both ingredients needs to be 3,500 Da or less. The details are published in the International Journal of Toxicology.2
Similarly, in 2019, the same Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel concluded Oat derived ingredients are safe.
The panel published the list of oat-derived ingredients which included its proteins and polypeptides. 3
Facial Cosmetics vs Hair Care Products
A key distinction is between the site of topical application.
When I asked my Cosmetic Chemist friend for his thoughts on the subject, he said:
“Facial cosmetics are applied close to nasal cavities, eyes, and lips (buccal cavity). In that case, products have a greater probability of ingestion or intake entering the stomach and assimilating into blood circulation.
However, hair care products are only applied on hair fibers or scalp surfaces. There is little chance of gluten ingestion from these routes.”
Key tips: Take home
Not everyone has a gluten sensitivity. A considerable number of people are safe and don’t need to worry.
But, if you have a gluten problem, first follow the advice and instructions from your doctor.
You can also use the following tips:
✓ Look for Gluten-Free labels, most manufacturer mark their products.
✓ Always look at the ingredient list on the product.
✓ Any product having specific wheat or oat listed in the ingredients should be avoided. A shortlist is provided below for such ingredients.
✓ After applying cosmetics to the facial or hair area, wash your hands immediately.
Ingredients to avoid
✗ Ingredient name starting or containing wheat, gluten, or Triticum (Latin for wheat)
✗ Ingredient name starting or containing Oat or Avena Sativa
✗ Hydrolyzed wheat protein (HWP)
✗ Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
✗ Hydrolyzed oat protein
✗ Quaternized wheat protein
✗ Wheat amino acids
✗ Triticum lipids
✗ Triticum Vulgare
✗ Wheat bran extract
✗ Wheat germ extract
✗ Wheat germ glyceride
✗ Barley extract
✗ Hordeum vulgare extract
✗ Malt extract
✗ Avena sativa extract
✗ Sodium lauroyl oat amino acid
✗ Avena sativa extract
✗ AMP-isostearoyl hydrolyzed wheat protein
The gluten content in hair products is unlikely to cause any health problems for people without gluten sensitivities.
However, if you are intolerant to gluten, you may experience an allergic reaction when using products that contain gluten.
In this case, it is best to avoid gluten-containing hair products just to be safe.