Makeup and hygiene products often contain gluten. If you are sensitive enough to react to them, what should you avoid?
You probably don’t think twice about using a glob of hand sanitizer or a wet wipe to clean your hands. I never did. On vacation in Yellowstone National Park, I cleaned my hands in the car with a wet wipe. A few minutes later, I rubbed my eyes with my hand and noticed my vision getting blurry soon after. Then things got weird. My upper vision and my lower vision remained, but the part of the picture in between the two began to disappear, as if it had been crimped. Severe brain fog came on and talking became difficult, which I now identify with an extreme gluten reaction. After drinking several bottles of water this all subsided. I had no idea what happened at the time and didn’t even know I was gluten intolerant. I was terrified and figured I must have gotten severely dehydrated. A little more than a month ago it happened again, after using wet wipes to clean up for a sick pet. I wiped off my hands, let them dry, and then put in my right contact. Again, the middle of my vision was gone. This time I took a Benadryl and drank several glasses of water. After about twenty minutes, my vision was back. I still don’t have proof of what happened, but I believe it was gluten related.
Many wet wipes (including the brands I used), hand sanitizers, hairsprays, hair dyes and shampoos contain an ingredient called tocopherol, tocopheryl, or tocopherol acetate. It is a form of vitamin E and can be made from wheat or other sources, such as corn, soy or any number or plants as well as goat’s milk. The problem is that products containing tocopherol do not specify what was used to make it, so it is difficult to tell if these products will trigger a reaction. It is even possible that the same product may use tocopherol from different sources at different times, depending on what is readily available and cheap. Tocopherol isn’t the only name you need to watch for, either. This post about gluten free shampoo contains a valuable list of ingredients that point to wheat.
In addition to cleaning products, makeup also contains tocopherol and other forms of wheat. Most large companies have not made gluten free products a priority, especially since there is doubt over whether or not people react to gluten on their skin. Even if gluten does not cause topical reactions for you, wearing something that could potentially get in your eyes, mouth, or lungs should set off some alarm bells. If you are at all gluten sensitive, I recommend using gluten free products around your eyes and mouth. Lipsticks and eyeliners get too close to take chances, and frequently do not have ingredient lists on the item itself (save your packaging). No Gluten Natural Girl is a wonderful brand that doesn’t cost more than what you would buy at a drugstore or supermarket. I buy most of my everyday makeup from them. For lipstick, I recommend Red Apple Lipstick. It’s more expensive, but it lasts for a long time, gives great coverage and comes in awesome shades of red, which are more difficult to make because they require a strong binder. Not sure if you need gluten free cosmetics? This article is informative.
Theatrical makeup is even more challenging, as it is often designed and selected by the company you work for, especially for ensembles of dancers or chorus members. For years I have avoided Ben Nye eye pencils. I have forgotten twice at work, used them and had to come offstage in a hurry. I develop pupil dilation, light-headedness and blurry vision. Ben Nye won’t return e-mails or phone calls inquiring about gluten, which leads me to believe that their line is not gluten free. I always put their foundation on over my own and do my best to color match lip color and eyeliner. Their eye shadows and blushes have tocopherol acetate listed on the label. I use them on the eyelid and cheek but avoid getting them too close to the eyes or mouth– so far, so good. I have never had a reaction, but I always have my Benadryl nearby. If you are sensitive, you should determine what level of risk you are willing to deal with. If you need gluten free products, remember that they should be applied first so that they do not get contaminated and different brushes must be used.
The good news is that gluten free products are getting easier to find. My hope is that theatrical makeup will begin to make the advances we see in personal care and everyday makeup products. There is a company called Grimas in the UK making gluten and allergen free kits. Hopefully someone will champion this worthy cause here the U.S. very soon. Even more importantly, I hope that science will discover more reliable information about the effects of topical gluten.
UPDATE 2/22/14: This season I have been using my Grimas kit to match and replace foundation makeup supplied by my company. I have begun to color match eye shadows and blushes and did the run of my last show in completely gluten free makeup. It is so worth the money I spent to eliminate the low level bloating, headache, anxiety and brain fog that I get when wearing stage makeup with gluten in it. All gone. If you are considering going gluten free on stage I encourage you to do it. Don’t you want to feel your best?
Other posts in this series include: Gluten Sensitivity: An Introduction, Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies, and Gluten Sensitivity for Construction Workers, Artists, and Children: Building and Crafting Materials.