Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Glutard Navigating the World of Beauty Products

Being beautiful is hard, especially if you're going to try via the dominant cultural definitions of beauty in the US. For women, this often means using makeup and hair products, among many other things. Now I am NOT saying you have to use these products to be beautiful, or that you need to limit yourself to this very narrow definition of beauty. All I'm saying is that if you play by the dominant culture's rules, you're gonna have to play smarter if you're a glutard. BECAUSE THE FDA DOESN'T REALLY REGULATE ALLERGENS IN COSMETIC PRODUCTS. What??? Maybe you already knew this. I guess I kind of knew it, but hadn't really thought about it. Let me share a story, then what I've learned in my procrastination-induced research.

First off, I don't think much about cosmetic products because I don't really use them. I moisturize and mascara-ize, but otherwise would prefer sleeping over waking up earlier to make myself up. I know enough to not buy hair or makeup products with hydrolyzed wheat protein (which is all the rage right now), or barley, or malt, or any of the obvious perpetrators. I read labels to look for potential gluten offenders, buy the stuff that seems safe, then carry on my merry way. This topic was thrust to the forefront of my attention, though, when my mother (who is also a glutard) broke out in a rash after using Pond's cold cream. She had checked the label before purchasing the product and didn't notice anything that looked offensive, so she bought it. When my Ma called Pond's, she learned that they routinely use gluten in most of their products. They also told her that cosmetic companies are not required to list all of their ingredients on their product labels. So my mom tried a higher-end brand in hopes that their labeling practices would be more straightforward. But when my Ma spoke to a sales associate at a Clinique counter, they told her that they also cannot guarantee that their products are free of allergens. They don't seem to be actively using gluten as an ingredient, but they did say that they can't guarantee the source of some of their ingredients and that there may be cross-contamination since their parent company also produces other brands of cosmetics. 

This irked me. I don't know why I expected more, but I did. Perhaps I had been lulled into a sense of pseudo-security since I have mastered reading food labels.* Especially from Clinique, which markets itself as hypoallergenic. HELLO - your products contain one of the eight major food allergens. Yeah, it isn't going IN your mouth, but the products are going ON or AROUND your mouth.  So I did some research. I focused on reliable sources, mostly the Food and Drug Administration's websites. 

Here are some things I learned:
-The use of the term 'hypoallergenic' is not regulated by anyone. It means whatever someone wants it to mean. In fact, a federal court specifically mandated that use of this term doesn't have to be backed by anything. FYI, I'm hypoallergenic. 
-'Incidental' ingredients don't need to be declared on labels. If a company uses an ingredient in the manufacturing process, but is has no 'technical' or 'functional' effect, you don't have to list it as an ingredient. This can include suspension or concentration agents. This is the Pond's situation. 
-Cosmetics also have vague-yet-familiar catch-all terms that can include almost anything, like 'fragrance' or 'flavor'. This isn't surprising to me, since we see similar terms in foods and drugs (e.g., 'natural flavoring' or 'pregelatinized starch,' respectively). 
-Tocopherol (Vitamin E) may or may not be wheat-derived. Tocopherol shows up in a lot of moisturizers and lip products. I had no idea where it came from... Maybe someone just hugged a Vitamin E tree so hard that it produced oily little happy tears of vitamin-filled moisture. Maybe not. 

For more information, check out some other FDA websites:

Do you have any other helpful information to share about allergens and cosmetics? I'm a newbie here...

*Honestly, food and drug labels are just as confusing, what with all of the ingredients/additives of unknown origin. 

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