Cosmetic Labelling Regulations

In late 2006, Health Canada introduced new regulations that require manufacturers to include a full ingredient list on all packages of cosmetics before the end of 2007. Manufacturers can sell off their present stock of products without labels, but by the end of the year, all cosmetics must have a full ingredient list on the package or on a tag or tape attached to the product.

What is a cosmetic?

According to Health Canada, a cosmetic is “any substance or mixture of substances, manufactured, sold or represented for use in cleansing, improving or altering the complexion, skin, hair or teeth and includes deodorants and perfumes.” This includes animal grooming products, cosmetics used by professionals, and institutional products like hand soap used in restrooms.

Cosmetics are subject to the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA). The Cosmetic Regulations outline general safety, labelling and notification requirements. Products that have a therapeutic claim, e.g. sunscreens, vitamins and minerals, and homeopathic remedies, are regulated differently.

What needs to be labelled?

All ingredients in the product must be listed in descending order of predominance on the label, including colouring agents and fragrances. In the case of makeup and nail polish all the colouring agents in a range of colour shades may be listed, preceded by +/- or ± or “may contain”.

What names might indicate gluten?

With only a few specific exceptions, an ingredient must be identified by its International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) name. The International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook is an international naming system used in many countries including Canada, the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Learning a few Latin words will permit you to identify ingredients derived from gluten-containing grains. In particular, watch for oats (avena), barley (hordeum), rye (secale) and wheat (triticum). See Table 1 for some examples.

Does every ingredient with a warning word in the name contain gluten?

Some of the ingredients derived from wheat or other gluten-containing grains do not have any protein in them, and should not cause problems for someone with celiac disease. At this point, we do not know enough about the gluten content of all of the ingredients used in cosmetic manufacturing. It is a safe rule, therefore, that if a product is going on or into your mouth, and it has one of the warning words on the label, avoid the product.

What products should I be concerned about checking?

If you have celiac disease, you need to be concerned with cosmetic products that go in or near your mouth – lipstick, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. If you are caring for a child with celiac disease, you may also be concerned about products used on their hands that might go in their mouth.

In general, if a product goes on your hair or on your skin, you do not need to be concerned because the protein that causes problems is too large to be absorbed through the skin. However, there is some anecdotal evidence that some people have problems with skin lotions. If you find you have problems, you may want to avoid the ingredients in lotions as well.

2013 Update

To date, we have been unable to find any toothpaste that contains gluten.


Green, P.H.R. and Jones, R. (2006) Celiac Disease: a Hidden Epidemic. HarperCollins Publishers, New York.

Health Canada Consumer Product Safety (Cosmetics and Personal Care)
website: Health Canada Labelling of Cosmetics – Ingredients

Table 1

Grains Words to Watch For Sample Ingredients
Oats Avena, Oats Avena sativa flour
Avena sativa protein
Avena sativa starch
Colloidal oatmeal
Sodium stearoyl oat protein
Barley Hordeum, Barley Barley Extract
Barley Seed Flour
Hordeum distichon extract
Hordeum vulgare
Hordeum vulgare flour
Hordeum vulgare juice
Hordeum vulgare root extract
Hordeum vulgare wax
Rye Secale Secale cereale extract
Secale cereale flour
Various Grains Gliadin, Grain Gliadin
Spent Grain Flour
Wheat Triticum, Wheat Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
Hydrolyzed wheat protein
Hydrolyzed wheat starch
Sodium lauroyl wheat amino acids
Triticum vulgare bran
Triticum vulgare germ oil or flour or extract
Triticum vulgare gluten or protein
Wheat amino acids
Wheat germ acid
Wheat germ glycerides