Are hand sanitizers gluten-free?

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q:  Are hand sanitizers gluten-free? I am using a lot of hand sanitizer now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I need to worry about this?

Answer


Fortunately, most hand sanitizers do not contain gluten. Hand sanitizers usually contain alcohol as the active ingredient in addition to water, fragrance, glycerin, and other skin moisturizers (these may contain gluten). Hand sanitizers need to contain at least 60% alcohol as the active ingredient to be effective against COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1) Alcohol may be derived from gluten containing grains, but this is fine because gluten is removed in the distillation process. Distilled alcohol is considered safe for people with celiac disease.

Alcohol may be listed as:
Ethanol (ethyl alcohol)
Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol or 2-propanol)
If the label says "alcohol" it refers to ethanol

Methanol (wood alcohol) and 1-propanol are not allowed to be used in hand sanitizers due to their toxicity. (2)

Gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin so the issue would be accidentally ingesting sanitizer through cross-contact such as touching foods or putting your fingers in your mouth after using hand sanitizer. However, it is probably a far stretch that you would ingest enough gluten this way. But it could possibly be an issue with children. Always wash your hands before eating as handwashing is more effective at removing germs from hands anyways. Hand sanitizer does not remove all types of germs and also does not remove toxins or physical contaminants. The CDC recommends washing hands before, during and after preparing food as well as before eating. (1)

Here is what leading celiac disease specialist Alessio Fasano, MD says about skincare and celiac disease/DH:

“There is currently no scientific evidence that gluten used in cosmetics that are not ingested is harmful to individuals with celiac disease, including those with dermatitis herpetiformis (the skin form of celiac disease). If you have celiac disease, then the application of gluten-containing products to the skin should not be a problem, unless you have skin lesions that allow gluten to be absorbed systemically in great quantities. The reason why this should not be a problem is that, based on what we know right now, it is the oral ingestion of gluten that activates the immunological cascades leading to the autoimmune process typical of celiac disease.”(3)

Ingredients to watch out for if you prefer gluten-free skincare/hand sanitizer:
Wheat, barley, rye
Malt
Triticum vulgare
Wheat amino acids
Hydrolyzed wheat protein or wheat protein

Keep in mind that skincare and cosmetics are not covered under FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule.

Read more about gluten and skincare products here:

https://nationalceliac.org/celiac-disease-questions/looking-for-gf-toiletries/

https://nationalceliac.org/celiac-disease-questions/using-gluten-free-skin-body-products-someone-celiac-disease/

One of the most commonly used hand sanitizers, Purell does not contain gluten.

In addition, Tricia Thompson at Gluten Free Watchdog has tested Purell hand sanitizer and it tested below the limit of quantification. You can check it out here: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/product/purell-hand-sanitizer-aloe-not-labeled-gf/716

 

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC Website: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/hand-sanitizer-use.html
  2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA Website: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/qa-consumers-hand-sanitizers-and-covid-19#:~:text=A%3A%20Hand%20sanitizers%20labeled%20as,isopropanol%20or%202%2Dpropanol
  3. Thompson T, Grace T. Gluten in cosmetics: is there a reason for concern? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1316-23.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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