What’s the deal with gluten-free and vegan beauty products?

While traditional beauty products (those with synthetic ingredients) still dominate the global market (nearly 75% in 2014 according to global research group Kline), there’s no denying the quick growth of the natural beauty product industry (for clarity, I’m using this word to include vegan, cruelty-free free and gluten-free products, even though I’ll differentiate later in the article).

We explain why they’re so popular and what the case is for and against many of these products.

Why so popular?

According to Kline, there are two main reasons why the ‘natural personal care market’ is growing so rapidly – awareness by consumers and change in distribution channels.

• Consumer awareness: Consumers have the power, y’all!

Users of beauty products have more access to information than ever before, thanks to the internet, the research by Kline says. People are moving towards a greener lifestyle in general and are more than able to research what they believe are toxins in their beauty products and food. Not only this, but they’re also requiring full transparency from cosmetics companies on their practices, ingredients and sourcing methods.

Organic products are bioactive, which means they enhance the ability of the skin to look after itself. Beauty products that are comprised of petroleum by products and harsh synthetic preservatives often strip skin of its natural oils creating a dependence on these products. - Robyn Smith, Founder of online natural organic retailer, Faithful to Nature

In reaction to this, beauty companies are focusing on natural ingredients in their products. It’s all about supply to the demand of the consumer.

• Distribution channels: We’re not (only) in Kansas anymore.

Twenty years ago you’d feel hard-pressed to find any natural product in a mainstream local store, but things have changed drastically. Not only can one find these products in many stores – even in abundance, but the internet has given power to those who can’t find products in traditional ways.

Vegan, natural beauty products and cruelty free products

Believe it or not, but there is a difference between these three. Vegan and cruelty free products aren’t all automatically natural, but some products can fall into all three categories.

• Vegan products: Have been produced without animal by-products or animal-derived ingredients.

Advantages include: 

- Vegan products could be better for sensitive skin (because they have less ingredients in them)  
- By using these products you’ll generally be avoiding animal-tested ingredients.
- Packaging will usually be environmentally-friendly too as manufacturers who go through the trouble of making vegan products are often cautious about packaging.

• Natural beauty products: These have been produced using only ‘natural’ ingredients, in other words, ingredients that come from the earth, without the use of chemicals.

Bear in mind – ‘natural’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘organic’ as some companies could still be using pesticides or fertilisers. Decide how far you want to go.


Advantages include:

- You’re automatically being eco-friendlier.
- Many believe these products are better for sensitive skin.
- You might also be showing your age less, as some believe when you use less fake ingredients, your body becomes more naturally balanced, which helps in the aging process.

• Cruelty-free products: Products that don’t include testing or experimentation on animals.

Advantages include:

- This one is quite straightforward. Products aren’t tested on animals.

The case for and against gluten-free beauty products

This is a contentious one.

With gluten-free products the whole issue comes down to your gluten-intolerance. Even though a small percentage of the world have been diagnosed with celiac disease (a condition where the body can’t tolerate any gluten), there are many others out there who are (or believe they are) sensitive or intolerant to the effects.

“Basically, for those of us with a gluten sensitivity, the presence of gluten activates our immune system and can trigger inflammation of all kinds — acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, etc. That’s why our skin can look red, angry and irritated — it is!” Suki Kramer, founder of Suki skincare – a company that markets its products as Soy and Gluten-free, writes in the Huffington Post

Bear in mind – ‘natural’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘organic’ as some companies could still be using pesticides or fertilisers

People like Kramer believe that gluten can be ingested in different ways – including via their beauty products.

This topic is highly debated, with some experts saying the amounts of gluten in beauty products is so miniscule, there is no way it could have negative gluten allergy effects. Other medical experts say any gluten (in any form) is bad or recommend just seeing what works for you as an individual.

It seems that for many using gluten-free products come down to how they feel, despite what experts may be battling about.

Afton Jones, founder of glutenfreemakeupgal.com, is one of these users. Jones, who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, has described how her eyes felt heavy and swollen after using mascara with gluten in it, or her hands were itchy and she had more breakouts when using other skin products.

"It really is up to the individual to decide whether gluten-free cosmetics are for them. For some people, it's a choice. For others, it's a necessity,” Jones says.

Tip: if you’re keen on testing whether gluten-free is the way to go, make sure you read the labels on your products. If it isn’t explicitly marked as gluten-free, look out for ingredients such as rye, barley, malt, oath, avena sativa, hordeum vulgare, secale cereal, triticum vulgare.

Here are a list of brands available in South Africa:


Oh lief


Bee Natural

Faithful to Nature

Hey Gorgeous Skincare


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