The controversy over gluten-free products has hit the beauty industry. The hottest point of contention? The claim that gluten in your cleansers and creams can make you sick. While most researchers and doctors say the two aren’t related, many think otherwise.
Gluten is a special type of protein commonly found in many grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. For most people, it gives foods a delightfully doughy elastic texture, but for others, it’s considered a dangerous bodily invader. Men and women who suffer from a digestive disorder called celiac disease react intensely to any gluten-based particles in their system. The body mounts an immune reaction that damages the small intestine, interferes with nutrient absorption from food, and can also cause a blistering, itchy rash on the skin called dermatitis herpetiformis.
Many of these side effects are caused internally, but what about the products we slather and smear atop our skin? Should we be worried about the gluten-based ingredients found in our skin care routine? The answer is not so black and white, according to New Orleans-based dermatologist Patricia Farris, M.D. “While gluten is not absorbed through the skin, patients may be sensitive to compounds in extracts of wheat, rye, and barley that can actually penetrate the skin,” says Dr. Farris. And even though we’re careful with our beauty products, topical ingredients can still enter the body in trace amounts through the nasal cavities and mouth.
Gluten is still a hot marketing buzzword, and many beauty brands have jumped on the bandwagon to ensure their products are as gluten- and wheat-free as possible. German natural brand Dr. Hauschka even had all of its products tested for gluten content by the German Celiac Organization, and 124 of out 130 made the cut.
So what does this mean for someone without any sensitivities? Honestly, not much. But for those who already suffer from gluten allergies, it’s time to check your skin care labels for any potential irritants.
Patricia Farris, M.D., is a board certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon. She received her medical degree at Tulane University and her residency training at Tulane in the Department of Dermatology where she served as chief resident. Dr Farris is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Dermatologic Association.