5 Facts About Gluten-Free Skin Care
Are you living gluten-free and wondering if you should avoid skin care products containing gluten? The prevailing wisdom is to avoid these products, but probably not for the reason you think.
You may have heard the saying “the largest organ in the body is on the body – your skin.” Your skin’s job is to be a barrier from environmental influences on your body and internal organs.
Your skin is affected by both inside and outside conditions. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to a substance you’ve ingested or touched, signs of inflammation and irritation can appear on your skin.
Gluten or gluten-derived by-products are not uncommon in topical products. A recent poll of our GIG community showed 86% of respondents felt more confident buying products that are certified gluten-free.
What effects, if any, can gluten in skin care products have if you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)? Here are some things to know:
1. Gluten in skin care products, applied topically, cannot enter your bloodstream through your skin.
Gluten is used in some skin care products as a thickener, emollient, volumizer, moisturizer, or exfoliator. Using products containing gluten should not cause a typical systemic celiac reaction such as stomach pain, intestinal cramping, or nausea.
Why not? Science tells us that the gluten present in topical skin care products cannot be absorbed through the skin. The gluten particles are too large to enter your bloodstream or GI tract.
See what some trusted experts have to say on the topic:
University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: “What ingredients should I avoid in cosmetic products?”
Alessio Fasano, MD, Director of the Center for Celiac Research: Do you need to worry about gluten in Skin Care Products?
Gluten in skin care products could accidentally enter your internal system in some other way – such as through your mouth when you’re washing your hair and shampoo runs down your face. You certainly didn’t set out to ingest your shampoo, but it could happen.
2. If you accidentally ingest a gluten-containing topical, it could cause a reaction.
You probably don’t go around eating your body lotions or hair care products, but they can still get into your system. How? Anything you put on your skin – or on your lips such as lip balms and glosses – could get into your mouth.
Once something is near or in your mouth, you are likely to swallow it. The amount of gluten you might accidentally swallow may or may not cause a reaction, depending on your sensitivity level.
Products you apply to your own face and body are not the only substances that could enter your mouth. Any gluten-containing products others put on their face or body could accidentally end up in your mouth through a kiss. See our article 7 Things to Know about Kissing Gluten-Free.
3. You can get a skin reaction if you ingest gluten and have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
Some people break out in itchy bumps or blisters on their bodies after consuming gluten, a chronic skin condition known as Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH or Duhring’s disease). DH is a skin condition of celiac disease caused by ingesting gluten that affects approximately 15% of people with celiac disease. DH is a dermatological external reaction, but does not result from topical contact with a substance. DH is often misdiagnosed as eczema.
Gastrointestinal symptoms and damage are often less severe in people with DH. A gluten-free diet is also the treatment for this form of celiac disease. A topical medication may be prescribed to treat DH a condition that is not always triggered by gluten. Iodine could trigger DH-related skin eruptions in some people but should not be removed from your diet before consulting your healthcare team.
4. If you have celiac disease and get a skin reaction to a topical skin care product, it could be something else.
Breaking out and suspect that a skin care product is to blame? The culprit might not be gluten. You could have an accompanying allergy to another ingredient in a product, such as wheat. Or you could have another autoimmune skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.
People with celiac disease may have an allergy or sensitivity to other non-gluten ingredients. A wheat allergy could explain why some people seem to suffer a reaction to topically-applied products containing wheat gluten. They’re allergic to other parts of the wheat, not the gluten.
Contact dermatitis is a common skin reaction to an allergen. Common chemical irritants include dyes, fragrance, masking fragrance, lanolin, parabens, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde releasers. According to the Mayo Clinic, you use a skin care product that contains gluten and develop a skin reaction, see your doctor or dermatologist to identify the cause. It is possible to have an allergy to wheat or another grain that could cause a skin reaction, but this would not be due to celiac disease.
5. Common Gluten Ingredients in Skin Care Products
The ingredients below, among others, are the many different ways by-products from gluten-containing grains are labeled. Note that some of the names (marked with an *) are the Latin name for the grain.
Wheat or Gluten
- AMP-isostearoyl hydrolzyed wheat protein
- Enzyme-modified gluten
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein (HWP)
- Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
- Hydrolyzed wheat starch
- Triticum* lipids
- Triticum* vulgare*
- Wheat amino acids
- Wheat bran
- Wheat bran extract
- Wheat germ extract
- Wheat germ glyceride
- Wheat germ oil or Tocopherol
- Wheat hydrolysate
- Wheat peptides
- Wheat starch
Barley or Malt
- Barley extract
- Hordeum vulgare* extract
- Malt extract
- Secale cereal*
Oats (due to possible cross contact but could also be an allergen)
- Avena sativa*
- Avena sativa* extract
- Sodium lauroyl oat amino acid
Skin care products including creams, lotions, salves, ointments, and balms – as well as hair products like shampoos and conditioners that come into contact with your skin – could contain ingredients that are derived from gluten-containing grains. While the science indicates that gluten will not be absorbed through the skin to cause reactions characteristic of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may look to avoid the possibility that these skin and hair care products might inadvertently find their way into your mouth.
If you prefer to opt for gluten-free, read ingredients on products you consume or apply, and look for products labeled gluten-free, or better yet, certified gluten-free to be on the safer side. Search the GFCO Product Finder to find topical products that we’ve certified as gluten-free.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.