There was quite a stir this week after the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Washington, D.C. Why? Because a new study by George Washington University researchers showed not only that gluten is an ingredient in many cosmetics and topical lotions (although they are rarely labeled as containing gluten – a problem), but that using these products may actually exacerbate celiac disease.
The lead author of this study – a professor of medicine at George Washington University – indicates that anyone who is sensitive to gluten could experience a topical reaction. Wow – that is news, because up until now, most physicians had glossed over (pardon the pun) any effects gluten in topical products might have on the body of a celiac or someone with gluten sensitivity. These conclusions are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
What we do know for sure, is that accidental and inadvertent exposure to gluten can come from using gluten-containing lotions, lipsticks, or other products if the product is used around the mouth. It’s also wise to check the gluten-free status of your dental products, like mouthwash and toothpaste (although it’s not common). Some household cleaners may contain gluten and pose a threat as well (click here to read an article on gluten-free cleaners).
Whether product reactions could come due to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy, the real problem all of us gluten-free’ers face is that there is little to no ingredient labeling on cosmetics and other topical lotions and soaps. The George Washington University study authors investigated 10 leading cosmetic companies in the US, and found that only two offered detailed ingredient information, and even those did not indicate whether their products contained gluten.
I asked Kristen Campbell, gluten intolerant “Skinnovator” of the Gluten Free Beauty skin care and cosmetics line to share her expertise on the subject. Below is Kristen’s take on whether and why gluten doesn’t belong in your cosmetics, lotions and shampoo, and how to find out whether it is an ingredient. To hear my interview on the subject with Kristen, listen to the free podcast of The Gluten Free Voice with Jules.
Years ago when I read that up to 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, I was a fast convert to natural and organic skin, hair and cosmetic products. If anything was going to be absorbed into my body, I was going to have something to say about it.
Despite my healthy diet and switch to healthier, natural beauty products, however, in the middle of my twenties, I found myself battling horrible, seemingly incurable acne. Oddly enough, it was mostly relegated to my back and chest; a sudden and strange occurrence that even a doctor, an aesthetician, and an acupuncturist could not solve. But then I made the connection to gluten.
After being diagnosed as severely intolerant to gluten, I thought about that 60% and figured I had better raid my bathroom cabinets and drawers, ridding it of all traces of gluten. This was several years ago now, so at the time, there was little information available about gluten in topical products. The few online sources I found blamed Vitamin E Oil, and finding a list of natural and gluten-free products was nearly impossible.
So I started calling the manufacturers. At the time most companies had little clue what gluten was, so I would have to know what I was talking about. Some ingredients were easy to pick out like “hydrolyzed wheat protein,” but ingredients like Vitamin E Oil, Lactic Acid and Xanthan Gum which can be derived from various protein sources needed further investigation. And I was surprised by what I learned:
- · Vitamin E Oil is More Often Than Not Gluten-Free: Even a few years ago, most companies were using Vitamin E Oil sourced from corn or soy, not wheat germ oil. I’ve even tested pure wheat germ oil using an ELISA Tek EZ Gluten Test Kit and had it come out negative. But, would I use a product containing wheat germ oil, still NO.
- · Expect the Unexpected: In food terms I’ve never heard of Xanthan Gum or Lactic Acid derived from wheat. Usually Xanthan is from corn, and Lactic acid is from beet sugars or dairy. But in the realm of the beauty world, I have come across both sourced from wheat. In a recent news release Dr. Pia Prakash spoke about a patient who was reacting to a gluten-containing lotion, stating that, “celiac patients face a huge challenge in trying to determine whether cosmetic products contain gluten — and a risk of unknowingly exposing themselves to gluten.” I find that the easiest way to avoid topical gluten is to use only products with easily understandable ingredients. And if you don’t know what something is, ask.
- · What Goes Up Must Come Down: For me, some of the less obvious contributors to my breakouts were my hair products. While gluten can be in any product from a lipstick to a body wash, I would say that more hair products than not contain gluten. When you think about the nature of a hair product, it is actually meant to coat the hair, so when you’re showering—especially if you condition your hair last thing–it’s all washing right down your face, back, chest and body, coating the skin.
Things are, however, moving in the right direction. Some of those same companies that I was calling a few years ago are already labeling gluten-free hair, skin, nail and cosmetic products as such. I’ve even called the not-so-natural brands to receive prompt answers to my inquiries about the gluten status of specific products.
But where are the doctors on this? A little behind. Most celiac experts will admit that while medicine tells them that the gluten protein is too large to be absorbed by the skin, their patients are telling them otherwise. And those same doctors are paying attention. In a recent article for Living Without Magazine, renowned celiac expert Dr. Alessio Fasano confirmed the existence of gluten intolerance and sensitivity saying, “The patients, as usual, were visionary, telling us this stuff existed but healthcare professionals were skeptical.” So I would say, “Hold tight!” The medical community is still playing catch up, but they are getting there.
Personally, I know that topical gluten affects the body, because I’ve witnessed it firsthand. After ridding our home of all external (and internal) gluten, my skin cleared right up. If I do have a topical gluten-slip and accidentally apply gluten to my skin, I will still have acne breakouts, or develop a rash on my scalp, but by sticking to gentle, natural product lines with good ingredient labeling, staying topically gluten-free is not too big a challenge.
The subject of gluten in beauty products is a cause that has become close to my heart; going topically gluten-free has improved my health and my life, and I hear from hundreds of men and women each year who are also making the connection between the gluten in their hair, skin and cosmetic products and the challenges they have faced with their skin and health. After years of reviewing natural, gluten-free beauty products, I even decided to create my own gentle, natural line, Gluten Free Beauty to help eliminate some of the guesswork.
Just one of Gluten Free Beauty’s many great products.
–>Kristen Campbell made the connection between topical gluten and her acne, rosacea and skin rashes years ago when she was diagnosed as intolerant to gluten. At the time very little information about gluten in beauty products existed, which led her to start a blog dedicated to the subject. Years later she put all of her research to work and developed Gluten Free Beauty, a gentle, natural, effective skin care and cosmetic line created to help address the skin care needs of the gluten-free community. Kristen was recently named a “Skinnovator” by Prevention Magazine for the development of her innovative beauty line.
If you are interested in more gluten-free brands, here are some others of my favorites:
Hugo Naturals Fizzy Bath Bombs!
Hugo Naturals - I discovered this brand last year at Natural Products Expo. I love that they are all natural, sustainably-sourced, vegan and gluten-free, but I also love that their website tells you all about their ingredients and from where they were derived. A great resource and great products! Their Fizzy Bath Bombs are my kids’ favorites; if I could ever sit down long enough to take a bath, I’m sure I’d love them too! They offer everything from body scrubs to bath salts, lotions to shampoos, candles to massage oil. Lots to love here. (Note: some of these products include oats)
DeVine Lip Shimmers with an antioxidant boost from wine!
DeVine Lip Shimmers - These girls make some fun lip gloss, and it’s not only natural and yummy tasting, it’s also packed with antioxidants! Their glosses come in everything from Vanilla to their trademark wine flavors: Champagne, Merlot, Bordeaux and Rosé complete with “tasting notes” on the site!
And I see a new product I might have to try since I sampled my first lip shimmer in September: Rush High Powered Lip Balm with caffeine and B vitamins. Hard to tell what lips pumped up with caffeine might say or do, but it could be fun to try!