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Are Gluten Free Beauty Products Necessary?

It’s a question we see raised on countless beauty message boards and posted (and liked and followed) on the walls of our favorite Facebook groups: “I have a gluten allergy/sensitivity. Who makes the best gluten-free moisturizer/shampoo/blush?”

And we release a big, fat sigh…as the well-meaning (but misinformed) responses roll in.

Really, though, we can’t blame folks for asking—especially when our industry is hyping the gluten-free beauty thing to the hilt. A growing number of brands—natural and organic ones, in particular—are now touting the allergen’s absence on their packaging (thanks, Luzern!) or, more typically, addressing the issue as a FAQ on their websites. Juice Beauty and Supergoop boast: 100 percent of our products are gluten-free! Others carefully note exceptions to the rule: Vapour Organic Beauty calls out its eyeliner, which contains wheat protein. Dr. Hauschka flags its Soothing Cleansing Milk with hydrolyzed wheat gluten and lactobacillus/oat/rye/wheat-seed extract ferment. Weleda shares a Guide to Vegan and Gluten Free Products, marking every product with a respective “V” or “GF.” Leaving nothing to chance, Jasön Natural Personal Care has dedicated an entire line of body and hair-care potions to wheat watchers—all certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

But does any of this really matter? Um…no. [Writer ducks for cover.]

Look, we get it: We have friends and family members diagnosed with celiac disease—it is a legit dietary concern. And there are those with a gluten intolerance. And others still who, for whatever reason, simply choose to avoid the stuff. (Uh, if Gwyneth jumped off a bridge…) Underscoring the magnitude of the movement: The journal JAMA Internal Medicine recently published an article that included analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showing that roughly 2.7 million Americans avoid gluten in their diets—yet only 1.76 million actually have celiac disease.

Clearly, going GF is a lifestyle choice—one that extends way beyond the kitchen. But when people start needlessly freaking out about the wheat-germ oil in their body lotion or the barley in their volumizing shampoo, there’s just not enough science to back it up. To strengthen our stance, we called Robyn Gmyrek, a dermatologist in New York City who happens to have a rare form of celiac disease called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), which manifests on the skin. (Following the birth of her first child 13 years ago, 80 percent of her body erupted in painful blisters. It took two years of strict GF eating and anti-malarial drugs to get the condition under control. Again: Legit. Concern.) Yet even in those special cases where the skin is the direct target of the inflammatory cascade, it’s still only the ingestion of gluten that trips the rash—not gluten-to-skin contact. “Topically applied gluten is not absorbed through the skin—the protein molecules are far too large—so it can’t trigger the formation of those antibodies that result in a rash or GI symptoms,” Gmyrek explains. “Researchers have done gluten challenging on people with celiac disease [applying gluten-containing products to the skin], and it’s simply not an issue.”

If you have eczema, however, it’s worth noting that hydrolyzed wheat protein can cause a hive-like reaction when applied to the skin of certain people, but, says Gmyrek, “this is totally unrelated to celiac disease or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.”

The bottom line? Gluten-containing beauty products should pose no harm to those with celiac disease unless they’re accidentally swallowed. To reduce the risk, Gmyrek suggests going gluten-free on all lip products, toothpastes, and mouthwashes, and maybe even foundations, which could be inadvertently wiped into the mouth, and also hand and nail products, for those who mindlessly put their fingers in their mouths. “While you’re unlikely to ingest enough of any product to cause a reaction, some people with celiac, and especially DH, are extraordinarily sensitive,” she says.

Here are some amazing gluten-free beauty options (we double-checked!): Yes to Miracle Oil PrimRose Oil, Physicians Formula Argan Wear Lip Oil, Honest Organic Lip Balm, RMS Beauty Uncover Concealer/Foundation, Vapour Organic Beauty Atmosphere Luminous Foundation, Jasön Gluten-Free Hand & Body Lotion, Weleda Sea Buckthorn Hand Cream, Desert Essence Natural Tea Tree Oil & Neem Toothpaste and Mouthwash, and all Tom’s of Maine oral-care products.

Now go tweet/share/post the good gluten news, so all of our subsequent sighs can be ones of contentment.

Or, learn all about natural oils and their many beauty uses.

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