Although a gluten-free diet helps manage both conditions, the causes of the two are different. Wheat allergies are one of the most-common food allergies—they generate an antibody in reaction to the proteins found in wheat, producing a variety of symptoms, from hives and rashes to abdominal pain or breathing trouble. For those with Celiac disease, on the other hand, the reaction comes from one particular protein in wheat, called gluten, which can result in an abnormal and often severe immune system reaction in the small intestines.
But what about gluten in products besides food? Gluten is often added to skin care products in ingredients that thicken or provide a creamy texture. Wheat protein in shampoos, for example, strengthens and adds fullness to the hair. Although some researchers say the proteins in gluten are too large to be absorbed through the skin, many people with Celiac disease and gluten or wheat allergies choose to limit their exposure.
“There definitely needs to be more clinical research on topical gluten reactions,” says Julie McGinnis, a dietician at our south Boulder location (who happens to be an expert in gluten-free living). She says that in her practice, she’s seen many individuals who experience skin problems like acne, rashes or inflammation when they use products that contain gluten or other wheat proteins. “It may be a reaction from ingested glutens, topical glutens or both. Switching to gluten-free skin and body products can often help,” she says. Many people with eczema and less severe wheat sensitivities say their skin reacts better to gluten-free body, hair and skin care products, too.
But glutens or wheat proteins may be tricky to identify. A good place to start is looking for any ingredient with wheat, barley, malt, rye or oat included in the name. Some of the most common ingredients containing gluten can be found as triticum vulgare (wheat), hordeum vulgare (barley), secale cereale (rye), avena (oat), phytosphingosine (made from yeast), tocopherol and vitamin E (sometimes derived from wheat).
Because of the number of ingredients that may be suspect, sometimes it’s simplest to just look for products that are already labeled “gluten-free.” Fortunately Pharmaca offers a wide variety of skin care products that come with the gluten-free label. Here’s a rundown of some gluten-free favorites from Staci Minovitz, esthetician at our Los Angeles store.
Acure’s Sensitive Facial Cleanser Argan Oil + Probiotic. This creamy cleanser is rich in calming botanical extracts like chamomile and rosehips, and its omega fatty acids hydrate and protect the skin’s natural balance.
Alaffia EveryDay Shea Butter Body Lotion is a luxurious body moisturizer that blends hand-crafted shea butter with soothing lemongrass and antioxidants red palm oil and shea leaf.
Pre de Provence Soaps and Cleansing Bars are gluten-free, and the milk, shea butter and argan varieties are particularly kind to sensitive skin.
Intelligent Nutrients Harmonic Shampoos and Conditioners are formulated without chemical preservatives, petrochemicals or sulfates. Good for all hair types, these are nourishing, lightweight and full of antioxidants and organic essential oils like tamanu seed, red raspberry, pumpkin seed and black cumin to keep your scalp healthy.
Finally, a gluten-free no-brainer: If you’ve got Celiac or a wheat allergy, it’s especially important to look for gluten-free lip balms, since they’re so easily ingested. Recommended by both Staci and Julie, ZuZu Luxe Lip Glosses are vegan and blend jojoba seed oil, sea fennel extract and sunscreen to moisturize and protect. Suki Lip Repair Butter and Juice Beauty’s Lip Glosses also hydrate and treat lips with natural oils and (safe) soy-based vitamin E.
Check with a Pharmaca esthetician for more selections and favorites, or check out our entire selection of gluten-free facial care, glute-free body care, gluten-free hair care and gluten-free oral care.