Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the recent boom in gluten-free foods—bread! Pretzels! Pasta!—as well as gluten-free friends using the diet fad to slim down. But we were still surprised to see the latest gluten-free products. Because instead of snacks, they’re hand soaps, shampoos, body washes, and face creams.
Wait… Beauty products have gluten? And that’s a problem? “Skin-care products aren’t typically loaded with wheat-based ingredients, so [gluten-free] is an easy claim to make,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. But “hair-care products are more likely to contain [them].”
OK, but gluten intolerance—a reaction to grains like wheat, barley, and rye—occurs in the small intestine, and we’re not drinking our shampoo, right? I asked Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, if gluten-free beauty products make any sense. “There’s no data that shows that topically-applied gluten can lead to a reaction,” he says. “But there’s also no harm in using gluten-free, on the off chance any of the product left on your fingertips gets on your lips.” That may seem like a small risk, but, according to Wilson, “Gluten allergies are molecular and sensitive to even the tiniest triggers.”
Bottom line: If you’re avoiding gluten because you think it’s unhealthy or want to drop a few pounds, don’t worry about it in your shampoo; for those with actual medical issues, such as celiac disease, these products could be just what the doctor ordered.
• Does It Really Matter if Your Makeup Is Gluten-Free?
• I Like Meat…and So Does My Hair
• Give It Up: Do Gluten-, Dairy-, and Sugar-Free Diets Work?