Gluten Free Skin Care

So the initial panic is over.  You’ve done pretty well with getting the gluten out of your kitchen and consequently your diet.  You’re standing in front of the mirror one fine morning looking at the bottle of cleanser in hand, feeling pretty good about yourself and the thought strikes…”what about gluten free skin care?  Should I be worried about what goes on my skin?  I’ve had some skin problems in the past, could that be caused by…oh man…

If you've been researching Celiac disease then you've likely come across the term dermatitis herpetiformis (dh).  If you've experienced it then you definitely know that gluten can affect your skin, but what about the “normal” breakouts, the little annoyances that come along from day to day?

Beyond dh, everything I've read seems pretty inconclusive from a medical standpoint.  I've recently found this article that cites studies linking wheat in skin care products to breakouts and other issues for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  This is pretty ground breaking and not well accepted in the medical community so I really hope there is follow up and more studies are done.  

Without the benefit of scientific proof to support the benefit of gluten-free skin care, I can only tell you my experience. 

I've always had “sensitive” skin.  For as long as I can remember I’ve been susceptible to little breakouts, even long past the age of, well maturity ;)  I’ve read about acne in women over thirty and over forty and that it’s normal and it’s linked to hormone shifts.  It’s true the breakouts would centre more around “that time of the month”.  I’d have little pimples popping up regularly, though nothing I couldn’t deal with and cover up with a bit of makeup.  Then once a month I would get at least one whopper; a big sore lump under the skin that I couldn’t seem to do anything with but accept.  I also had breakouts on my back and shoulders.  Every so often I’d scratch without thinking and end up bleeding.

Any contact with household cleaners or soaps would have my hands breaking out in itchy blisters.  Winter was a skin nightmare.  No matter how much I’d moisturize, I’d always be tearing at my skin, the itchiness driving me nuts.  Cortisone creams and itch creams would help, but you can only do that so much.

Any contact with household cleaners or soaps would have my hands breaking out in itchy blisters.  Winter was a skin nightmare.  No matter how much I’d moisturize, I’d always be tearing at my skin, the itchiness driving me nuts.  Cortisone creams and itch creams would help, but you can only do that so much.

The first and most important step in gluten free skin care is your gluten free diet

Since going gluten free, you’d think I’d traded in my old skin for an upgrade.  My doctor even told me I was glowing.  I rarely get a pimple.  Even my monthly cycle is mostly skin problem free.  If I do get one it’s tiny and easy to take care of.  I wear very little makeup these days.  It’s just not necessary.  The redness is gone from my skin.  The pores and little veins have shrunk to being barely noticeable.  No more breakouts on my back.  I still get a little dry skin in the winter but it’s easily dealt with by moisturizing.  I’ve gone to my cortisone tube once or twice this year when normally it would be several times a week.  My skin even feels different.  When I’d rub my face I used to be able to feel all the little bumps forming under the surface.  Now it just feels smooth and soft.

Gluten Free Skin Care Products

So what about gluten free skin care products?  Well, we do know that the skin is a pretty effective delivery mechanism for medication.  Consider nicotine patches for smoking cessation, morphine patches for pain control, hormone creams for menopausal symptoms.  However, medical experts say that the gluten molecule is too large to be absorbed through the skin.  Yet as I talk to people and read various celiac forums, reactions to wheat in skin care products along with skin reactions to touching wheat flour and other wheat based food products is far from unheard of.  Moses Velasques-Manoff in his book, An Epidemic of Absence, points to evidence of peanut allergies increasing when peanut oil was added to baby lotions.  Although this is unrelated to celiac disease, it does suggest that applying certain food products to the skin can lead to issues.

So if you have Celiac, you need to make your own assessment of what you think is important and go by how you're affected.  You may decide that what you put on your skin is only important with regard to how likely it is to end up in your mouth.  As for me, I’d rather be safe than sorry, and when you think about it, anything that touches your skin seems to have a way of getting into your body; whether you put on hand lotion then eat a sandwich, or breath in the hairspray at the salon. 

I’m very careful about lipstick and lip gloss.  Whether or not your concerned about gluten free skin care, I think it makes sense to be careful about what you put on your lips.  I had to throw out my old Revlon gloss because it contained gluten.  I used to be a fan of Burts Bees because their products were simple, natural and gluten free.  As the company has grown things have changed.  I suggest contacting the company about specific products.  I’ve also checked into Mary Kay, and most of their stuff is gluten free as well.  I've just recently discovered a higher end brand, Smashbox (pictured top right).  Most of their stuff is gluten free.  For cleansers and moisturizers I've used Yves Rocher’s sensitive line.  I’ve emailed them and these products are gluten free.  I’ve heard controversy about Aveeno.  If you’re sensitive to oats you may want to avoid that one.

Smashbox products pictured above are not all gluten free.  I use several of their products but do check with the company on the ones that interest you to be sure.

What to Watch For

Here's a list of ingredients commonly found in skin care products that may or do contain gluten:

Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour
Dextrin Palmitate
Hydrolyzed Malt Extract 
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Wheat Flour
Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer
Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch
Secale Cereale (Rye) Seed Flour
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Gluten
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Starch
Wheat Amino Acids
Wheat Germ Glycerides
Wheat Germamidopropalkonium Chloride
Wheat Protein
Wheatgermamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
Yeast Extract

If you’re wondering about the products you use, just email the company.  Most will get back to you.  If they don’t, that may be an indicator that you should switch.

Here is a link to a list of some popular products and their gluten status.

Going Natural

What about naturally gluten free skin care?  There is an argument for approaching what you put on your skin the same way you approach your food.  Know where it comes from and what’s in it.  The fewer ingredients the better.  When I originally wrote this article, there was a huge trend toward dairy and nut based oils in skin care products.  As mentioned above, there is now some evidence that this could be an issue for some people.  My suggestion is; do your research so you can make an informed decision, avoid food based skin products on open sores and on babies.  

If you want to try out naturally gluten free skin care products then here are some tips:  In the same way that I prefer to buy my food locally, if you check out farmers market and craft shows, you can usually find someone who makes their own soaps and skin care products.  You can talk directly to them so you can find out what’s in them.  Handmade soaps with coconut, olive and essential oils are wonderful and feel so good on your skin and you’re supporting the person who makes the product rather than the CFO of a multi-billion dollar corporation who really doesn’t need your money.

Check Out the Cupboard 

You can find some of the best naturally gluten free skin care products right in your pantry.  Pure coconut oil makes a great moisturizer.  

It can be a little greasy so a little goes a long way.  Don’t just wipe it on, massage it into your skin, it feels wonderful.   I like to massage a little into my face before bed, tie my hair back and fall asleep.  When I wake up in the morning my skin is oh so soft.  Several internet sources (and we all know that you can believe everything you read on the internet) say that coconut oil has anti-bacterial properties.  I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that when my legs start to feel a little itchy in winter, slathering on some coconut oil and working it in to the skin works wonders.

My doctor also recommended olive oil.  It's known to be very healthy in your diet, mono-unsaturates and all.  I haven't tried it (on my skin that is) but I'm sure it works great.

You can find almond oil at the health food store or the bulk barn.  It feels lovely on your skin after a shower.  Seals in the moisture and makes your skin wonderfully soft. 

All of this goes for men too.  This natural stuff is all fragrance free; unless you choose one with a fragrance in which case you can pick something suitably manly and take care of your skin too.

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