Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Natural Living

Topical Trend

Consumer demand has led to the growth of gluten-free personal care products

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

If you’re gluten intolerant, you’re well aware of the need to avoid ingesting this problematic protein. But what about topical applications? Nearly all doctors, researchers, and organizations in the celiac community will tell you that the external application of a product that contains gluten is completely harmless, because gluten molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin. But many everyday people are rejecting that information and seeking out gluten-free products for their face, skin, and hair.

Seeing Is Believing

As president of the Southern Arizona Celiac Support Group, Kim Pebley knows the “only-avoid-ingesting-gluten” conventional wisdom very well. But she also pays attention to her own body and her family’s, which has led her to conclude that the conventional wisdom isn’t correct-at least for her and two of her kids.

Pebley was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago, and she eliminated gluten from her diet. But she still had red blotches on her scalp that erupted when she washed her hair. “I switched to a shampoo specifically labeled gluten-free, and within a week, the hives went away,” says Pebley. She also began using gluten-free soap, lotion, and other products, and within a couple of weeks, she noticed that a rash she had had for years-which had been diagnosed as a type of dermatitis-was gone. She also discovered that two of her children, Ciara, 9, and Colin, 4, who were already eating gluten free, developed blotches on their skin when they took bubble baths. After switching to gluten-free personal care products from head to toe, all are now free from skin breakouts. Colin’s eczema is even held in check as long as he doesn’t use products that contain gluten, says Pebley.

Finding the Connection

Numerous skin disorders that are associated with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity respond well to a gluten-free diet. The most notable is dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), an autoimmune disease that usually accompanies the damage in the gut that’s seen in celiac disease. Hives, rashes, dermatitis, eczema, and a variety of other lesser-known
skin conditions also have been associated with gluten intolerance.

Medical research suggests that these skin conditions, including DH, are set off by consumption of gluten, not topical application. Therefore, gluten-intolerant people are routinely told that gluten-containing skin care products and cosmetics are only a problem if you accidentally swallow them. Those who are gluten intolerant should avoid using gluten-containing oral care products or skin care products on or around the lips because the gluten might get into their mouths and digestive tracts.

But not everyone thinks that this advice goes far enough. Vikki Petersen, DC, who runs a clinic that specializes in gluten intolerance, is convinced that skin conditions can develop from topical products because she and her colleagues have seen it in their practice. “There is a relationship between gut health and skin health that we’re just beginning to understand. It seems the leakier the gut that occurs in gluten intolerance, the more the integrity of the skin breaks down, setting the stage for skin conditions to develop in some people,” says Petersen, who is also the coauthor of The Gluten Effect.

Though skin conditions appear to go away as the gut heals from eating gluten free, Petersen thinks it’s a good precaution to avoid using gluten-containing skin care products, even for those without skin problems.

Making the Switch

Many people appear to be doing just that. Consumer demand for gluten-free personal care products has been steadily growing, and companies have responded to that demand.

Some, such as Home Health and Desert Essence, label their products gluten-free if they use no ingredients that contain gluten. Others, including The Gluten-Free Savonnerie, Ecco Bella, and Green Beaver by Flora, have products that were formulated in part because people in the company or family had gluten intolerance. Still other companies enroll in certification programs, such as the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) Recognition Seal or the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). Hugo Naturals skin care line has been gluten-free certified by CSA, and numerous products of EO, Zosia Organics, and the Tozai Group have been gluten-free certified by GFCO.

Go Shopping!

Soothe your scalp and get great-smelling, shiny hair with EO Rose & Chamomile Shampoo, designed for processed or color-treated hair. Herbs and quinoa protein nourish hair.

Hair need a lift? You’ll get that and more with Desert Essence Organics Green Apple & Ginger Shampoo, which boosts volume, adds shine, and removes environmental pollutants.

Give your hair and scalp a little gluten-free TLC with Home Health Oliva Olive and Aloe Shampoo. Natural ingredients, including jojoba and panthenol, add moisture, sheen, and body to hair.