August 27 2014

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Gluten-Free Beauty: Have We Gone Too Far?


This column features weekly tips and advice from a revolving cast of industry leaders, on hand to discuss your beauty dilemmas, from blemishes to Botox. To submit a question, e-mail

I’m considering going gluten free and I’ve noticed a lot of cosmetics with gluten-free labels recently. Is this an additional step I need to take, beyond going organic?

I don’t even think there’s a benefit in using just organic beauty products, really. The word organic has been taken from food and just plopped onto skincare without any regulatory body behind it. In the United States, if something like an egg is labeled organic, it’s very clear what that means. But if a skincare product is labeled organic in the U.S., it is not at all clear what that means. There are no regulations on that. In the future I think there will be more regulations and we’ll actually know what those words mean.

Also, since what we’re putting on our skin is not getting into our bloodstream, I don’t think it matters if it’s gluten-free or vegan—and I’ve never seen gluten in skincare products, either. Wheat is not used in skincare. Oat is used in products like Aveeno, but a lot of celiacs can tolerate oat. Plus, you actually have to ingest gluten to be affected by it, because celiac disease is not an allergy. It’s just that everything is going gluten-free now on a lot of labeling, so people are like, “Of course, let’s put it on skincare.” Next, it will be shampoo!

Update from Dr. Wechsler: Based on the research I’ve seen, the gluten molecule is too big to pass transdermally. It may be absorbed through mucous membranes (inside the mouth, nose, etc) but not through skin. Most skin care products do not contain gluten, and if they are used properly (i.e. on the skin and not on or in a mucous membrane or wound) they should not cause problems. Separately, people who have wheat allergies should not apply products with wheat to their skin, as they could develop a local contact dermatitis. If labels are unclear with regard to exact ingredients, that should be addressed so that consumers can feel fully comfortable with their product choices.

One of only two physicians in the U.S. board-certified in both dermatology and psychiatry, Dr. Amy Wechsler understands not only patients’ emotional states, but also the impact they can have on the outer surface. A specialist in the fundamental connection between the mind and body, Dr. Wechsler literally wrote the book on the subject. A frequent contributor to nationally recognized television programs and magazines, she has a private practice in New York.

Photo: Rubberball/Mike Kemp



  1. kctigrgrl says:

    I totally disagree. And I say that speaking from personal experience. In my mid-twenties no doctor or specialist could explain or heal the horrible acne that I had developed. And after being diagnosed as gluten intolerant I found that my skin only cleared once I switched to topical products that were gluten-free. I have heard from hundreds of men and women over the years who have celiac or gluten intolerance and have also suffered from topical reactions to gluten.

    A recent study was also publicized in which researchers at George Washington University verified that using cosmetic products containing gluten can exacerbate celiac disease:

    Finally, yes some people who cannot tolerate gluten can tolerate oats, but only oats that are processed differently from traditional oats. You see, oats do not naturally contain gluten, but are contaminated with gluten in farming and processing. So those of us who are sensitive to gluten must purchase oats that are specified as gluten-free, as special measures have been taken to avoid contamination.

    I am not trying to start an argument here, but simply to state the very well-publicized facts, as I understand how devastating it can be to suffer from rashes, irritation and acne that seem incurable. And that for those who do make the connection to gluten in their beauty products, it can be a great weight lifted.

    -Kristen Campbell
    Gluten Free Beauty

  2. iLiveinmyLab says:

    If you think that wheat is not used in skin products you obviously have not researched this subject well. Personally, I have found wheat in found in lipsticks, glosses, lotions, eyeshadows, mascara (this is very common), as well as some foundations. It is also commonly used in hair conditioners and sprays. Individuals with Dermatitis Herpetiformis often note that when applying wheat or oat based product their skin will break out in bloody lesions. There has been very little research into the effects the use of gluten-based products on the skin and the most recent study showed a negative reaction. I would think as a medical professional, rather than nay-saying this subject you would recommend to use with your own judgement when choosing skincare and haircare products, thus if you react to it, obviously do not use it.

  3. DogWish4Bear says:

    Seems pretty ridiculous for a person with an education to say that “what we’re putting on our skin is not getting into our bloodstream” Really? Then how do nicotine patches work? How about Birth control patches? Everything you put on your skin goes into your blood stream…duh!

  4. GFADVOCATE says:

    Wow, this has got to be one of THE most ignorant articles I’ve read. You sound like my brother who thinks that pizza and cookies are wheat free because they are made with white flour, not whole wheat flour. Anyhow, so how exactly do you, someone who knows dermatology NOT know there is wheat in cosmetics, shampoo and body care? I know the Cosmetics Dictionary defines gluten as “flour” which is inherently wrong, but really? Here are the names of wheat in very popular, soaps, shampoos and cosmetics that you see every day. (This list is from Matrix….a very popular, widely used brand!)

    Oh, and even the “hypoallergenic” Pureology line uses wheat. You see, wheat is not required to be declared in cosmetics and body care like it is in food.

    Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour
    Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract
    Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Oil
    Avena Sativa (Oat) Bran
    Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    Dextrin Palmitate
    Disodium Wheatgermamphodiacetate
    Hordeum Vulgare Extract
    Hydrolyzed Malt Extract
    Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
    Hydrolyzed Oat Protein
    Hydrolyzed Oats
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Flour
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch
    Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    Malt Extract
    Secale Cereale (Rye) Seed Flour
    Sodium C8-16 Isoalkylsuccinyl Wheat Protein Sulfonate
    Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acid
    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

    That’s a small list. I have even more on in my article, “Is your Lipstick and Conditioner making you sick?”

    It’s a good thing you weren’t my son’s doctor. Oats and wheat products cause bloody breakouts for him.

    In the meantime, you might want to check more of that research you did a footnote for because companies create products with the wheat protein broken down further and specifically for absorption into the skin. From what I can find, Hydroproline is often derived from the wheat protein and is made to help plump the skin. MOST skin care products DO contain gluten….and at least MOST hair care. MOST anti-aging products contain gluten as a plumping agent and MOST that i’ve seen contain it as a hydration. Shampoo, mousse, conditoner use it because it creates volume, body and hold…..

    I’ll give you that the research is difficult to find. It took me 3 months to find most the info for my little article, and because of the latin, herbal names they use, or chemically changed names they use it’s incredibly difficult to find. However, if you are a doctor, you should have a much better command of these words than I do, so hit the books again.

  5. mjdolce says:

    Wow, I agree with the commenters here — what an unbelievably ignorant post. I am gluten-free not because of Celiac disease, but because of an allergy to wheat. And I can most definitely tell you that many skin-care products contain wheat. When I accidentally come across one of them, my skin breaks out in horrible, itchy welts and it takes weeks for it to calm down.

    Please do your research before posting about things like this as if you are an “expert” in the future!

  6. ElisabethVeltman says:

    I respectfully, and completely disagree as well, and am surprised by the lack of research for this article. Along with the medline article and Washington University Study, CNN health published this article on the dangers of gluten in cosmetics and beauty products here:

    Lipsticks, lotions, and foundations, as well as shampoos are among those products that commonly contain gluten, but do not label them as such. Vitamin E is also commonly derived from gluten. There are those with celiac disease and allergies who experience both skin and gastro-intestinal distress (intestinal distress was suspected to be b/c these products are easily ingested or had crept into te eyes or nose) after using gluten-containing products. As for oats, those used in skincare must not only be processed in a gluten-free facility, but sourced from a farm that does not rotate its crops with wheat. Also, in my experience, and from a survey I’m doing of the Tender Foodie community, many people with allergies to wheat or celiac disease also have trouble eating oats b/c they contain a similar protein to wheat. This has not been properly studied, so an assumption should be made cautiously here.

    I do hope that the author will look further into the comments here and also the recent research available, then write a follow up article to address this question properly.

    _Elisabeth Veltman
    Founder – The Tender Palate

  7. Samantha1 says:

    My previous comment was deleted by or Dr. Wechsler (I would hope she took some of the research I posted and attempted to learn something) but I would like to state again that this article really should be pulled. It is misleading to those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Further more Dr. Wechsler your “update” is really offensive… There are millions of people who find that they react to cosmetics that contain gluten, are you really trying to say that we are all using these products wrong? “Most skin care products do not contain gluten, and if they are used properly (i.e. on the skin and not or in a mucous membrane or wound) they should not cause problems” So are you saying that the millions of people who have celiac disease that react to gluten in cosmetics are just using them wrong?!?! I don’t stick my lotion in my mouth or up my nose… Just in case you were wondering. Pull this article, and Dr. Wechsler do some more research and don’t claim to have knowledge on a subject that you clearly know nothing about. Especially when the subject involves the health and wellbeing of so many individuals.

  8. Samantha1 says:

    Ooops my previous comment is popping up now :) Ignore the first bit of my last comment. Message is still the same… pull the article!

  9. Bellajune says:

    I do not know where you get your information, but gluten is in skin care, bath and body products almost always in the USA. Gluten contamination comes from processing and includes ingredients like avena sativa and other grains… not just wheat. Hydrolyzed wheat protein is in many shampoos and hair products to strengthen it. In many oil based products there is wheat germ oil. There are many names for “gluten” in ingredient labels, depending on which ingredient is contaminated with gluten or from a wheat source. The ingredient does not just say the word “wheat”. You think people want Gluten Free Body products because we are too lazy to read the word, wheat? Sorry… it is not that clear cut.

    You say that the gluten molecule is too big to pass transdermally? Have you studied anything about the immune system? It does not have to pass transdermally to cause an immune reaction. The allergy and sensitivity to gluten can come from topically applied substances, fragrances, or food. It does not cause just local dermatitis when applied to the skin, it causes major systemic reactions in some people. Our immune systems are overwhelmed with constant bombardment of gluten in everything we eat, smell, and touch. So many people are extremely sensitive to it.

    No, a person with Celiac’s dz cannot have oats! Who told you they could? Oats are often times contaminated with gluten due to processing or even where they are grown. The oats must be certified as Gluten Free in order for someone with celiac’s dz to tolerate it.

    I have a gluten allergy and I disagree with everything in your article. There are very few products that I am not allergic to, due to the widespread use of gluten and cross contamination of foods and body products in this country. There are no regulations for gluten, until finally… just recently, things have been changing.

    My dermatologist nearly killed me with tons of antibiotics, Accutane, and many harsh drugs when all I had was a gluten allergy.

    Dermatologists are very misinformed about this topic. I suggest that you go back over this topic with a Nutritionist.

  10. edensong says:

    I agree with the other comments. I would like to add that skin care products can be absorbed into the skin. Also, there is gluten-free oat available, which we use in our products at http:/

The Doctor Is In