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Gluten Free Inside and Out

by by Julie McGinnis, M.S., R.D., certified herbalist Comments
Posted in Articles, Formulation

Celiac disease (CD)/gluten intolerance (GI) affects 1 out of 133 Americans, or about 3 million people. This autoimmune disorder is genetic and leaves one unable to digest gluten properly. The result of this autoimmune disorder is damage and flattening to the villi that are responsible for absorption of nutrients. Those with CD have more advanced damage to their intestine as compared to those with GI; however, both are unable to tolerate gluten and have resulting health conditions. Amongst this community (and others without these conditions) there are some that also have what is called an IgE antibody response to gluten. This reaction is an allergy that causes the skin to flare in ways such as redness, swelling, acne or rashes. The amount of those with both intolerances to gluten in the gut and on the skin is unknown but it appears more are popping up daily. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, oats, wheat and spelt. Oats are gluten-free but research has shown there is a lot of cross-contamination with processing in a facility that also processes wheat, so they test high for gluten. However, now gluten-free oats are available, grown and processed apart from wheat. Exposure to gluten for someone with CD/GI can cause countless health conditions, such as lymphomas, osteoporosis, anemia and migraines. Along with these health conditions some, but not all, experience digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. A full list of health conditions for those with CD/GI is available at At this time, the only treatment for CD/GI is to avoid gluten completely.

However, many are still confused if this means avoidance of gluten in their bath and beauty products. Some experts say the protein in gluten is too large to permeate the skin and be absorbed. However, at this time, there are no studies on the affects of topical gluten exposure, and according to Kenneth Fine, M.D. of Enterolabs, "Gluten sensitivity is a systemic immune reaction to gluten anywhere in the body, not just that entering the body via the gut. Therefore, topically applied lotions, creams, shampoos, etc. containing gluten would indeed provide a source of gluten to the body, and we therefore recommend all such products be discontinued for optimal health."

The decision to avoid gluten in personal care products is really a personal decision; however, body care products that are ingestible by nature of placement on the body might be given extra attention. Steve Shriver from Eco Lips (whose entire line is gluten-free) commented, “Those with CD/GI, at the very least, should use balms that are gluten-free because anything applied to the lips can easily be ingested and cause the same problems as eating gluten.”

The trend does seem to be changing, and many manufacturers are choosing to use gluten-free ingredients. According to Autumn Blum, CEO and cosmetic chemist for Organix-South, “Modern research continues to prove that some cosmetic ingredients are absorbed through the skin, and the eye and mouth areas can be particularly susceptible. Therefore, it makes sense for those with CD or other GI to search out gluten-free cosmetics and body care products. With more of our customers inquiring about gluten-free, we began formulating our new products to meet this need. Through the process, we decided to convert our entire product line to gluten-free.” As more CD/GI is diagnosed some may also realize they have an allergy to topical gluten as well. The demand for gluten free products will increase and labeling and certification will be in higher demand.

According to Bettina Bond, national educator for Surya Brasil, said: “Health and beauty products often contain avena sativa (oat), hydrolyzed wheat, hydrolyzed proteins, barley derived ingredients, triticum vulgare (wheat), vitamin E and wheat germ as ingredients. Since vitamin E is often sourced from wheat germ, this ingredient is being listed as one to be avoided in the CD/GI community. Surya Brasil’s products use gluten-free ingredients like rice protein, amaranth and Brazil nut oil in place of the commonly used gluten-containing ingredients.”

These gluten containing ingredients can be found in toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, soaps, make-up, etc. Customers spend a lot of time reading through long lists of ingredients to figure out if there is gluten in the product. In service to this growing need, cosmetic companies could help consumers by investing in gluten-free certification. This way if the certification seal is on the bottle no further reading of ingredients is necessary. The company providing this service is the Gluten-Free Certification Organization found at This company audits and tests the facility where the products are made and in order to gain certification the finished product must have 10 ppm or less gluten. Certifying will not only give consumers peace of mind but it can save them time. Some companies that have not gone through the certification process have either issued statements or print on their products that they are gluten-free.

As diagnosis and awareness continue to rise for CD/GI, the gluten-free industry is set to reach $2.6 billion in sales by 2010. These sales will be not only for gluten-free products that are eaten, but for oral health and beauty products as well. Those with CD/GI may or may not have a skin allergy to gluten but many choose to avoid these products as well.Until research is conducted on topical gluten containing products and the possible effects, one needs to decide if the exposure is worth the risk. Those with CD/GI are very in touch with their condition and most will know if topical gluten containing products should be eliminated from their lives.

Julie McGinnis, M.S., R.D., certified herbalist holds a master's degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and has been involved in the field of nutrition for 20 years. Upon completion of her herbal certification, she began her career in complimentary health and worked for years in R&D for a professional line of nutrition supplements. She has written professional nutrition and health literature for major health food stores, Pharmaca and other small businesses. She has instructed many online nutrition classes and has continued a private practice throughout her career. She currently works for Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy as a practitioner and continues to have an undying passion for nutrition.

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