Kristen Campbell was sensitive to most eye makeup. Nevertheless, she persisted valiantly in her quest for smoky eyes, but even 100 percent hypoallergenic mascaras and liners would leave her eyes puffy. Each time she had a bad reaction, the 29-year-old switched brands, but nonirritating makeup eluded her. And that wasn’t all: Her back and chest sported breakouts and certain shampoos gave her scalp an instant rash.
In March 2008, Campbell was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, something experts say can affect up to 30 percent of the population. Believing “what goes on, goes in,” Campbell not only purged her diet of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, she overhauled her makeup bag, handing off anything that contained “hydrolyzed wheat protein,” a form of wheat found in everything from conditioners to face creams. Her skin responded almost immediately—her eyes stopped itching, her rash receded, and her breakouts cleared up.
Get off the gluten
Not all dermatologists agree that gluten can be absorbed through the skin and no scientific study exists that proves or disproves the theory, which leaves both patients and doctors in gluten limbo. But Kathleen Davis, MD, an integrative dermatologist in New York City, tells people to avoid using gluten on their skin if they think they’re allergic to it. “Why take a chance?” she says. Rodney Ford, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist in New Zealand and author of The Gluten Syndrome (RRS Global Ltd., 2007) doesn’t need published proof; he sees firsthand how gluten can affect the skin, from itching to rashes. “I meet literally thousands of children and adults with gluten problems. Many of the children even have issues when they touch Play-Doh, which is usually made from wheat flour,” says Ford.
Instead of waiting for proof, due diligence would dictate that anyone with a gluten intolerance should avoid gluten-containing beauty products. That’s especially true for those that could potentially be ingested or inhaled, like lipsticks, face wash, hand soap and cream, toothpaste, mouthwash, and hair spray.
But fear not: If you must avoid gluten in your skincare products, plenty of alternatives offer similar moisturizing and antioxidant qualities to vitamin E–packed wheat germ oil. Carrots, pumpkins, papayas, and other fruits all provide deluxe reparative treatment for skin and hair. Carrots, for example, earn a place on the beauty all-star team because they boast nourishing and antiseptic properties, making carrot oil or extract a champion blemish defense. Pumpkin’s natural UV protectors and its anti-inflammatory compounds makes it a perfect option for sensitive skin, while papaya contains papayin, a natural enzyme that nimbly exfoliates, tightens, and regenerates skin.
Where wheat lurks
Not long ago, getting your hands on gluten-free cosmetics was the equivalent of finding a bobby pin in a beauty haystack. If you suspect gluten is giving your skin and scalp a hard time, weeding out anything with “wheat,” “barley,” or “rye” in the ingredient name is only the beginning; gluten can sneak in under aliases. Luckily, gluten-free products abound and several websites take out some of the guesswork. Check out naturallydahling.com, cosmeticskitchen.com, and glutenfreecosmeticcounter.blogspot.com for the newest, gluten-free finds. In the meantime, here are our top four ingredients to purge from your list:
1. Tocopherols (vitamin E): Often extracted from wheat germ, vitamin E shows up in tons of products, from face cream and moisturizer to lipstick and eyeliner. Look for vitamin E derived from other sources, such as safflower.
Also listed as: mixed tocopherols; natural vitamin E; d-alpha-tocopherol; dl-a-tocopherol; tocopheryl.
2. Triticum vulgare (wheat): Whether it’s the wheat protein, germ extract, or germ oil, look out for this grain found in lipsticks, moisturizers, conditioners, hair color, and shampoos.
Also listed as: triticum aestivum germ oil; triticum vulgare germ oil; triticum vulgare (wheat) protein; proteins, triticum vulgare; triticum vulgare proteins, hydrolyzed wheat protein; hydrolysate; wheat protein hydrolysate; hydrolysate proteins, wheat; wheat hydrolysate proteins; glutens, enzyme-modified; wheat gluten, enzyme-modified.
3. Hordeum vulgare (barley): Both the extract and the flour can be found in creams, hair products, lip glosses, and antiperspirants and deodorants.
Also listed as: hordeum vulgare extract; hordeum vulgare seed flour; hordeum distichon (barley) extract.
4. Avena sativa (oats): The flour and protein of this grain, often cross-contaminated with other grains, crops up in creams, hair products, face powders, body washes, and blushes.
Also listed as: avena sativa flour; avena sativa kernel flour; oatmeal; avena sativa extract; avena sativa kernel protein. n
Allison Young is a freelance writer in Phoenix.
The Gluten-Free Gang
Cucumber Body Lotion
Slather on this blend of cucumber, rose, neem, and coconut extracts and say good-bye to scaly skin. ($26, 7.5 oz; verikira.com)
Lick your lips all you want with this moisture-rich lip treat. The triple threat of organic shea butter, jojoba oil, and almond oil protect and prime your pucker. ($21; lavera.com)
The Body Deli
Fruit Smoothie Masque
Don’t mask gluten, avoid it with this luscious mask that features green papaya enzymes, a gentler exfoliant than harsh glycolic acids. ($28, 1 oz; thebodydeli.com)
Desert Essence Organics
Fragrance Free Shampoo
Who needs wheat when you’ve got organic sea kelp for strength and organic green tea for shine? This entire line is 100 percent vegan, 100 percent biodegradable, and wheat- and gluten-free. ($9, 8 oz; desertessence.com)
ZuZu Luxe Mascara
No need to cry over itchy eyes with this water-resistant, vegan mascara that adds length and layers to lashes. ($15.25; gabrielcosmeticsinc.com)
Jason Kids Only!
Foaming Hand Soap
Kids’ hands often end up in their mouths, so keep them clean and gluten-free with this fruity liquid soap. ($8.99, 8 oz; jason-natural.com)
Peter Rabbit Organics
Baby Shampoo and Wash
Bathe baby’s sensitive skin and scalp in plant-derived goodness without worrying about a wheat or gluten reaction. Bonus: It’s great for you too. ($13.99, 12 oz; econatura.com)