Over a year ago, I started with what I thought was “dry skin”. Patches of flaky areas appeared out of nowhere and would get red after I showered or was overheated. So I began slathering myself with everything I could find…coconut oil, Vaseline, Neosporin, body butter, and olive oil (yes, I smelled like a salad). It started to get awkward when I bought Bag Balm. In case you were wondering, Bag Balm is used on cow udders. Apparently cows get dry skin too. To top it off, my husband and kids started to complain about the continuous oil slick left on everything I touched.

I finally gave in and went to the dermatologist. I was convinced I had either a flesh eating virus or “old person shingles”. The doc diagnosed me with Eczema and prescribed an ointment and a steroid. I’ve never had Eczema, but know it’s pretty common, so I filled the prescription and expected the dry skin to be gone in a week or two. Two weeks passed, then a month, then several months. I used the prescriptions religiously, but the red patches didn’t lessen or change.

I’ve been gluten-free since 2005 and been hyper-vigilant in maintaining a gluten-free diet. Then I had a tragic epiphany – every single product in my latest hair care regime contained wheat protein. I was full on glutening myself every darn day. It had taken me forever to find the right products for my gigantic curly hair. Now I had to break up with them and find a safe gluten-free shampoo and other gluten-free hair products. It’s bad enough not being able to eat gluten without getting violently ill. Now I realized gluten-filled body products were making me sick as well. Yay immune system (insert sarcasm here).

What happens if you use shampoo with gluten?

Did you know that our skin is the largest organ in our body? With that said, think of your skin as a sponge that absorbs everything you put on it. An example of this absorption that really clicked for me is “the patch” for smokers. Applied directly to the skin, the patch delivers nicotine to the body. The skin absorbs the nicotine. So, if you’re using shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc. that contain gluten, your skin is going to absorb it.

Symptoms can include:

  1. Red, inflamed rashes
  2. Dry or flaking scalp
  3. Hair thinning or loss
  4. Burning or itching skin
  5. Bumps near hairline and on back of neck
  6. Extremely dry skin

After I reluctantly tossed over $150 in gluten-filled hair care products and started using a gluten-free shampoo and conditioner, it took approximately two months for my skin to heal and the rashes to go away. Since then, my skin has been 100% rash free. So be patient. Remember that you didn’t feel immediately better when you cut out all foods containing gluten – your body needed time to heal. Your skin will need time heal as well once you remove gluten from your hair care or skincare.

What’s in a name? Hidden Gluten!

The FDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that food labels must clearly identify the food source names of any ingredients that are one of the major food allergens or contain any protein derived from a major food allergen. Milk, Eggs, Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), Peanuts, Wheat, and Soybeans. However, the FDA states,“Cosmetics products are not the same as drug products, and they are regulated differently by FDA.”  This is where the detective work for hidden gluten begins.

Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl
Stearyl Dimonium Hydroxypropyl
Triticale (hybrid of wheat and rye)
Triticum Aestivum
Triticum Carthlicum
Triticum Boeoticum
Triticum Lipids
Triticum Monococcum
Triticum Vulgare

Secale Cereale
Triticale (hybrid of wheat and rye)

Avena Sativa
Sodium Lauroyl

Beta Glucan (often derived from both oats & barley)
Malt Extract
Hordeum Distichon
Hordeum Vulgare
Phytosphingosine Extract

When in doubt, don’t risk it!

Whether you’re shopping in your local grocery store for a “mainstream” gluten-free shampoo or at an upscale salon for a gluten-free professional shampoo, remember that brands and specific products can change at any time, so always read those labels. Unless the shampoo clearly states that it’s gluten-free, contact the manufacturer and ask for their gluten-free shampoo list. The internet is a fabulous thing in our quest for answers and many companies have a chat option to speak “in real time” with customer service. It’s common for companies to have product list with allergens and/or a FAQ.

At the hair salon? Don’t be afraid to speak up!

I realized as I leaned back to get my hair shampooed, that I didn’t know what products my salon used. Were they using a gluten-free shampoo and conditioner, or ones filled with gluten? At first, I felt awkward asking to read the product labels and having them find gluten-free hair products that was safe for me. But then I realized that I wasn’t being “diva-ish”, I was taking care of myself and my skin. It also sparked an important conversation with the stylists on gluten in hair products (sadly, so many high-end salon brands have wheat protein).

I love, love, love the stylist who cuts (battles) with my curly hair. I’d never switch stylists, but the hair gels and creams she uses contain gluten. So I opt to leave wet without any product applied. My stylist understands that it’s not safe to put the products on my hair. Sometimes salons will discount your total if you leave without getting styled, so it’s a win-win situation all around!

What shampoo is safe for my gluten-free baby?

Has your little one has been diagnosed with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance? There are numerous brands that offer shampoos made without gluten and all of those scary harsh chemicals. Check out my gluten-free baby shampoos post for more details.
You can also check out the gluten-free cosmetics ultimate guide here!

What’s the best gluten-free shampoo you’ve used? Share your go-to brands or products with the Hold the Gluten community in the comments below!