Going for the glow without the gluten


Amy Soergel’s lip gloss was making her sick. The problem, she realized, was gluten -- hydrologized wheat protein, to be exact. Then she went to the hairdresser who used a shampoo that made her neck burn. Again, it contained gluten.

“There’s hidden gluten in many places you may not consider,” including stamp and envelope glues, toothpaste and lip balms, says Soergel, who has a store, Naturally Soergel’s, near Pittsburgh that caters to people with allergies. Indeed, for people with celiac disease, a bit of gluten that might get swallowed from a lipstick or a stream of shampoo in the shower can be enough to cause illness.

A slew of gluten-free skin care products have come on the market, including items from well-known companies such as Murad, Dr. Hauschka, EO, MyChelle, Acure and derma-e. Many are sold in Whole Foods and other health food stores. If they’ve been certified by a third-party agency, an icon usually appears on the packaging.


Avalon Organics and Jason -- two moderately priced health food store standards from the company Hain Celestial -- recently released Avalon Organics Gluten Free Cucumber products and Jason gluten-free lotions, washes and hair products.

Emma Froelich-Shea, the company senior vice president of marketing and research and development, says she was skeptical at first that such products were needed, thinking gluten -- which is found in wheat, barley and rye -- was only a food issue. But wheat protein is used as a binding agent for skin-firming creams and hair products that aim to strengthen hair, she says -- and she was won over by customer demand.

Bob Zahradnik launched Coldstream Naturals in Gainesville, Fla., last year, selling gluten-free tooth creams and mouthwashes. “Any trace materials in oral care products will definitely present a risk to people with a gluten sensitivity,” he says.

Customers of derma-e, a 30-year-old company that started with a vitamin E cream, prompted the company to change, says Jennifer Norman, the vice president for marketing. Most of its products had no gluten, and the company reformulated the rest. “It shows the amount consumers are researching products. In the last year, it’s been almost an explosion of interest in gluten-free,” Norman says.

The Whole Foods 365 house brand recently released a line of gluten-free bubble baths. Tilth Beauty, a year-old line of 14 products that includes anti-aging serums and moisture creams, contains no gluten, and no synthetic coloring or fragrances, genetically modified ingredients or petroleum-based products.

Dermatologist Jenny Kim, associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, says some people thought that gluten-free skin care was simply a trend, in part because gluten molecules are too large to penetrate through skin. But that’s only true for skin that’s healthy and intact, and not necessarily for people with eczema or other skin conditions.


“So we don’t really know how the molecule is going through the skin, but certainly that needs to be studied,” Kim says. Reactions, including rashes and respiratory problems, have been documented.

Claire Duggan, one of the three sisters behind the LifeStinks brand of deodorants, says their motive was to help heal one sister after years of illness. They studied natural healing and eventually came up with a deodorant formula that they offered to share with clients, Duggan says.

“No one cared that I could teach them how to make it. They said, ‘If you make it for me, I’ll buy it,’ ” she adds. That led to LifeStinks, a powder deodorant in lavender or cedar wood scent that is made in their basement and is available online and in some health food stores.

“We didn’t go into it to be gluten-free. But, boy, have we found it has so mattered to our customers,” she says.