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Gluten-free skin care: What it means, who should use it and more

Gluten-free skincare is a new cosmetics trend. Should you be swapping out your regular products for these alternatives?
Gluten-free skin care
When it comes to skin care, what does "gluten-free" really mean?Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

When it comes to skin care and makeup, the list of trends is endless. Some of them stick around and become staples, while others come and go in a single season.

While gluten-free skin care products aren't necessarily new, they've becoming increasing popular; a quick search on Instagram reveals more than 17,000 posts tagged with #glutenfreeskincare.

But what exactly is gluten-free skin care, and is it any different from your regular routine? Is it something to worry about, especially if you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease? If so, what's the best way to tell if a product is gluten-free? Read the rest of our beauty guide for some expert answers to all of these questions.

What does gluten-free skin care mean?

Gluten-free skin care is summed up in its name: It means skin care products that don't have any gluten, or gluten byproducts, in them.

"Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, so gluten-free skin care cannot contain any of these," said Dr. Leslie Baumann, a Miami-based cosmetic dermatologist. "Committing to a gluten-free lifestyle can mean taking a closer look at the ingredients found in skin care products, especially lip products that can possibly be ingested."

How to know if a product is gluten-free

It can be tricky to find products that are totally gluten-free since some ingredients, such as vitamin E, may be derived from wheat germ. So while a product could have gluten in it, the label may not reflect that, according to Dr. Lamees Hamdan, who is also the CEO and founder of skin care brand Shiffa.

"It's so difficult, as a manufacturer, to state gluten-free or not because testing can show no gluten but reactions can still occur because it was produced in a factory that does use gluten," she said.

Baumann recommends avoiding products that include oats, avena sativa extract, barley or wheat extract, secale cereale, triticum vulgare, hordeum vulgare and "anything with the word wheat, barley or rye in it."

Even still, it's not exact. Hamdan referenced a study in which skin care products that contained gluten triggers, including wheat and oats, were tested for gluten, and were found not to contain measurable amounts — something she attributes to the processing and manufacturing stages that products go through.

Who should use gluten-free skin care?

There's some debate about how important a gluten-free skin care routine actually is. Baumann, who said she is asked about gluten-free skin care routines at least once a month, thinks the concern may be "a bit hypervigilant."

"I think the majority of people don't need to be concerned, only those with severe reactions (to gluten)," said Hamdan, who has heard of cases in which people were sensitive to gluten in makeup.

Do people with celiac disease need to use gluten-free cosmetics?

"There is no hard, scientific evidence that states that gluten in skin care, unless accidentally ingested, reacts with those with celiac disease," said Hamdan. "There is no danger of gluten being absorbed through your skin, however, gluten-containing products that come into contact with your mouth or mucous membranes might pose a risk."

Dr. Michelle Green, a Manhattan-based dermatologist, agreed that while celiac-sensitive users should be cautious, they most likely don't need to worry too much about topically applied products.

"Celiac sufferers can use gluten skin care products, as the protein molecules in gluten are too large to be absorbed by the skin," she said, agreeing with Hamdan that there is very little risk unless the products are accidentally ingested.

Lipstick photo
While gluten-free skincare may not be a major concern for most, experts advise those with celiac disease to be careful when choosing lip products. Getty Images

Those who are very sensitive should mostly worry about products that go in and around the mouth, such as lipsticks, mouthwash or toothpaste.

"You are the best judge of your sensitivity to this 'secondary' gluten source, and should use your judgment accordingly," said Baumann, who recommends people with celiac disease "wash their hands after applying skin care products and before eating, to make sure you don't ingest any products containing gluten."

What are the pros and cons of gluten-free skin care?

Baumann says that despite the increased interest, there's no benefit in terms of how your skin feels and responds, and Hamdan agrees.

However, Green says there are some positive attributes. "Gluten-free skin care products are rich in antioxidants, which aid in cell turnover," she said. "They also contain anti-inflammatory properties to reduce redness and irritation especially in individuals with eczema, rosacea or psoriasis."

And there don't seem to be drawbacks, so it's up to the user to decide whether to go gluten-free or not.

"Face and body moisturizers tend to contain gluten more than other products, as gluten is hydrating and contains antioxidants," said Green. Aveeno is also likely to contain gluten; the brand contains avena sativa extract in almost all of its products.

If you are still looking to eliminate gluten from your skin care routine entirely, there are some brands and products that are highly recommended by Green and Baumann.

The best gluten-free skin care products

  • 1. Atopalm MLE Intensive Moisturizing Cream, $25 (usually $30), Amazon

Baumann recommends the Atopalm brand, which uses multilamellar emulsion technology. According to Baumann, it's the best technology to help repair the skin barrier. A recent study also showed that it can help reduce inflammation.

  • 2. SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, $281, Amazon

Baumann also recommends this serum, which promises to be an all-in-one rejuvenating treatment.

  • 3. BareMinerals Ageless Genius Firming And Wrinkle Smoothing Neck Cream, $41, Amazon

Green recommends most BareMinerals products since many are gluten-free. She particularly highlighted their Ageless Genius line.

  • 4. BareMinerals Ageless Genius Firming and Wrinkle Smoothing Eye Cream, $40, Amazon

"It has encapsulated vitamin A and micronized gold," Green said, of the Ageless Genius products. "Both work to tighten the skin."