Over the last few years, gluten-free products and dishes have become ubiquitous on supermarket shelves, restaurant menus, and in recipe books.

For people who have coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, cutting the wheat protein out of their diet is essential, to prevent unpleasant digestive symptoms, while others choose to avoid them because it makes them feel better.

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But what about the products we put on our skin? If gluten can have such a negative effect on our insides, could it also be responsible for complexion issues?

“The free-from revolution has made people aware of potential food allergens and how they might affect us,” says Dr Celia Zubrinich, allergist and immunologist at Monash University. “That said, customers are unaware that many of these ingredients are found in our skincare, even in many brands marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘clean’.”

Dr Zubrinich believes: “If we are avoiding certain food types in our diet, then we should be taking the same consideration when it comes to what we apply to our skin.” But if you’re not coeliac, by ditching gluten-containing skincare, could you be missing out on certain beauty benefits?

Abi Cleeve, MD of Ultrasun UK and founder of SkinSense, who is coeliac herself, explains: “Gluten, as a protein, has been widely reported to support skin firmness and the strength of hair follicles, so it has had a place in the skin and haircare discussion for a while. There are some thoughts that coeliacs may react to HWP (hydrolysed wheat protein) used in skin and haircare, as it may stimulate the same antibodies that protect them from gluten in their diet.”

However, effects are, Cleeve says, “fairly minimal, and conducting a patch test – as is advisable with any new product – should allay any worries on this score”.

Karen Harwood, co-founder of skincare brand Oodee, whose products are free from all food and fragrance allergens, says: “It is important to state that there is not a lot of current research to scientifically prove or disprove the link between topical exposure of allergens and skin flare-ups – and that is part of the issue.”

The goal, with Oodee, is not to pinpoint specific ingredients and suggest they alone can or will cause a reaction. “Rather, we are starting a conversation and guiding people to have more awareness of ingredients used on their skin, so to avoid any potential issues. Our research shows there are countless people who suffer from random skin flare-ups and currently have no way of identifying or understanding what is causing that flare-up.”

Other experts are more sceptical about the link between gluten and skin problems.

“Whilst many ingredients applied to the skin, such as vitamin C and vitamin A, can be absorbed through the skin, the gluten molecule is too large to penetrate the skin layers, making it unlikely that topically-applied skincare products will trigger symptoms of coeliac disease,” says Dr AJ Sturnham, a GP specialising in dermatology. “However, using lip products that contain gluten may pose a slight risk, as these can be accidentally ingested.”

Dr Sturnham’s skincare brand Decree features 11 products, 10 of which are free from gluten. “In my opinion, there are no additional health or skin benefits to using a gluten-free range,” she says. “Our line, and many others out there, don’t label themselves as gluten-free, even when they are, as they see this as misleading marketing.”

Dr Sturnham recommends: “If you have a severe gluten intolerance or allergy, and you feel more comfortable using gluten-free products, then that is the only time that I will encourage them. It’s great there are lots of options out there, but for most people searching out gluten-free products, this is usually not necessary – and many products that you are using will be gluten-free anyway.”

5 gluten-free skincare essentials

Oodee Halo Purifying Foaming Cleanser, £24

Oodee Halo Purifying Foaming Cleanser
(Oodee/PA)

Decree Peptide Emollient Veil, £115

Decree Peptide Emollient Veil
(Decree/PA)

Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen, £13.33 (was £19.99), Boots

Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen
(Bliss/PA)

NIOD Survival 0, £20, Escentual

NIOD Survival 0
(NIOD/PA)

SkinSense Nourishing Facial Oil, £30

SkinSense Nourishing Facial Oil
(SkinSense/PA)

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Last update on 2024-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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