Food trends trickling over into the beauty industry is nothing new: in the last year or two alone, we’ve seen an influx of coconut oil beauty products, avocado face masks, and activated charcoal cleansers and skin-clearers. Now, gluten-free is poised to be the next food-based beauty trend.
The answer: It depends—but if you haven’t been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease the answer is a definitive “no,” says Vermén Verallo-Rowell, MD, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist based in Kennebunkport, Maine. “The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are easy to conjure; many believe they have it,” Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell says. “But topical gluten-free in cosmetics are unnecessary.”
For those who have been diagnosed with gluten problems, makeup made without the compound may be useful in one case: lip products, says Carl Thornfeldt, MD, a dermatologist in Fruitland, Idaho. “If ingested, [gluten] can produce a rash,” he says. “If there is topical contact, such as on the lips or disrupted skin barrier, hives can occur.”
As for the rest of your makeup bag? Even if you’re truly wheat-allergic, you’re safe. The gluten molecule is very large, so it can’t get through the skin’s barrier layer. Plus, there are no true healthy or beauty perks to using gluten-free products. In fact, going for gluten-free may do you more harm than good if you have sensitive skin, says Dr. Verallo-Rowell: “Sometimes the ingredients left out are actually replaced by ingredients that turn out to be allergens, which can then lead to problems.”
If you notice an allergic reaction on your skin while using conventional makeup, gluten probably isn’t culprit. “Cross reactions can occur with herbal products that people don’t necessarily think about,” explains Dr. Thornfeld. “For example, using tea tree oil cross-reacts with lavender. While someone may be able to use either ingredient individually, if applied together they could have a reaction. Often times the trigger for an allergic reaction isn’t what someone thinks it is.”
The bottom line? Going gluten-free probably won’t hurt you, but it won’t help you, either.