The world can be a confusing place for the newly-diagnosed gluten intolerant soul. Not only do you have to adopt a whole new diet with a steep learning curve, but the first time you see a non-food item labeled gluten-free it may send you into a panic. Gluten-free makeup, toothpaste, lotion, dish soap, glue, paint, playdough — where does it all end? And since youíre not actually eating any of these things, does it actually matter?
Well, that depends. Items like lipstick and toothpaste are basically impossible not to ingest in small amounts — and theyíre both items in which gluten can hide if you donít carefully check the ingredients.
Other cosmetics get a bit more tricky. Lots of lotions and shampoos use oats or wheat germ oil to nourish the skin — and theoretically, simply putting them on your skin shouldnít hurt you if your problem is that you canít digest gluten properly.
That being said, there is a form of celiac disease called dermatitis herpetiformis which causes painful skin rashes, and it can be triggered by external contact with gluten. Some people have a wheat allergy on top of a gluten intolerance and experience skin irritation when they use these products. And of course, thereís always the possibility that a little shampoo or lotion will end up in your mouth and give you the typical digestive symptoms. If youíre worried about any of these issues, it pays to use cosmetics you know are gluten-free.
Other products like dishsoap can be even more confusing. Obviously you arenít eating it, but is it possible that soap contaminated with gluten during processing could leave a residue on your dishes that could make you sick? Well, maybe. One study on wheat allergies found that soaps using hydrolyzed wheat protein could trigger anaphyalxis in severely wheat-allergic patients eating off the dishes later, so itís possible gluten could be left behind. Some people claim it doesnít make a difference, while others swear by gluten-free cleaning products.
Thereís one time it always pays off to look for a gluten-free version, however — and thatís when youíre dealing with a small child. Craft supplies ranging from playdough to fingerpaints often have gluten ingredients in them, and even if a child isnít purposely eating the products, itís likely theyíll accidentally get some in their mouths. Even if they try to wash their hands after touching an unsafe glue or paint (or heaven forbid, papier mache!), they might have bits caught under their fingernails that can end up in their mouth later and make them ill.
As a general rule, if something seems to make you sick with the same kind of symptoms youíd get from ingesting gluten, stop using the product for a little while. If the problem clears up, use a brand confirmed to be gluten-free instead. Your long-term health is worth it!
Photo credit: Kate Sumbler via Flickr