Is gluten protein absorbed through hair? The question is a common one, and if you are striving for a gluten-free lifestyle, an important one. Unfortunately, while the basic answer is straightforward, there are still no definitive guidelines as to whether gluten intolerant individuals should avoid certain hair care products.
Is Gluten Protein Absorbed Through Hair?
Hair is made up of non-living, keratinized cells. While the hair follicle within the scalp is fed by the bloodstream, hair itself contains no blood vessels, and therefore cannot absorb gluten and pass it on to the rest of the body.The scalp is a different story. There is little doubt that the skin is capable of taking in a variety of substances, but the gluten molecule is generally considered too large to be absorbed in this way. The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide by Tricia Thompson (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008) reassures readers that as long as gluten-containing toiletries are not ingested orally there is no need to be concerned.
The Side of Caution
While this may be theoretically true, a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that even if gluten is not absorbed through the scalp, shampoos containing gluten are able to trigger a reaction nevertheless. In The Gluten-Free Way: My Way by Adrienne Z. Milligan (Wildside Press LLZ, 2009) the author concedes that there is still scientific debate as to whether externally applied gluten is able to trigger a reaction, but reports personal experience with an intensely itching rash brought on by gluten-containing shampoos.
Two studies (Contact Dermatitis 50.3; Contact Dermatitis 54.5) have linked cosmetic use of hydrolyzed wheat protein with the development of hives in persons with dietary allergies to the same substance. While gluten intolerance was not specifically addressed in these studies, they support the theory that dietary intolerances can cause reactions when applied topically. Based on these findings and due diligence, avoiding personal care products containing gluten can be seen as the sensible course of action. Some health care authorities agree. For example, pharmacists are advised to encourage celiac patients to choose gluten-free alternatives to these products (J. Am. Pharmacists Assn 48.5.)
To address the needs of gluten sensitive individuals, many holistic cosmetics companies now offer gluten-free hair care products. As a result, it is easier than ever to stay gluten-free in the shower as well as in the kitchen. Try the following companies to get started with gluten-free hair care:
- Morrocco Method Int'l: Offers a complete line of beauty products that are gluten-free, vegan and organic.
- Refreshingly Free, LLC: Offers gluten-free, fragrance-free products.
- Gluten-Free Savonnerie: These products are manufactured specifically for individuals with celiac disease, asthma, autism, or any other chemical sensitivities, with special attention paid to other potential allergens such as soy, nuts, or dairy.
Ingredients to Watch For
In the United States and Canada, cosmetic ingredients are identified on product packaging by their names as defined by the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI.) Standardized INCI names may include either the common name or the scientific name of an ingredient, so it is worthwhile to become familiar with both.
Learning to recognize the scientific names of gluten-containing grains will help you identify hidden culprits in your hair care products. Watch for any of the following terms, used in whole or in part, on your shampoo ingredient list:
- Wheat: Triticum vulgare
- Barley: Hordeum vulgare
- Oats: Avena sativa.
- Rye: Secale
- Other: Tocopherols (vitamin E) are often derived from wheat germ. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly to determine origin.
Going Shampoo Free
The question 'Is gluten protein absorbed through hair?' might make you question what else could be absorbed through the scalp. The scalp is richly serviced by blood vessels, and it is not unreasonable to assume that a good deal of what you put on your head can indeed end up in your bloodstream.
As an alternative to seeking out specialized cosmetics manufacturers, an increasing number of people are deciding to go shampoo-free. This method puts you in complete control of everything that comes in contact with your scalp, and eliminates the need to play guessing games with ingredient lists.