Celiac.com 10/02/2008 - Anyone with confirmed gluten sensitivity knows what a web of conflicting research and medical opinions he or she must wade through in order to get diagnosed. Sadly, it is a rare thing for a patient to have to consult less than a handful of doctors, and consider many various ailments before hearing the life-altering statement: You have celiac disease.
So then it should be of no surprise that once the diagnosis has been made, there is still much debate over what this means to an individual. A celiac disease diagnosis means the lifetime avoidance of anything that contains gluten contained in wheat, barley and rye and their derivatives—and even this simple statement is not always agreed upon by experts.
The consensus is that people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye for the rest of their lives. But still, there is the occasional "expert" who seems to think that this “problem” could go away—that it can be “cured.” Of course, this idea seems completely off base to most, but to the patient of a doctor who has guided that individual into the gluten-free light, it just may seem to make sense.
And reading even further into the only scientifically accepted treatment—a lifetime avoidance of gluten from wheat, barley and rye—more questions can be raised, for example: Should individuals who are gluten sensitive also avoid topical skin care and cosmetic products that contain gluten?
Much of the research available seems to agree that lipsticks and toothpastes ought to be gluten free, but that a topically applied product need not be. Although this is a widely-accepted opinion, it falls to pieces the moment one considers the basis behind the entire green beauty industry’s monumental success: What goes on the skin, goes into the body.
According to The Good Housekeeping Institute up to 60% of a product applied to the skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream. So why then would any individual with gluten sensitivity be so firm in his or her resolve to avoid dietary gluten, yet allow it to seep into the body via topical application? To some the answer may be simple—because his or her doctor said so. The very same doctor who changed that person’s life, forever improving his patient’s health, may not necessarily agree that gluten, or harmful fractions of gluten like gliadin, could pass into the patient's body and cause harm.
A fortunate few, however, see a doctor who is more forward-thinking in his or her treatment methods—doctors who may be more aware of the latest research on gluten sensitivity. One example of such a doctor is Dr. Kenneth Fine, M.D. of EnteroLab.com, who understands that: "Gluten sensitivity is a systemic immune reaction to gluten anywhere in the body, not just that entering the body via the gut. Therefore, topically applied lotions, creams, shampoos, etc. containing gluten would indeed provide a source of gluten to the body, and we therefore recommend all such products be discontinued for optimal health."
So to those individuals whose doctors still insist that it is unnecessary to adhere to a gluten-free beauty routine, perhaps an inquiry into that doctor’s thoughts on the general absorption of topical products may shine a light on the basis behind their opinions. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are becoming better understood, and some experts believe that up to 15% of Americans may be affected by some form of gluten sensitivity. And just as all who are gluten-sensitive continue to pour through the latest articles in an effort to live the healthiest gluten-free lifestyle that they can, so too are our doctors who are doing their very best to keep up with the latest scientific findings concerning gluten sensitivity. The more studies and research that are done on this topic, the better it will be for everyone—but unless a doctor is a specialist in this field, the necessary information concerning the broad range of problems that gluten can cause in a sensitive individual may not reach him in time.
Perhaps acceptance of the idea that topical gluten can also wreak havoc internally is just the next step in the world-wide education of the ill effects that gluten can have on some people. But for now, the choice of whether or not to avoid topically applied cosmetics and skin care products that contain gluten is, for those affected, a matter of whose opinion they’re going to trust: Specialists in the field of gluten sensitivity, or doctors who may not be up on the latest information on the effects of gluten sensitivity.