Because What I Really Need Is One More Thing to Worry About…

Guess what’s the last thing in the world I want to think about? Correct: Whether or not my beauty products, which I am already very picky about, are gluten-free.

But I’ve been performing a somewhat irresponsible (and unscientific) study on myself in the shower, and the results are in: Shampoo and conditioner that contains gluten totally gives me a rash. Well, sometimes.

This should not surprise me. I am allergic—not intolerant—to gluten,* and have been strictly avoiding that pesky protein for about 6 years now.** This is not a big deal! I avoid wheat-substitute foods for the most part, but I love what I get to eat, I cook a lot, I make it work. You would think that, knowing what I know about transdermal absorption, it might have occurred to me at some point that I should eliminate it from my beauty products too. But it did not.

Problem: It’s everywhere. Another problem: Whether or not I react to it is unpredictable, and probably has to do with particle size, concentration, and how aware I am of my own symptoms. Sometimes I’m totally in tune with these things; sometimes I treat my body like a garbage can and notice nothing. (Rare! But true story, I do it.) Now, some gluten-containing beauty products cause a reaction—specifically, an itchy-rashy back of neck, which drives me bonkers and makes me very self-conscious—and some do not. Complicating things is the fact that other ingredients also cause a neck rash to flare up: Stress, hair dye, SLS and SLES, you name it.

It’s one of those things where I’m inclined to say I don’t really know what to do about it—except I do. I need to eliminate all beauty products that contain the stuff and then pray to the rash gods that the itch stays at bay.

And so, dear readers, I turn to you: What gluten-free shampoo and conditioner do you love? And have you ever noticed a similar reaction to gluten—or some other ingredient in your naturals?

* Gluten, as most of you almost certainly know, is the protein in many grains, including wheat. Wheat is very commonly used in hair products, often in the form of hydrolyzed wheat protein.

** When I eat it by accident—an extremely rare event—terrible, terrible things happen. Not gross, but like, indescribable pain. And then a black cloud of death comes over me, mood-wise, as well.

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30 Responses to “Because What I Really Need Is One More Thing to Worry About…”
  1. Rebecca says:

    Oh, Siobhan, I feel your pain! I’ve been gluten-free in products from the start of my clean journey. It definitely complicates things – from mascara (hard enough as it is) to shampoos, moisturizers, cosmetics, almost everything. I love Griffin Remedy Daily shampoo & conditioner ( which has a lovely orangey scent. FYI, if you try them I have checked with the company and they are in fact gluten free although they had some product mistakenly go out with old labels that show wheat germ oil. Finding unscented and gluten free proved harder, but based on one of the morning routines I found Revitalizing shampoo & conditioner at, which is more expensive but awesome, and they have scented versions too. Best of luck finding something you love!

  2. Rebecca says:

    oh, and my reaction to the gluten topically is unclear, because I eliminated it around the same time as eliminating parabens and SLS, etc. I was definitely getting crazy itchy and/or peeling skin from my previous products. My reaction to gluten inside my body is clear and highly unpleasant, and I’m not taking any chances with topical.

  3. Question: What ingredients to look for on the label that would have gluten? Obviously various types of wheat-based derivatives…but are there any chemically sounding names we should be aware of?

  4. Liz says:

    Unless you have super fine oily hair, this works really well:

    It’s a small kitchen-counter type outfit run by a woman living near Ithaca, NY. Very simple ingredient lists, great stuff. The unscented shampoo has nothing but saponified olive and jojoba oils. It healed my poor beat up hair and kept it healthy throughout a particularly persistent purple phase (my one remaining \dirty product vice\ is a strong penchant for hair colors not found in nature and the bleach they require). The only drawback I can see is that it can actually be too gentle to tackle lots of product on its own, and needs a little reinforcement from cider vinegar or another clarifying rinse. Good luck!

  5. Carol says:

    I too have been avoiding making the connection between my gluten sensitivity and gluten in cosmetics. I certainly get rashes sometimes, but like you there could be a number of sources. My worst ever reaction to a natural product was when I tried Toms of Maine deodarant, which left me with a rash that spread down both sides of my torso and arms and took two weeks to get past the insane itching stage. Very memorable. I returned to my pharmacy brand for at least five years after that before I was brave enough to try natural again. Nothing else has ever been even close to that bad though.

  6. a says:

    I use and love Organic Excellence. It only comes in unscented, but it smells pleasantly of mint. Both the shampoo and conditioner work fantastically for my curly hair. I, too, am allergic to gluten, but I don’t think I’ve noticed a reaction from it in bodycare products, though I’ve really only allowed it in haircare (lotion and oil are too risky, I decided).

    Sidenote: I also have Organic Excellence’s bio-identical progesterone cream for when I go off the pill. I will have to start using the cream next week, but I’m hoping it will help with the transition. (The company says it will, but I haven’t gotten to the point where I can use it yet.)

  7. jeanined says:

    This definitely rings a bell…..! I’ve been eating gluten free since 2004 and, although I was not eating any products made with gluten flours, I was not being paranoid about cross contamination or minute amounts in some products, like soy sauce. After all, the tests only showed a small allergy to wheat…. Fast forward to 2012 and I have become more and more gluten sensitive and wish I had been much more careful when I started (or that someone had warned me….). Needless to say, I am doing that now and advise other with gluten intolerance of any kind to watch out as well… once you have signs of gluten intolerance, they tend to get worse as time goes by (you can read the book Dangerous Grains for more info). So, I am now starting to look into what I put on my skin as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendations myself (other than I love Weleda!) but I look forward to trying other things mentioned here. I will try to check with Weleda and Lavera (another brand I like) to make sure their products are GF! And thanks for posting this!

  8. jeanined says:

    Update: I checked Weleda and they use organic alcohol made from grains including wheat. They also cannot guarantee that their products are not contaminated with gluten. Then I checked John Masters (which I use for my hair and some face products) and their are GF! I really like their Linden Face Creme Wash, their Apricot and Rose moisturizer as well as their Evening Primrose shampoo.

  9. Rebecca says:

    @victoria, on cosmetics labels I’ve mostly found it to be fairly obvious (unlike in foods) – usually it will say wheat, but also look out for the scientific name for wheat, Triticum. Also, anything using oats (Avena) could have gluten unless it specifically says gluten free. If it’s super important to you not to have gluten, I would look for “gluten free” on the label, or check with the company. For those with a severe gluten problem, you’d want products made in a gluten free facility.

  10. lisa says:

    i dont know about shampoo and conditioner specifically, but 100% pure has some great products and they always say if they are GF or vegan or just vegetarian.

  11. Amritha says:

    I am a celiac and am currently using Intelligent Nutrients Harmonic Shampoo and Conditioner and the rashes have stopped. Also other good ones are Max Green Alchemy Shampoo and Conditioner- dried my hair out a bit but I totally would use it more than the IN ones . Green Rootine Shampoos are gluten free and ok but am not a big fan cos of the minty sort of smell. I have written to almost all the brands organic , natural and otherwise in order to assure myself . These are all that I came up with.Bye, Love, Amritha.

  12. Sarah V. says:

    I use phytocitrus shampoo, phytomist leave in conditioner, and phytocitrus mask a couple of times a week for deep conditioning. I love that their products are natural, smell great, and really work well. I also really appreciate that they use sustainable materials for their product packaging.

  13. Lisa says:

    Ava Anderson products are safe AND gluten-free

  14. Lisa says:

    Ava Anderson products are safe as well as gluten-free

  15. comagirl says:

    Siobhan, do you watch for gluten in what you drink, namely, in alcoholic beverages?

  16. Caralien says:

    I’ve mentioned this before, but soaps & sundries regular goat milk soap is great for my body, hair (formerly butt length, now shoulder length due to a locks of love donation), husband, and toddler. No gluten:

  17. Kat says:

    Acure Organics shampoos and conditioners, which you guys just gave a rave review of, are gluten-free. At least that’s what it says on the website. I haven’t gotten around to trying those yet but the things I’ve bought from Acure so far are working out great. I’m becoming a big fan of this brand. They’re super clean, they donate to breast cancer research AND they have price points that don’t have me feeling guilty about all the starving children I could feed with what it costs to moisturize my face.

  18. Siobhan says:

    @comagirl Yeah, definitely. I am a wine and vodka girl for the most part. Most grain based spirits lose the gluten in the processing, and in fact I’ve never had a reaction to brown liquors, but I am always a little wary.

  19. Siobhan says:

    @Amritha Thank you!

    @Kat Totally. I love Acure and since I ran out is when my rashes came back. I ordered a couple of bottles of shampoo and a couple of conditioners yesterday on Amazon (sadly sold out presently on my fave green beauty sites this week).

  20. Ishtar says:

    I am celiac too and work as a bio-medical esthetician for Sophyto Organics, a certified organic, gluten-free cosmeceutical skincare company.

    I commend you for raising this issue as there are so many skin ailments related to topical application of gluten.
    From my experience I can say that although it is very unlikely that you end up eating your gluten-cotaining shampoo and conditioner, their application can lead to itching, irritation, dryness and flaking (contact dermatitis)
    One of my favorite brands is Dr. Bronner´s because their formulas are very affordable and completely devoid of toxic chemicals.

    You can also visit the Gluten-Free Certification Organization website to search for certified gluten-free personal care companies:

    With regards to ingredients derived from gluten-containing grains, the main concern is always Vitamin E.
    Whenever you see this listed on the label ask where it is derived from. Grain alcohol is completely safe as the alcohol is fermented to such extent that no gluten remains in the alcohol.

    Oats and oats derived ingredients like beta-glucan could be suitable for celiac sufferers as long as the oats are gluten-free.

    My rule of thumb is: if you do not see the gluten-free certification logo on the packaging and have a doubt always ask.

    I highly recommend reading the following article, it is scary but at the same time it is important that we keep ourselves informed:

    Gluen-Free Bio-Medical Esthetician

  21. Sarah says:

    Hugo Naturals! Love the shampoo/conditioner in vanilla/sweet orange. I have low maintenance hair though.. almost anything does well for me. (

  22. Andreína (andre) says:

    I love everyday shea moisturizing shampoo (by Alaffia). I’ve been using it for a year 1/2 and I love it every time I use it!

  23. newbie says:

    Hugo Naturals shampoo and conditioner is gluten free and 9.99 a bottle

  24. Crystal says:

    Victoria– I discovered I was gluten intolerant when I started getting migraine headaches from gluten… I stopped all gluten in my diet … However I continued to experience mild headaches. it occurred to me that i had them while i wore makeup. So I started looking at labels and had to buy neutragena cosmetics… Avon and meleluca are gluten free too but only certain ones… So be wary of anything that says wheat or barley, the word hydrolyzed anything… And one other word that I’ve never read:stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl -Samino peptide?
    Also , beware of the word malt and of course the words – food starch. Those both contain wheat too. Hope that answers your question?

  25. shauna says:

    I’ve done well with Shikai shampoo, and know of a few others who get a gluten rash who have had success with this company. Afterglow cosmetics are our makeup source ( )

    Oh, re: your drinking of vodka, though! Just saw a little blurb a few months back about how many vodka companies are switching over to grain based vodka, these days. Since you mentioned you were trying to avoid that, figured I’d give you a heads up. :-)

  26. I have had luck with just plain old suave. I had a shampoo with wheat germ and it was making my hair fall out! (I have celiacs) No Bueno! Also be careful when you play with playdough. It also contains gluten.

  27. Angela P says:

    My husband and I love Desert Essence Organics, which you can buy from Whole Foods. I especially like their fragrance free shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. They are also very affordable. The ingredients seem good. Has anyone had any bad experiences or know of any dirty ingredients in them?

  28. Colleen says:

    Hey! I have a true wheat allergy too! (well, it started as wheat and evolved into gluten… somehow). In my experience, we are rare. In fact, I rarely explain it as a wheat allergy since, these days, people tend to correct me and tell me it’s an intolerance. It’s not. But whatever, I’m glad people are educating themselves as to the difference. As it were, I live in Portland and folks here are quick to catch on to food movements, so I’m in good company and it’s becoming increasingly simpler. It’s been about three years now (wow! that long?) and I am still just thrilled to feel healthy and it’s still kind of fun to figure out all the stuff I *can* eat that I might not have eaten were it not for GF.

    I’ve had this tab up for a couple days and can’t remember how I stumbled on your blog, but it must’ve been fated. One thing I noticed before I excluded gluten was that my mysterious list of symptoms were far worse in the spring and summer. Retrospectively, I think it’s because my body was strained from seasonal allergies on top of food allergy. Anyway, even without the wheat, I still get a little bit of folliculitis (forearms and near a surgery scar, mostly) in the spring (so now…). I’m not totally sure why, but it’s my impression that an allergy damaged gut can take years to fully heal, so my guess is I still have some flora/fauna imbalance that results in skin infections during allergy season. But last week I noticed a few foliiculitis spots on my scalp and– sure enough– when I checked I found that my (SUPER EXPENSIVE) shampoo has wheat ingredients. Bummer.

    I’m trying to be really proactive about the folliculitis this year and have been treating it with natural anti-fungal stuff such as apple cider vinegar, coconut oil (both applied to the skin and ingested) and tea tree oil (not ingested!). I just bought a new all natural, GF bar of soap, but I’m realizing now reading this post that I should probably replace/double check everything…

    Good luck to you!

  29. I’m in the same boat–I use Organic Essence as well and have no problems with it at all. I also agree that it’s affordable and comes in nice scents.

    My big dilemma is hair dye–Just read that Garnier makes a GF version, as I can’t find one at my local Co op. Drat! I’ve gotten my hair done at the salon for years, although I’ve remained purposefully in the dark about what’s in the dye–just didn’t want to deal with it. BUT I keep testing positive for gluten reaction when I’m ULTRA careful and have been for YEARS about not ingesting ANYTHING with gluten. So I recently replaced all of my personal products that even might POSSIBLY contain gluten (I spent hours calling companies and doing internet research). Have not been tested since the Big Clean Out, but am wondering if the hair dye had an effect. *sigh*

    I’ve found eating raw vegan (past three years) has made being GF WAY easier–I blog about raw vegan stuff on my website if that’s helpful to anyone. Cheers and thanks for writing about this!!!

  30. Peggy says:

    Peptides are quite often wheat based, tocopheryl and tocopheryl acetate (Vitamin E) are most often wheat derived and it is seemingly in EVERYTHING – especially mass produced soaps and lotions. All of the tocopheryl used by the Body Shop, for example, while natural, is wheat based, triticum vulgare is also a chemical name for wheat…. I am on the search for more because even avoiding these I still end up with skin rashes.

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