Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Although it's not a problem for most of us, gluten consumption can be extremely damaging -- even deadly -- for some people. People with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis (a form of celiac disease that affects the skin) are unable to consume gluten because it destroys the lining of their small intestine and prevents the organ from absorbing any nutrients. The condition can be fatal, and the only treatment that's 100 percent effective is a strict, gluten-free diet.
It's only natural to assume that people who can't stomach gluten are unable to use skin cleansing products that contain the problematic protein. Surprisingly, that's not the case. The gluten molecule is large enough that it can't be absorbed through the skin, so, theoretically, as long as the gluten-bearing skin care product isn't ingested, everything should be fine.
However, regardless of gluten's molecular size, many people report strong reactions to topical products that are made with the protein. In fact, a small industry has developed to meet the growing demand for gluten-free skin cleansers.
In this article, we'll examine five gluten-free skin cleansing products. We'll show you what to look for when purchasing one of these cleansers, where to find them and what to expect when you incorporate them into your skin cleansing regimen.
Click over to the next page to peel away the mystery behind gluten-free facial masks.
You have to be really careful when looking for gluten-free facial products for several reasons. Facial skin is extremely sensitive, so you'll want to take plenty of precaution with the cleansers you use. Because facial masks, like exfoliating sponges, are deep-cleaning and penetrate the skin to extract built-up oil and grime from your pores, a bad reaction to masks that contain gluten could be extremely uncomfortable. Also, facial masks are applied close to the mouth, a dangerous area for people who can't consume foods that contain gluten. People with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis can have extremely negative reactions to consuming even trace amounts of the protein.
Luckily, there are several gluten-free facial masks available, and if you look hard enough, you'll most likely be able to find one at your local store. However, as is the case with most skin cleansing products, not all gluten-free facial masks advertise themselves as such, so be sure to check the ingredients. If you're still not sure, don't be afraid to contact the manufacturer.
Although shea butter's smoothing, moisturizing and regenerative effects have been known for centuries, it's only recently begun to gain widespread popularity. Shea butter is naturally gluten-free and offers consumers -- regardless of their tolerance or intolerance of gluten -- an alternative to the chemical-laden skin care products found in most stores.
Shea butter is the natural fat of the fruit borne by the African shea tree, also known as the karite or mangifolia tree. People with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis commonly use shea butter as a moisturizer and emollient -- it's loaded with vitamins A, E and F. Shea butter can also be used as an anti-wrinkle cream, a moisturizer, an ointment for rashes and burns, a skin softener and toner, and a scar and stretch-mark remover. It restores elasticity to the skin, eases arthritis pain and is a principle ingredient in many popular skin cleansers.
But don't assume that because shea butter is listed in the name of a product that it's gluten-free. Unless you're using 100 percent natural shea butter, you need to check the product's ingredient list to make sure there are no additives containing gluten.
There are numerous cleansing creams on the market today, and some are gluten-free. Like most skin care products, gluten-free cleansing creams sometimes categorize themselves with other labels, such as organic or vegan, so you always have to check the list of ingredients. However, it's fairly easy to procure facial cleansers, moisturizers and makeup removers that lack the troublesome protein, and several large-scale brands, including Neutrogena and Avon, make gluten-free cleansing creams that are relatively easy to find.
If you're having trouble locating a gluten-free cleansing cream, try shopping at stores that specialize in natural and organic products. If you're looking for a more specific type of gluten-free cream, such as a skin bronzer, you might have better luck conducting an online search, where there will be many more options than what you'd find in stores.
If you're avoiding gluten for medical reasons, you should be careful when using exfoliating scrubs. Unlike most skin cleansing products that are applied topically, exfoliating scrubs cleanse by tearing off the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your skin).
Needless to say, exfoliation is a pretty harsh process, regardless of your ability to cope with gluten. Minor cuts and abrasions are common, and skin irritation or inflammation often occurs after these skin cleansing sessions [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. However, there are a variety of gluten-free exfoliating products available (many of them are made from gluten-free oatmeal or cornmeal), though the lack of wheat's most famous protein will in no way decrease the harshness of the exfoliating process.
If, like many people using gluten-free skin care products, you have sensitive skin, you may want to stick with a less abrasive skin cleansing regimen, such as washing your face with a cleanser and following that with a moisturizer or skin cream. You won't get the immediate results of a deep exfoliating scrub, but using a cleanser regularly will help to slough off old skin over time and promote the growth of healthy new skin cells.
Soap is one of the most common gluten-free skin care products available. Gluten-free soap's prevalence makes sense, considering that soap, itself, is the most widely used skin cleansing product in the world. Furthermore, soap is a common commodity, even in the poorest of countries [source: The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap].
Gluten-free soaps are great for anyone who experiences general gluten intolerance or allergies to products containing the protein. Also, like most gluten-free skin cleansing products, gluten-free soaps are often made from all-natural ingredients, so they're perfect for people with sensitive skin or anyone looking to reduce their consumption of artificial chemicals (which many mass-produced soaps are full of). Many all-natural and organic soaps are also gluten-free.
The best face cleansers are the ones that benefit your skin, whether it's sensitive, oily or dry. Learn how to choose the best face cleanser for your skin
Related HowStuffworks Articles
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