Gluten is difficult to avoid. It's in everything from the food we eat to the glue on the back of a stamp. And unless the soap you're using is labeled gluten-free, you'll probably find it there as well. Most of the time, this isn't a problem. But if you happen to have celiac disease, you might have some concerns.
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat and rye, and people with celiac disease are allergic to it. It affects their immune system, which reacts to gluten by destroying small protrusions called villi in the intestines. Villi normally help nutrients from food pass through the intestines into the bloodstream. Without them, however, the body will always lack proper nourishment, no matter how much you eat [source: NIH]. The only treatment is cutting gluten out of your diet completely. Luckily, when it comes to soap and other skin cleansers containing gluten, you should still be able to use them -- as long as you do it carefully.
Gluten is a common ingredient in soap and skin cleansers. It acts as an emollient, which means it makes your skin feel soft and smooth. The good news for people with celiac disease is that soap containing gluten shouldn't cause any problems unless you ingest it. It can't be absorbed through the skin by contact [source: Picco]. With that in mind, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to put soapy hands near your mouth.
If you prefer to be cautious, there are plenty of soaps and skin cleansers out there that are gluten-free. You just have to make sure you check the ingredients carefully. Also, be aware that many products change their ingredients on a regular basis, so you need to check the label every time. Avoiding gluten can be tough, but it's not impossible.
To find out more about gluten, why it's used in soap and how that might affect you, see the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. "Celiac Disease." National Institutes of Health. Sept. 2008. (Sept. 14, 2009) http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/
- Picco, Michael M.D. "Celiac Disease." Mayo Clinic. Nov. 29, 2007. (Sept. 14, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/AN01623
- Watt, Alexander. "The Art of Soap-Making: A Practical Handbook." 1907. (Sept. 14, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=Kh5_AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA122&lpg=PA122&dq=why+is+gluten+in+soap%3F&source=bl&ots=4V9GR-jzBO&sig=asSIsTsJ9BWEgclJS0Uus0HUy_4&hl=en&ei=X16uSqy8IIGasgPK26CIBQ &sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7#v=onepage&q=why%20is%20gluten%20in%20so&f=false