The skin-ny on gluten and your skin

By Laura Mize • Published: November 11th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Does gluten get you down? Do you steer clear of wheat in favor of foods made from sorghum, almond, rice or chickpea flours?

For all you gluten avoiders, there’s something important you should know about celiac disease. People with celiac disease can’t digest a sticky protein called gluten that is found in wheat and some other grains. And the condition can have a skin effect, too. It’s called dermatitis herpetiformis [der•ma•ti•tis her•puh•ti•for•miss]. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to gluten and, strangely, sends certain antibodies to congregate in the skin. There, they attack a component of the skin, causing dry, itchy patches of blisters and lesions.

People with dermatitis herpetiformis may not experience all the digestive problems common to celiac disease. Most experts believe the skin condition results from ingesting gluten, not skin exposure.

But some dermatologists recommend that people with dermatitis herpetiformis also avoid skin care products and makeup that contain gluten. Some products you use may be gluten-free, but it can be tough to tell. Several brands label their goods as gluten-free to help you be sure. So if you want to go gluten-free on your skin, you can find these with a quick online search.

But, if giving up your beloved brand of makeup or skin cream sounds too drastic, try switching to a gluten-free alternative for a while. Then watch your skin symptoms to see if they improve. An experiment like this might help you decide whether swapping permanently is worth it.

Discussing your concerns with a health care provider familiar with your skin problems is a good idea. But keep in mind that much is unknown about dermatitis herpetiformis. Pay attention to your doctor’s advice.