Do We Really Need Gluten Free Soap? Yeah, Maybe So

I’ll admit this up front: When I first heard of gluten free soap, my reaction was, “What… really? Do we really need gluten free soap? Soap??”

I mean, I’m usually the first person in the room to suggest a gluten free diet for someone suffering from IBS, stomach problems or any sort of chronic illness or disease. I’ve recommended a GF diet to close friends, people I’ve just met at parties, distant relatives, and complete strangers on the Metro. (I only made one of those up.)

I removed every source of gluten from my diet years ago, we’re now experimenting with a completely grain free diet, and I couldn’t be happier with the positive benefits I’ve gotten from removing gluten from my diet. So my “gluten free bona fides”, so to speak, are impeccable and beyond doubt.

But I was still surprised to hear about the need for gluten free soap. When I think about it though, I probably shouldn’t have been. A couple of years ago, Mary Frances started having trouble with her scalp becoming red, irritated and itchy in the mornings. Over the course of the next few months, we finally tracked the culprit down – it was a form of wheat being used as an ingredient in her shampoo.

Mary knows now what brands of shampoo she can use without trouble, but for a while there we spent a long time on the shampoo aisle at Walmart every time we went as she read the backs of each and every bottle on the shelves. (At least that’s what she tells me she did; I usually wandered off to the electronics section a few minutes into it.)

What About The Science?

Anecdotal evidence aside, is there any scientific basis for thinking that gluten in your soap might be causing or aggravating your particular celiac- or gluten-related symptoms?

Yes, there is. This study, and this study here, both found a link between anaphylaxis (a severe, possibly life-threatening allergic reaction) and the hydrolyzed wheat protein (HWP) in the soap that the patients used.

In other words, the researchers determined that the HWP in the patients’ soap had had some sort of trigger or exacerbating effect on their anaphlyaxis. That’s not something to mess around with.

In addition, this Italian gentleman developed “chronic dermatitis of the hands, forearms and face. Lesions appeared six months before when he started to work as a pizza-maker and worsened when he touched wheat-flour and when he washed with an oats-derived detergent.”

Personally, I think that’s enough evidence to make most of us take note of this issue. Granted, none of those studies involved celiacs being tested specifically for a reaction to gluten in soap, but wheat allergies and chronic dermatitis are serious enough to warrant attention. Especially if it’s your arms, hands, and face where lesions are beginning to appear.

So where does this leave us? For celiacs, I think that removing the gluten from your diet remains your top priority. If you’re still (knowingly or not) eating gluten in some form, that’s going to have an immediate and, I suspect, more pronounced effect on your body. Once your diet is clean, then you can go after the more hidden sources of gluten, including soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, and dish detergent.

For those of us who suffer from a wheat allergy, I would say this is probably a higher priority. I remember how frustrated Mary Frances was when she was dealing with the wheat in her shampoo – and how red and angry her scalp looked. I wouldn’t want to have to go through that every day.

Where To Buy Gluten Free Soap

Gluten-Free Savonnerie has a decent selection of gluten free soaps. Their soaps are also fragrance-, casein-, soy-, corn-, dye- and peanut-free. Prices range from $4 to $6 for a single bar of soap, you can get a 3-bar Sampler pack for $14, and 5 bars for $27.

Amazon has a couple hundred items available when you search for “gluten free soap” so that’s also a good place to start looking. Not all of the search results specifically say “gluten free” though, so keep that in mind as you browse.

Of the Amazon products, this 32 oz bottle of EO Everyone Soap looks like a good buy. The product description clearly states gluten free, and it costs less than $6.

So what do you guys think? Are you going to switch to a gluten free brand of soap or keep using your regular brand? Has anyone switched to GF soap already? Did you notice any particular improvements in symptoms?

Comments

  1. Yes! Yes we do need GF soap. If you had asked me even six months ago I would have said “Ehh..” But yes. You need GF soap. I’ve been GF since January 2006. For the longest time I used Method cleaning products because when I contacted them years ago they said that they don’t use any gluten in any of their products. But finally I switched to Cascade dishwasher detergent and had no problems. Then the only Cascade I could find was the “with Dawn” kind. So… whatever.. Fine. “With Dawn” it is. But Method for everything else. Then, after my husband had a run-in with grease on his favorite pair of jeans, I bought the regular old dark blue Dawn dishsoap to get the grease out. Once my Method dishsoap ran out I just used the Dawn because I didn’t want to let it go to waste. Big mistake. Huge.
    Honestly, I had been getting more frequent reactions for about a year (around the time I switched to Cascade with Dawn). But once I switched to the Dawn liquid, they got worse and more frequent – like 3-4 times a week vs. once every 2-3 months. It got to the point where I was thinking about going back to the doctor because it was getting so bad I thought there must be something new wrong.
    Then we went camping about a month ago. Everything was fine until I ate with a plate and fork a couple days into it that had been washed with Dawn and rinsed in the RV with no water pressure (lots of soap residue). I had an immediate reaction right after breakfast and told my husband that I was starting to suspect the dish soap. HaHa..
    I use the EZGluten tests and never thought to try one on the dish soap. I do have a few friends who also use the tests and asked if anyone had tested Dawn and someone came up with a positive. But the tests aren’t really made to test soap, so who knows. Could be cross-contact, or any other number of things. So it was just a hmm…
    BUT, I stopped using Dawn and switched to Seventh Generation for dish soap and dishwasher detergent. All the while thinking there is no way my stupid dish soap could have anything to do with me getting sick all the time again. For God’s sake. How paranoid.. But I’ll be damned. I haven’t had a reaction since.
    Stupid gluten.

  2. I have to be 100% gluten free or I get severe gut reactions and pain. One of the things I discovered is that if I handle anything with gluten in it, tiny bits of gluten get trapped in the swirls of my finger prints then transfer to whatever food I’m touching and putting into my mouth. Washing my hands first doesn’t work well. The only way I can be sure to remove all the particles is to scrub my hand and fingers tips with a brush the way doctors do before surgery. Gluten in makeup may not hurt my skin but it takes a lot of scrubbing to get my hands clean and safe again. It’s not worth it. And gluten in soap defeats the purpose.

  3. I’m not sure if any of you have heard of Arbonne. Arbonne offers safe, pure, and beneficial products, not to mention they are all GLUTEN FREE, they offer cosmetics, hair care, skin care, acne care, baby skin care, protein shakes, protein bars, aromatherapy products, and many more. Check out the website sometime (www.arbonne.com) you are able to shop at a discount (20-85%$) if you can use my id number (18250633). Hope i was help to all interested in a complete gluten free lifestyle.

  4. If I may ask your advice, I have been trying to find information on what exactly causes soap, shampoo, lotions, balms…skincare in general gluten free? I am just beginning a small skincare business making these products with only natural ingredients. Oils, butter’s, inorganic’s like sea salts, clays and mudslides, additional skin nutrition from seaweeds, flowers, coffee, poppy seeds, honey,candelilla wax, beeswax (different products)etc. I do use colloidal oatmeal in 2 products, beer in 1. Different ingredients in different products. Never do I use synthetic chemicals. I only get Colorado from active ingredients that create it, nothing added as a colorant. I do not use fragrance oils or nature “idennticals”. The fragrance comes from the actives or essential oils.
    I was recently asked if I make gluten free soaps and from the way I understood it, since I have beer in one of my soaps that could have come in contact with the others from being packed in the same container for travel that disqualified all my products from being gluten free.
    The last thing I want to do is cause someone harm to anyone. I began this to help people have a way to remove A route of exposure toxins harm people and want to make the effort to also create gluten free products for those that need them.
    Can you help me understand what needs to be done to create safe products for people who require those products to be gluten free?
    Thank you so much
    Pmb

    • pmb » I’m not an expert on this at all, but I too would think (from a layperson’s perspective) that the oatmeal and beer would be problematic. One option might be to take a sample of some of your soaps that you think are gluten free and have them lab tested to see whether any gluten shows up. I haven’t looked into the specifics of doing this, but I know there are companies that will perform ELISA testing for gluten on samples that you mail into them.

  5. Great information. I am a soap maker, and a customer just asked if my lemon grass shampoo bar/soap is gluten free. Wow, it had never dawned on me to make all my soaps gluten free (my salt bars are). Until reading your article, I thought it was only food that was a problem. I have been adding Wheat germ as an exfoliant. All the rest are going to be gluten free from now on!!
    For beer shampoo bars I make my own beer from roobios tea, sugar, and yeast. Would that be considered gluten?
    Do you know if powdered milk contains gluten?
    Thank you so much for your helpful information.

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