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. (More details here at the Benefits Of Gluten Free Diet post.) 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.)
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.
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?
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