The gluten-averse need to listen up: There’s no need to panic about your current hair care state of affairs. To understand the recent hype about gluten-free shampoo, we all need to understand what gluten is. Gluten is a combination of two proteins (prolamins and glutelins) found in most grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It acts as a sort of glue, giving dough its elasticity and shape. Sounds pretty innocent, right? Well, not for those with gluten intolerance, which is an inability to digest this particular protein. It can range from a mild sensitivity like a wheat allergy to full-blown celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and leads to malnutrition.
Do You Need a Gluten-Free Shampoo?
So do gluten-sensitive people really need gluten-free shampoos? Well, this all depends on your level of sensitivity. Wheat is a common ingredient in a lot of hair care products like mousse and hairspray since it can provide elasticity, but since shampoos and conditioners aren’t meant to be eaten or ingested at all, they don’t pose a high risk like products in the food and beverage industry. However, for those who are severely sensitive to wheat, they may find that switching to wheat-free products might help lower the risk of scalp irritation—particularly if that hair product is left on the scalp for prolonged amounts of time, such as in the case of hair color and styling products.
To shed more light on the gluten debate (and to save you precious time from scouring the interwebs for that potential gluten-free shampoo list!), we spoke to Unilever’s R&D expert Leon van Gorkom. Scroll on:
So what exactly happens if you have gluten sensitivity?
“You would need to refrain from wheat-related products. Gluten is a specific protein in wheat. But once again this is really more for people that have severe allergic reactions—those people might want to have shampoos that don’t have wheat in it. Some brands use modified wheat in their shampoos, but I think there are a lot of shampoos without wheat in them [that you can use].”
Is this a new trend, gluten-free shampoos?
“It’s an old trend. The next would be vegan, which means you can’t have animal byproducts; glycerin, for example, has two sources: vegetable oil or animal fat. If we want to make a claim that [the product is] vegan, we can only use glycerin from a vegetable base. And this would translate to anything where people use ingredients, even in the supply chain.”
Ed’s note: If you have a gluten allergy and have been experiencing irritation after shampooing, check your labels to see if they have any red-flag ingredients. Try and see if your symptoms ease up after switching, and then make an informed decision on the best wash and care system for you.