A reader took me to task today for recommending that people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity use only gluten-free shampoo. By making this recommendation, the reader said, I was misinforming people, and urging them to spend unnecessary money on expensive hair care products they don't need just because they're labeled "gluten-free."
The reader said I should be encouraging better-educated choices by consumers, and asked that I retract my article on gluten-free shampoo, perhaps replacing it with a video explaining how to keep your mouth closed in the shower.
However, I believe that explaining the real (if small) risks in using gluten-containing personal care products does promote consumer education. And I remain firm in my recommendation to purchase only gluten-free shampoo and other hair care products.
My attitude (as clearly expressed in my article) is: Why take the chance on this? The gluten-free diet is complicated enough, and I have plenty of other things in my life to worry about. I'm not interested in adding neurotic "need to keep my mouth closed at all costs" thoughts to my shower routine.
I never said in the article that skin contact with a gluten-containing shampoo was dangerous (although some people with eczema do find their skin condition worsens when they use gluten-containing products). However, I occasionally get shampoo in my mouth, and I frequently touch my hair and then my mouth. This contact would be plenty to make me react ... and I'm far from alone.
When it comes to making sure you don't accidentally get shampoo in your mouth: adults perhaps can remember to close their mouths during a shower (er, most of the time, at least), but children will not. My daughter sometimes takes a tub bath and immerses her entire shampoo-covered head in the water, mouth and all. If she didn't use gluten-free shampoo, she'd be glutened every time she did this. Since she enjoys this type of tub bath, I see no reason to tell her she has to stop.
Yes, it's possible to spend lots of money on gluten-free-labeled shampoo (just as you can drop plenty of money on gluten-containing shampoo). However, it certainly isn't necessary -- both Suave and Dove brands are reliably gluten-free (they're Unilever brands, which will clearly label any gluten-containing ingredients), and they're among the cheapest options available at our local stores. We've used both.
Choosing whether to use gluten-free personal care products is a, well, personal choice. We all know that there's far more to living gluten-free than simply watching what you eat -- gluten is too pervasive in our society. As far as I'm concerned, I value my health too much to take any risks, no matter how small.
Any reaction is one reaction too many, so I choose to use gluten-free shampoo, and I recommend doing so to my readers ... who are of course free to make their own choices.
Photo © Getty Images/Peter Cade