I absolutely recommend switching to a gluten-free shampoo and other hair care products.
It's not strictly necessary, since you're using these products on your hair (as opposed to eating them). But if you ever get shampoo in your mouth accidentally, or if you touch your hair and then put your fingers in your mouth, you risk getting glutened unless all your hair care products are gluten-free. Some people with eczema also find their skin feels better if they avoid gluten ingredients in their personal care products.
Yes, sticking with gluten-free shampoo and other hair care products could save you from several "mystery glutenings" a year ... or more, depending on how sensitive you are to trace gluten. (For more on that, see my article on How Much Gluten Can Make Me Sick?)
Unfortunately, hair product manufacturers regard gluten grain ingredients as healthy for your hair, and therefore use them frequently and liberally in shampoo and conditioner. Gluten also appears in hair spray, mousse and other styling products, since its "glue" properties help hold your hair in place.
There are literally thousands of hair care products on the market today. To help you determine which ones might be safe (and which ones to avoid), I've provided a list of common ingredients that indicate gluten in shampoo and other products, plus a short list of manufacturers who make reliably gluten-free products.
Ingredients That Mean Gluten In Shampoo, Other Products
If you see one or more of the following terms in the ingredients list, it means the shampoo or other hair care product contains ingredients made from wheat, barley or rye. I've also included ingredients that indicate oats, since many of us need to avoid them, as well.
• Triticum vulgare (wheat)
• Hordeum vulgare (barley)
• Secale cereale (rye)
• Avena sativa (oats)
• Wheat germ oil
• Hydrolyzed wheat protein
• Stearyl dimonium hydroxypropy (hydrolyzed wheat protein)
• Laurdimonium hydroxypropyl (hydrolyzed wheat protein)
• Colloidal oatmeal
• Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (may contain wheat)
• Dextrin palmitate (starch, possibly gluten-based)
• Vitamin E (frequently derived from wheat)
• Malt extract (usually barley)
• Beta glucan (frequently derived from wheat)
• Vegetable protein (may contain wheat, barley, rye and/or oats)
The absence of any of these ingredient names doesn't necessarily mean the product is gluten-free — there are numerous other chemicals (some with very difficult-to-pronounce names) that can be derived from wheat, barley, rye or oats. Gluten-based ingredients also can hide behind catch-all ingredient names such as "fragrance," and the components of these may be a closely-guarded trade secret.
Choosing A Gluten-Free Shampoo and Conditioner
There are several ways you can determine the gluten status of one of your hair care products:
1. You can call the manufacturer's toll-free hot line or do a website search to find out
2. You can use products from manufacturers who identify gluten ingredients on their labels
3. You can select only gluten-free labeled hair care products
People seem to have mixed luck getting information from personal product manufacturers about gluten ingredients, although this problem is beginning to resolve as awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity continue to rise.
Sticking with a manufacturer that identifies gluten ingredients by name (i.e., "hydrolyzed vegetable protein (wheat)") can prove successful. Suave and Dove, both Unilever brands, will do this on their labels, and most of their products (if not all) are gluten-free anyway. I know people who have had good luck with both brands.
Finally, a growing number of smaller, organically-oriented brands are producing gluten-free shampoos and other hair care products, including Desert Essence, Jason Natural, Gluten-Free Savonnerie, Naturally Dah'ling, Organique and Head Organics. Always check the label, since some of these manufacturers also produce gluten-containing products. Still, in most cases the gluten-free status will be prominent — they want you to know their shampoo is gluten-free.