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Gluten Sensitivity: Reading Labels Matter

Over the course of 8 weeks, I tend to see about 75% of my clientele. It's frequent enough to start our conversation right where we left off, but it's also infrequent enough for me to quickly pick up on any changes to the hair and scalp.

The beauty of it is that if you're in a "slow grow" season, or if there's breakage, rashes, thinning, or even (eek!) bald spots, I'm going to notice immediately.

Eight weeks is also enough time for me to pick up on consistent concerns and trends: if I'm having the same conversation with at least three different folks, we've got a problem.

Guess what? There's a problem. Being the shrinking wallflower I am (NOPE), we're gonna face this one head on:



Post-holidays I have been seeing a lot of clients coming in with complaints of itchy scalp rashes, a burning sensation on the head, and what feels like (to them) a ton of shedding. During the hair/scalp analysis portion of your appointment (did you know I do that? At every visit?) sometimes folks bring those specific issues up, sometimes they don't. Or they say, "My scalp is so dry because it's winter," or, "My dandruff is back again," or, "I can't believe I've been shedding for this long -- do I even have any hair left hahaha."

What's even worse is when I start checking things out and notice small thinning/bald patches and raised welts/rashes on those spots on the scalp. That's typically when I hand over a mirror, turn my client around, and say some of the most dreaded words in hairdressing: "I don't know if you've seen this, but....."



Not to hop on the gluten-sensitivity train, but I've heard a lot of clients talk about possible food-reactivity issues or allergies lately. And just to clarify, gluten is a protein found in naturally in wheat, barley, rye, and other grain hybrids.

Many of my clients have gone the Whole 30/Paleo/Elimination Diet route to get to the bottom of their issue. And many -- MANY -- have told me most signs are pointing to a problem with wheat/gluten.

I've even had a couple of folks diagnoses with actual Celiac disease this past year. It turns out Celiac disease effects 1 in 100 people globally, it's not as rare as we think it is.

So when I hear clients talk about their itchy scalp/rashes/welts and sudden and sustained hair loss, I've started to ask if they've recently cut out wheat/gluten from their diet or suspect they may have some sensitivity.



Because a ridiculous amount of hair care lines and products contain wheat and/or gluten. That's why.

When it comes to hair, wheat/gluten can provide several fantastic benefits:

  • It is a vegan protein source (think a non-animal or marine-alternative to keratin) that provides strength, gloss, and a smoother texture to the hair.

  • It can be used at a thickening agent so that a) the product is less runny and/or b) it adds "density" so that fine hair feels or looks thicker.

  • It absorbs oil and adds a matte finish in dry shampoos.

But here's the deal -- your skin is the largest organ of your body. And anything we apply to it gets absorbed through the skin. Which is why we need to reapply body lotion frequently or why your makeup just doesn't have the staying power you'd like it didn't wipe off or fade, your skin absorbed it and it's now on the inside.

Which stands to reason that anything you apply to your hair that includes gluten will travel up to the root and be absorbed by the skin at your scalp...or even worse, you can apply the product directly to the scalp area per product directions (like a root lifter or dry shampoo).



What does a skin/scalp-related gluten sensitivity look like?

  • Rashes or bumps on the scalp or near the hairline

  • Dry scalp or dry skin that is not dandruff-related

  • Hair loss or global hair thinning

  • An intensely burning or itchy scalp upon application, and/or a continuous lower-grade itch/burn

  • Possible thinning patches of hair in areas where the rashes/welts are located

  • Depending on your level of sensitivity, you can also experience all of the GI-distress that comes with ingesting gluten.

But my personal favorite symptom? Dermatitis herpetiformis on the face. This is an extremely itchy, raised, red rash with small blisters that appear on the skin. The itch will drive you mad, it takes forever to go away, makeup really won't cover it, and the intensely dry, flaking skin (that has the texture of a friction/carpet burn) makes a nasty sunburn look like child's play. Nope, no personal experience here..... ;)

If you're great about stretching out your shampoos (BOOYA!), think about how much hair product transfers to your pillow case every night. And then gets transferred all .over. your. face. See where I'm going with this?

The amount of gluten it takes to trigger a reaction varies from person to person, depending on their sensitivity. Fun fact: it can sometimes take weeks or months of repeated exposure to trigger a reaction, making the source of the reaction very difficult to suss out. One would assume it was something recently eaten/applied that caused the issue, but it can be that think you've been using for months without an issue that is the actual source of the problem.



Because the FDA is not required to regulate ingredients in hair products for possible known allergens, it's so important that you do your homework. If you think even for a second that you might be dealing with something like this, please take a look at your hair products including your shampoo and conditioner! Unless the bottle says "gluten-free," it likely is not.

As this is now beyond a trend in my business, I have now taken to using, recommending, and retailing gluten-free hair product lines like Olaplex and Pulp Riot. They're both also vegan, paraben-, sulfate-, and cruelty-free.

Even better, bring in any of your old product and swap it out for a replacement for 20% off all month. I want to make sure you're using clean and safe products, and I promise that I have a alternative product (or solution) to replace anything you're currently using!

If you have questions, or think you're dealing with any of these symptoms, I'm strongly inviting you to make an appointment so we can talk about it (*disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, so I can't diagnose anything...but I can help point you in the right direction). You can always send me an email at so we can start the conversation ASAP.

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