Gluten Free Beauty Won’t Save Your Life

More nonsense in gluten-free with the publication of this under-researched, alarmist and inaccurate article on gluten-free skincare in Marie Claire

Women’s magazines, like all magazines, exist to make money. To some extent, most women’s magazines achieve this by being seen to sell to their readers — selling a lifestyle, typically, of the rich and famous and beautiful, one of aspiration. Some do it by fear — fear that you may be too fat, that you’re wearing the wrong clothes, that you will never find a partner because you’re doing some intangible thing wrong. The message is ‘consume, and you will improve yourself’. 

What to consume? Well, interspersed between the articles making you feel inadequate you will find glossy adverts for the products that will, if only ephemerally, make you feel better for the inadequacy the magazine has just heaped on your shoulders. 

Do magazines care for how you feel? Or are they more concerned with keeping their advertisers happy? As a journalist, I’ve written for some women’s magazines in my career — and therefore have acted as a small guilty cog in this whole industry — and there are some which I have found to have great values and treat readers well, and others I’ve come across seem to relentlessly push products on their readers so much they look like catalogues not magazines. 

I would never have thought Marie Claire to be a major sinner on this front — I’ve read some terrific investigative stuff in the magazine in the past — and perhaps they’re not, but it was a shock to see them being behind this article. The promise that gluten free skincare could ‘revolutionise your life’ feels irresponsible. 

Let’s count up some of the errors. ‘Eating gluten can bloat your stomach, cause digestive discomfort and result in a bout of IBS’ — yes, if you have coeliac, and possibly if you have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (though the jury is still out on whether gluten is the guilty party). But if you don’t? There’s no evidence gluten is the cause of such symptoms in the rest of us. 

Then the real madness: putting gluten on your skin can “cause rashes, swelling and itching”. I don’t know of any evidence for this — whether you’re coeliac or not. I am aware that some wheat peptides can cause severe reactions if you have an allergy to wheat (distinct to coeliac; and very rare anyway), but to attribute these symptoms to gluten — when it is far more likely to be an allergic or contact dermatitis reaction to a fragrance or preservative — shows lack of research. Marie Claire describe gluten free products as ‘a total life saver’, in such circumstances, even for people without a gluten sensitivity. Madness.

Once they’ve scared you, they pitch in with a bit of sales patter: go buy some Dr Hauschka and other stuff which Posh Spice and somebody called Kim Kardashian use. That’ll save your life.

It is particularly worrying when the glossy women’s press get it badly wrong on this subject. Remember Glamour’s disastrous (but later corrected) article? These magazines target the kind of 20 / 30 something women who are especially vulnerable to casual dietary experimentation — an ongoing concern, which I’ve blogged on before — and now the panic about gluten is being spread towards this group in the form of another source – skincare.

For what it’s worth, bearing in mind there’s been very little research on this subject, there’s no solid evidence that gluten can cause problems in skincare in coeliacs — though there’s perhaps a small contributory risk from lip products and a few others. That said, that some coeliacs want to shun all forms of gluten in their skincare is, to me, perfectly understandable, so I don’t object to the existence of GF skincare at all, and would actually encourage brands to convey their gluten-free status to consumers — but subtly, not as a major ‘badge of honour’ in any way, or as an inappropriate sales and marketing tool. It is very easy to add ‘gluten’ to a list of free from claims — eg ‘free from petrochemicals, artificial preservatives, nuts, gluten’ on the back. That is all that is needed.

And what is needed from women’s magazines, especially, is some understanding that when they are writing about gluten they are writing about potentially serious medical issues — not Victoria Beckham frivolity and faddishness — which can and do impact on people’s health and lives. Please — sort it out.

Further reading: Gluten Free Skincare

2 Comments

  1. Eileen Rhoadarmer

    It is amazing how many people are jumping on the Gluten Free bandwagon. I find it detrimental because it generates confusion regarding who needs to be gluten free and particularly HOW gluten free they need to be.

    My husband's friend cut out gluten recently, as an experiment after getting advice that it might clear up a skin condition of his. He has seen improvement, and has lost weight into the bargain. Now he's extolling the virtues of gluten free dieting to anybody who will listen. *sigh* Deep breaths.

    Reply
  2. Alex G

    It is a bit frustrating when someone experiments on themselves, sees benefits, and assumes those benefits would apply universally. This skews the true picture, because of course those attempting a GF diet and not experiencing benefits don't extol the virtues, as you say, of it. That skews the real picture: all we hear, are positive weight loss stories, which doesn't reflect what proper research shows. Thanks for commenting, Eileen.

    Reply

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