There’s a particular level of food-envy that only a small, unfortunate and abnormally gassy portion of the population will understand. Imagine that you and your lunch date have both ordered the most awesome fucking pizzas; yours arrives, a measly portion best kept on the children’s menu, and your partner’s is a mammoth-sized carb-fueled affair. Those fuckers. You have gone gluten-free, and carb-loading has never been so painful. You have never eaten so much quinoa in your life. If this is #cleaneating, I don’t want to be on Instagram.
Perhaps I sound like a caricature from Portlandia. For me personally, I didn’t choose to live a life without foccacia. Can you imagine?! A life without sandwhiches?! The world is cruel. Prior to gluten-free becoming a viral fad, I lost my tolerance for all manner of starchy, wheatey substances, lest I endure 48-hours of gastrointestinal turmoil. My brother has the same affliction. I really just do it for the better of man-kind: give me a burger and I’ll let off the worst of Godzilla farts, swell up to the size of a house and develop a searing rage. I do this all for you!
Today, the gluten-free lifestyle has become a parody of sorts, and the gluten-intolerant a spectacle for snarky dinner-based jokes. Gluten-free has become a niche trend, and it’s not just food and beverage companies that are buying in to it – beauty companies now too are positioning themselves as frontiersmen for the good fight against autoimmune disease and gastrointestinal chaos.
But what does this mean? Do you need to purchase wheat-free shampoo made from ingredients carried down a mountain on the back of a yak? Is going gluten-free a farce? How do you even know if gluten is bad for you?
Hold up wait a minute. Let’s learn all about gluten first, the 21st Century scapegoat for everything from autism to weight gain to legitimate work sickies.
If you call cereal the perfect meal you lazy little cherub, you’re probably unbeknownst to this evil little molecule’s ways. Good for you. I hate you, but I also want to be you.
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat endosperm, but it’s also found in barley, rye, malt and oats. If you think cutting out bread is where it ends, you clearly have a very good existence, you privileged chump. Gluten is in everything; they cram it in soy sauce, salad dressings, and dips. It’s in your freakin’ Milo, ffs! Gluten is the kryptonite of coeliac sufferers, with sensitivity experienced in varying degrees of medium discomfort to intolerable, toilet-ridden episodes. We’re talking chronic diarrhea, nausea, the kind of bloating that makes you look pregnant, skin rashes, anaemia, depression, and general moodiness. I would say taking five trips to the toilet every hour is what makes you moody, but who can argue with science and the Internet? After a coeliac has survived a death-by-soy-sauce experience, they’ll have a touch of gastrointestinal scarring which limits nutritional absorption, amongst other things. Like not being asked out to dinner ever again.
But here’s where things enter a grey area: not all those who experience these symptoms are coeliacs. Coeliac disease is funnily enough not caused by gluten, but by a genetic fuck-over. If you don’t have coeliac disease but find yourself stuck on the couch for days after a post-booze kebab binge, then you have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or live in Bondi (for the record, I have NCGS and live in St Kilda East). According to Coeliac Australia, it’s estimated that about one in every 70 Australians have coeliac disease, but 80% have no idea and just live out these gassy, bloated, messy existences.
So here’s the catch: not much is known about NCGS because a lot of people just wander around shunning bread but never actually seeking medical advice. In fact, it’s called the ‘nocebo’ affect. A 2013 study revealed that NCGS patients put a diet that included gluten, but limited other fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates, didn’t experience any effects of this maleficent little protein. In other words, people are so quick to label gluten as the culprit theyignore other hostile components of wheat and grains that might be the real reason you buy DeGas every week.
So how does this affect your makeup purchases? If you suffer from a legit autoimmune disease and a medically confirmed NCGS, do you need to worry about funky lurkers in your cosmetics?
You might find these gluten products (wheat, rye, barley, malt and oats) used as binders or emollients in your lipsticks and conditioner, because they keep everything nice and goopy and intact. BUT, unless you can’t resist the temptation of devouring cocoa body butter (we’ve all been there), you probably don’t have to worry about it.
A 2012 study presented to the American College of Gastroenterology examined the risk of gluten-based beauty products. The verdict? There was no evidence that gluten can be absorbed through the skin. You have to ingest gluten for it to be problem. Are you likely to eat your makeup? No. But you could inadvertently consume some hairspray.
After it was published, one doctor linked to the study explored the contentious world of gluten-free blogs to further her research.
“One said it well [when] she suggested that if you rub lotion on your hands and then eat a cookie, you might also eat some gluten,” Prakash said. “I can’t say it will affect everyone, but it is quite obvious it is happening.
Our caution remains: beware.”
Before you go out and ask the MAC counter for their gluten-free lip laquers, sit down because you’re embarrassing yourself. As Fashionista had a cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson point out, “It’s not really common for cosmetics to contain gluten. There are so many ingredients that are used in skin care – wheat based products aren’t typically the first choice.
“We are in the era of ‘free’ marketing: paraben-free, fragrance-free, oil-free and now the newest addition to the family is gluten-free… This claim is becoming a frequent request – so yes, the beauty industry is moving in a gluten-free direction.”
So what is a conscious consumer to do? Don’t buy in to the gluten-free makeup fad unless you have been medically diagnosed as the most tiresome buyer persona ever. Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands afterwards, and look out for the following ingredients (via Fashionista):
Amp-Isostearoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Barley Grass Barley Hordeum vulgare Disodium Wheatgermamido Peg-2 Sulfosuccinate Hordeum Vulgare Extract Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Pg-Propyl Silanetriol Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Semolina Triticum Stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Triticum aestivum Triticum carthlicum Triticum durum Triticum polonicum Triticum spelta Triticum turanicum Triticum turgidum Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Flour Lipids Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil Wheat (Triticum Vulgare) Bran Extract Wheat amino acids Wheat Bran Extract Wheat Germ Glycerides Wheat Protein Wheat Triticum Monococcum
Words by Camilla Peffer