Gluten has made an enemy out of a lot of people within the last few years, and for good reason. If you’re one of many who have celiac disease or are simply sensitive to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, you’re familiar with the uncomfortable stomach pain, bloating and diarrhea associated with the condition. But gluten has also come under attack for possibly being a culprit responsible for blemishes and other skin aggravations. And some are going as far as eliminating all wheat products from their diets in an effort to get flawless skin.
But are their efforts in vain? Some experts say there’s confusion over whether gluten truly is to blame for acne and that people are confusing hormonal acne with another skin condition that is aggravated by the proteins.
“I get asked this question all the time — there is no evidence that gluten causes acne, although I have had many patients state that once they gave up gluten, their acne went away,” says Dr. David Soleymani, a dermatologist and founder of the app Dermio. “It does make sense as gluten is pro-inflammatory and oftentimes acne is predominantly inflammation.”
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Soleymani says he believes there are plenty of people who suffer from true gluten allergies and experience skin and/or bowel issues as a result — but it likely isn’t acne.
There is a skin condition that is directly associated with gluten, and that is dermatitis herpetiformis (DH),” Soleymani says. “DH affects up to 25 percent of patients who also have celiac disease. By cutting out gluten completely, the skin condition resolves, but it has to be very strictly gluten free.”
So, what exactly is dermatitis herpetiformis and why does it have so many people shouting the A-word?
“This is a disorder that is known for causing the skin to produce blisters, red, and itchy patches,” says Dr. Jill Waibel, founder of Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute. “This is mainly found on the outer surface of the elbows, knees, buttocks, and back.”
If you’re prone to pimples or have dealt with acne at some point in your life, it naturally makes sense that you’d erroneously assume uncomfortable redness in the skin could be related to cystic, or hormonal, acne.
If you aren’t sure whether your skin problems are related to gluten, Waibel says she recommends following a diet that works for all people — gluten intolerant or not. “An overall healthy diet will help skin remain beautiful and glowing,” Waibel says. “Currently, for all skin and other body organs, it is recommended to have a low glycemic diet (this includes low amounts of sugar, carbs, etc.) and mainly fruits and vegetables.”
If you suspect the redness in your skin could be DH, make an appointment with your dermatologist so you can find out if a gluten-free diet is your ticket to a more beautiful complexion.