Should you be using gluten free haircare?

By Sally Learmouth on August 8th, 2023

With consumers taking notice of what’s in their products, do you know your gluten-free from your ammonia-free? We explore what’s in and out for haircare.

In the current financial climate, what’s most important to your clients when it comes to buying haircare – cost or ethics? A market report by Fact.MR in August 2022 predicted the demand for vegan cosmetic products to surge by 6% over the next 10 years as millennials opt for animal cruelty-free products, and there are a host of incredible vegan professional haircare brands.

But what about other ingredients? Haircare products are increasingly being labelled gluten-free, but is this important for clients or professionals with Celiac disease? You might be surprised to hear that Marilyn G. Geller, Chief Executive Officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, says no. “Gluten cannot be absorbed through your scalp or skin. It must be ingested to affect those with Celiac disease. Lipstick should be gluten-free as it’s easily ingested. However, patients with active dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin condition of celiac disease, should use gluten-free products to avoid contact with any open skin lesions.”

Others point out that while the gluten in topical skin care products can’t be absorbed through skin because the gluten particles are too large to enter your bloodstream or GI tract, it can be absorbed through mucus membranes inside the nose and mouth. So, clients might want to err on the side of caution.

Andrew Jose, Revlon Professional Editorial Ambassador, says, “Avoiding certain ingredients in your hair products, such as gluten, ammonia, PPD, resorcinol, phthalates, sulfates, parabens, propylene glycol, M.I.T, triclosan, and more, can be beneficial for several reasons. Ammonia and PPD are commonly found in hair dyes and can cause scalp irritation, allergies, and potential long-term health risks. Resorcinol is another potential irritant that may harm the scalp. Phthalates, sulfates, and parabens are often used as preservatives or foaming agents and can be linked to hormone disruption and skin irritation. Propylene glycol and M.I.T are known irritants and may cause scalp sensitivity. Triclosan is a controversial antimicrobial agent that may disrupt the body’s natural microbiome.

“By avoiding these ingredients, you reduce the risk of skin reactions, allergies, and potential long-term health concerns associated with them. Opting for vegan or ingredient-conscious hair products can be a safer and healthier choice for your hair and overall well-being. And of course, they make a conscious choice to help your environment.

“We stock the Revlon Professional® Eksperience range primarily as it is vegan and is packaged and formulated in a really sustainable way whilst delivering very high-quality results. Its formulas are 100% vegan with 80% natural origin ingredients, free of volatile silicones and mainly colourant-free.”

Indeed, much of the free from hair market has been shaped by hairdressers in response to first-hand allergies. Organic Colour Systems was founded in this way, and when Karine Jackson switched to the brand 20 years ago she found that a nagging cough she’d put down to London living disappeared within a week – proof that you should be choosing a healthy product for yourself as much as your client, after all, it’s you who’s getting daily exposure.

O&M is new to the UK but a cult staple in Australia, and was founded by Jose Bryce Smith, who opened the first ammonia-free salon in Australia 20 years ago in response to the repercussions harsh chemicals and fumes had on both hairdressers and clients; their free from formulations replace harsh chemicals with active natural extracts and minerals, including native Australian ingredients like Lilly Pilly, Banksia Flower, Quandong, Tasmanian Sea Kelp and Davidson Plum, as well as quality essential oils that deliver real benefits.

Consultant Trichologist Eva Proudman FIT IAT at UK Hair Consultants agrees that ammonia is a particular culprit: “Ammonia is used in hair dye to change the pH balance of the hair to allow the outer protective layer the cuticle to be opened to enable the colour to penetrate into the cortex of the hair to provide the colour change desired. Ammonia is effective in hair colour but can with long term use irreversibly change the pH leading to dry brittle hair.” She adds, “Phthalates are generally used in hair care to reduce the brittleness in a formulation and often as an added lingering fragrance. Phthalates have been linked to skin conditions such as eczema which can cause scalp inflammation which in turn affects the overall health of the hair. Avoiding heavily perfumed shampoos is a good way of avoiding phthalates.”

Steven Smart, Revlon Professional Brand Ambassador, points out that it’s important to know what’s in your products and why. “Lots of people seem to be mis-informed about ‘free-from’ or ‘natural’ products, assuming naturally derived automatically means it’s a ‘better’ choice than manufactured. While many people will say they don’t want chemicals in their products, I think it’s helpful to remember that all the ingredients you’ll find on a bottle of professional shampoo have been designed to work on human hair, optimise its health and deliver nutrients in the most effective way. Ironically, the natural alternative may not have undergone such rigorous testing.

“A combination of factors, including stress, pollutants and product build-up means that we’re seeing more and more scalp conditions than ever before. In this situation, I always look to a range like Revlon Professional® RE/START, which has been designed to promote scalp health and soothe irritations. Their lightweight formula helps to balance and protect the scalp microbiome while moisturising it, and they’re also formulated without silicones. They’re tested under dermatological control, and I feel confident knowing that I can recommend these products that are backed up with rigorous R&D.”

Sabrina Dijkman, ALTERNA Ambassador says, “My Hair. My Canvas. Textures and Curls products are silicone free as we believe we can often have too much of a good thing and many products overuse silicone, leading to build up on the hair, the hair being weighed down and lifeless and a ‘barrier’ being created which can affect other products, ingredients and water being able to penetrate into the hair.

Instead, we’ve used sustainable and natural ingredients including Botanical Caviar, Fair Trade Coconut Oil, Fair Trade Cocoa Butter, Kakadu Plum Extract, Moringa Seed Oil, Shea Butter and Banana Flower – ingredients that are high-quality and renowned for their performance and achieving superior results, without being harmful to the environment or our hair.”

So, while gluten might not be a deal breaker, opting for vegan products and steering clear of ammonia, PPD, resorcinol, phthalates, sulfates, parabens, propylene glycol, M.I.T, and triclosan where possible could be beneficial for both clients and stylists. Ask your product company for education on what’s in their bottles and why.

Sally Learmouth

Sally is the founder of Gloss Communications which specialises in lifestyle public relations, from traditional PR across print, online and television, through to influencers and social media management, events and copywriting. Since 2005, Gloss has created hugely successful PR campaigns. Having created successful campaigns for Jack Howard, Luke Benson, Jamie Stevens, Errol Douglas, Karine Jackson, Cally Borg, Tina Hollis, Christopher Appleton, O&M, Nine Yards, Authentic Beauty Concept, Trevor Sorbie and more.

All articles by Sally Learmouth

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