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Celiac and Skincare: An overlooked connection

I was lucky. When I began having symptoms of celiac disease, one very astute doctor was able to help me get a critical (and I think life-saving) diagnosis. He sent me for tests that confirmed I indeed had celiac disease. It’s a disease that can cause damage to the small intestine and other long-term effects if not found early. This was some time ago, but I’ve always been grateful to this doctor for an accurate diagnosis that has allowed me to stay healthy.

I think about my mother-in-law, Joan, who was diagnosed with celiac disease in the early 1990s. She suffered from intestinal problems for several years until other potential illnesses were ruled out and celiac disease diagnosed. That was a common story back then: Celiac disease was not well known and many doctors had trouble making an accurate diagnosis. Once her celiac disease was confirmed, Joan eliminated all gluten from her diet and continues living a healthy life.

I hear stories from my husband and Joan (his mother) all the time about how challenging it was to live gluten free when Joan was first diagnosed. Restaurants did not offer gluten-free options, and large grocery stores didn’t stock gluten-free foods. People with celiac disease had to go to special markets to buy gluten-free products (there were no Amazon deliveries), and those products usually tasted like soggy cardboard — mushy pasta and bread that exfoliated the inside of your mouth while you chewed.

Unless you found a specialty market, determining what had gluten and what didn’t was tricky: The packaged food industry did not use robust labeling and there were no laws requiring any allergen transparency. All the info we see now on packaged-food labels didn’t even start appearing until 2004!

Fortunately, things are far less complicated for anyone living gluten-free today. Sure, it’s hard to be diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder, but it’s much easier to follow a restrictive diet and get healthy (through eating the right foods) after your diagnosis. This is because of the increased awareness of celiac as an autoimmune disease and also the continued rise and focus on food allergens.

But the skincare industry is still like the Wild West. Unlike current food-labeling guidelines, there are little-to-no allergen labeling regulations in place for skincare.

There are a few reasons for that. First, there is not a lot of FDA oversight on skincare. Also, some companies do not choose to do allergen testing or be vigilant about cross-contamination – this market simply does not matter to the toppling sales. In addition, perception is an issue. When it comes to skin and celiac disease, there are people who simply are not sensitive to topically applied products containing their allergen (in this case gluten). A lot of brands likely think it’s not worth their time to focus on this need.

I was not one of those people who can use products containing gluten on my skin, and there are many more like me. As a celiac, I have the double issue of being actually allergic to all ingredients that contain gluten. This is why testing for allergens AND celiac disease are so important.

When we started Starling, most other skincare brands didn’t understand the potential gluten-skin connection. That lack of understanding resulted in products that caused skin problems for customers with gluten intolerance. It was a major oversight that Starling has sought to rectify.

Starling takes the guesswork out of skincare with gluten-free products that are kind to people with gluten intolerance or allergies. Everything we make is gluten-free (and also nut-free and soy-free). That means we don’t use any rye, barley, wheat, or oats (or any ingredients derived from them).

We also rigorously eliminate the risk of cross-contamination – not just from gluten but also from other allergenic ingredients on our exclusions list.

We know the skincare industry hasn’t caught up to the lofty standards we hold for ourselves. And it may be years until the same labeling standards applied to foods are required for skincare. In the meantime, Starling is a safe haven of healthy skincare products made just for you and full of hydration, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and vitamins to help your skin glow.

If you are a celiac and sensitive to gluten in your skincare, we’d love to hear your story and learn about your specific skincare needs. Please send us an email at starlingskin@gmail.com to tell us more.