Gluten-Free Skin Products And Cosmetics

I just returned from the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference in Portland, OR with @foodblogga (she was at the conference, I was just there to eat Voodoo Doughnuts). One of the hottest topics in food now is the gluten-free diet.

Gluten sensitivity isn’t new; it was first described in the first century AD. Celiac disease (the medical diagnosis for gluten-sensitive patients) was known in the 1880’s.

Despite the recent attention, true gluten sensitivity is uncommon and affects < 5% of the population. People who are sensitive to gluten develop an autoimmune reaction to wheat, barley, rye and other grains which leads to inflammation of their small intestine. Some gluten-sensitive people actually develop a rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (we derms love the big names, don’t we?).

Being the only dermatologist at this food conference (weird, huh?), people wanted to know: “If someone is gluten sensitive, must they also avoid applying cosmetics or using products that contain gluten?”


Gluten sensitivity is specific to your intestines; applying gluten to your skin will not trigger a gluten reaction. You can trigger a reaction if you eat your cosmetic, which is not that crazy when you consider that lip balms or toothpaste can contain gluten.

Other gluten-free products including shampoos, conditioners, makeup, etc. are unlikely to have any significance. If you develop a rash from your cosmetics, then see your physician — allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance or preservatives might be the cause for your rash.

If you develop a rash after eating several Maple and Bacon Voodoo Doughnuts, it was the gluten.

Photo: Bern@t (flickr)

Itchy This Morning? You Might Be Allergic To Your Couch.

Have you been lying on that couch all weekend? You might end up with a rash.

People in northern Europe have been suffering under the plague of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano. And if that weren’t enough, their sofas are giving them rashes. Recently dermatologists in Finland and Sweden have been seeing patients with a strange, itchy rash all over their bodies. Like an episode of House, no one could figure it out until doctors put together that everyone with the rash had recently bought a new sofa or couch. Extensive testing revealed that people were allergic to a preservative that was used to prevent mold growth when the furniture was shipped. The preservative, dimethyl fumarate (DMF) was released from the material when it became warm, as when you lie on it watching the Red Sox and the Celtics all weekend.

It does not appear that DMF dermatitis is widespread in the United States, but it has been reported on feet from athletic shoes that were shipped using the same preservative. We dermatologists are now aware and will be vigilant looking for this allergen.

So if you get up from the sofa and discover that you’re itchy, don’t blame the dog. It might not be his fault, this time.

Photo: Spartography (flickr)

The Truth About Eating Antioxidant Foods For Your Skin

“Hi everyone. I’m @dermdoc. It’s been 3 weeks since my last acai berry shake.”

It’s been 4 months since I ate a blueberry. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a shot of pomegranate juice. Back when I was consuming 18 pounds of antioxidants a day, I used to look like this.

Now look at me.

Don’t let this happen to you! Eat your blueberries (only wild, please). Snack on some walnuts (just the red ones). And don’t forget your green tea (the white kind only). Otherwise you’ll be a wrinkled, spotted, mess; plus, you’ll die of a heart attack.

I love food. I love to eat local farmers’ market produce, I eat lots of fish and olive oil, and I even drink an occasional smoothie. But I don’t eat this way because it keeps me looking young. I eat real food because I enjoy it, because it tastes good, and because it makes me feel good. There are health benefits to eating well, including perhaps some advantages for your skin. But commonly held beliefs that eating antioxidant-rich foods will keep you looking young and cancer-free are still far from being scientifically proven.

So if you’re feeling guilty because your tightened family budget doesn’t allow you to buy the latest antioxidant berry, then stop it. Below is a list of all the scientific research (in people) that showed eating antioxidant-rich foods made people look younger, smoothed their wrinkles, or reduced their risk for skin cancer:

Yup. That’s all of them.

“Eat real food. Mostly plants. Wear your sunscreen.” – @dermdoc

Photos: Leedav (berries) and Tetsumo (old man), both from flickr.

Why Twitter Is Bad For Your Health

The paradox of Health 2.0 is that along with unlimited access to medical information comes unlimited exposure to medical misinformation.

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook are replete with marketers in sheep’s clothing, pseudo-doctors (I hate to be a stickler, but a doctor should be a doctor and not just be a cool moniker like Queen is to Latifa), and friends who happen to be dumb.

When you combine these characters, finding truth is difficult in a sea of social media untruths. In this way, Twitter is bad for your health. Using social media sites to help with your medical problem means you’re getting lots of medical misinformation.

A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control proved this point. The authors looked at tweets and retweets about using antibiotics to treat a cold. They discovered that inaccurate or misinformed tweets were rampant and exposed 850,000 or more people to bad advice or wrong information about antibiotics.

I decided to do my own quick study. I searched eczema on Twitter; from the first 100 tweets here’s what I found:

  • A whopping 84 were spam.
  • There were sneaky spammers like a real-looking person who tweeted “Grandson 2 yrs horrible eczema tried all specialist not any better steroids no help?” and linked to a scary-bad-English site where you can buy drugs online without a prescription.
  • A real person who advised that eczema was caused by drinking coffee. (He must know something I don’t).
  • Three “natural doctors” (Queens?) with books and videos that promise to “CURE YOUR ECZEMA NOW!” (They obviously went to better medical schools than I, because I never learned the cure for eczema).
  • Patients giving medical advice to other patients. One link to a discussion went: “My 1 year old daughter has terrible keratosis on her arms and legs. Help?!” Discussion response: “Your daughter has keratosis pilaris. Use Eucerin Intensive Repair Lotion.” This is bad for several reasons. It’s inappropriate for anyone to give medical advice online, even a physician. I would never make such a diagnosis without seeing the child. I doubt keratosis pilaris is the correct diagnosis in a one-year-old. Lastly, Eucerin Lotion has alpha-hydroxy acid which is inappropriate to put on an infant (it might burn her skin).
  • Several links to a “Toothless Fish” that eats skin and will cure your eczema. Seriously.
  • An at-home LED light device that apparently we doctors don’t want you to know about. It treats your eczema AND acne AND wrinkles! Whew, I’ve been keeping that in for so long, it feels good to tell you. Now you know about the secret LED, and a burden has been lifted off my shoulders.
  • A twitterer with a potty mouth that I’m not gonna repeat here.

How do you know that the information you’re getting is accurate? Can you trust your friends? Social media and Health 2.0 are here to stay and have the potential to benefit patients and physicians. So how should you navigate to avoid bad advice?

  • Always question the source of the information. Both well meaning people and spammers can harm you — if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.
  • Always see your physician for diagnoses and medial advice. Use social media only to supplement your knowledge or to connect with other patients or health providers.
  • Always remember, you really don’t know who is posting information online — I could be a dog, after all, and you’d never know it.

Photo: Caricaturas (from flickr) and Peter Steiner, The New Yorker (from wikipedia).

Behold, The Copper Pillow

Copper is beautiful, but can copper make you beautiful?

We have a 10,000-year-long history with copper. We’ve used it to make jewelry, tools, plumbing, wiring, roofing, coins, cookware, and even the Statue of Liberty. Now we’re using copper to make pillows.

Why? Why make a copper pillow? Two reasons:

First, copper is antimicrobial. Putting copper in fabrics or on surfaces has been shown to reduce bacteria. If your partner is a serious night drooler and you’re afraid that the pillows might get accidentally switched, then a copper pillow might reduce your exposure to some of his (yes, I’m assuming here) germs.

Second, copper induces collagen production and promotes healing. The idea is that if you sleep on a copper pillow some of the copper will absorb into your skin, induce collagen, and smooth your wrinkles; it’s also supposed to have other anti-aging effects.

Published company data showed that wrinkles improved after 2 weeks of sleeping on copper pillows. This is interesting, but it would be helpful to see the results replicated outside of the company. Wrinkles are caused by loss of tissue under the skin, fragmenting of collagen, loss of elastin, and muscle activity (i.e., smiling, talking, etc.).  It’s difficult to understand how sleeping on copper (or gold or silk) would have a significant impact, especially in just a few weeks. If additional studies support a cosmetic benefit, it might be worth the $40.

For now, you might want to simply mark your pillows “His” and “Hers” and save the money for a good copper peptide cream instead.

Has anyone used copper pillows? What was your experience?

Photo: Annia316