FreeFrom SkinCare Shortlist Released and TGF Toiletries!

logoYippee: after all the hard work involved in judging the FreeFrom SkinCare Awards, the shortlist and commendeds are now out! Here is the SkinsMatter Newsletter which has lots of interesting links and the lists for you.

Many of you know that I have been honoured to be a judge for these awards for the last two years. The awards basically give us a chance to look at what is available to consumers in the natural skincare industry.

There is MUCH debate and researching of ingredients, which takes a lot of time. Once we feel a product is worthy of inclusion, we then look at  the use of allergens and the labelling of them, consider, reject, moan about or reward the use of specific preservative systems, emulsifiers and the like, giving brownie points to the most non-toxic ones, and then we cogitate on the composition of the products and how likely they are to achieve what it says on the tin. And that’s all quite apart from how does it smell, feel, act upon the skin! We are nothing if not extremely thorough and try not to let anything get past us without a query, as you would expect..

Shaping the Market

It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun. The reason I like it is three-fold: first, you know I have moaned for years about the toxic toiletries on our High Street shelves and the harm they can do to us, so it’s nice to be able to see more and more non-toxic versions of our old favourites as well as some new innovative products come onto the market.

And, second, in some small way, I hope we are helping to encourage and shape the market. This year, for example, we noticed a really significant improvement in most of the elements mentioned above; it was much harder to choose between them because so many of them were meeting the criteria brilliantly. The biggest change was a major drop in the use of the more ‘dodgy’ ingredients, which was fab to see. I hope the awards play a part in encouraging better products.

Finally, and for us a really significant one: I am looking for TGF safe grain free skincare products that are safe for us to use. I now have a great long list of products that need checking and this brings me onto the next moan here…

Even Better FreeFrom Labelling

This year, I wittered on constantly about the need for labelling ‘vegetable’ products, which means diddly-squat for a sensitive person. We look at a label that says ‘Vitamin E (natural)’ or ‘tocopherol (natural origin)’ or ‘vegetable oil’ and wonder what is the source? Is it soya, sunflower, wheatgerm or what – all of those are common allergens and people sensitive to the foods want to know they are not putting them on their skin either? And, for TGF safety especially, what about the derivations of the alcohols, citric acid, ascorbic acid and xanthan gum, for example, all of which are commonly corn and therefore certainly out for those of us sensitive enough to react to what is absorbed via the skin? I have even known reactions to beeswax from corn syrup-fed bees, but that might be taking things a bit far!

I am hoping that, even though I know it is not legally required, if a skincare company is aiming for a freefrom market or, in fact, just want to label helpfully for the zillions of people who may reject their products because they can’t assess them properly, they will start to label items like these.

That may make labels huge, I am aware, but we live in a world of online shopping and spacious websites, so the very least would be to put this information in the ingredients list on the product page, which would be SO helpful. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to contact a company to ask for derivations, which is more than a little annoying. Currently, many companies only list the beneficial ingredients and not even the full INCI ingredients list on their websites, which is just an immediate reject for me personally and my patients/readers.

Saaf SkincareI am currently working with Saaf, in fact, who have TGF safe products I love, to help them label in this manner and I hope others will take their fabulous example.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on one again there, haven’t I?! I can’t help it: it’s a subject I’m passionate about. If we want to be healthy, we need that to be not just what we eat, but what we put on our skin too. I am thankful that many natural skincare companies are doing a fabulous job, better than just a year or so ago, too. Well done them; now can the others please catch up and can we take it forward even further? I look forward to our job being even harder next year..

Ok, get your cuppa now then and enjoy the fruits of our labours 🙂 Get the lists here: Newsletter. I will shortly be asking for some help via the Facebook Group for checking the massive list I now have too, so please help if you can and we’ll get our list of TGF safe toiletries done finally!

Coconut Oil Strengthens Skin Barrier

You may recall I wrote a piece called Thinny Skinnies a while ago now, discussing the skin barrier and what affects it. I followed it up with Skin Creams: A Barrier to Health? You can read both of them here. I noticed in the SkinsMatter newsletter this morning a study showing what I was trying to say: that mineral oils are just not going to strengthen a hyper-permeable barrier in the same way as a non-mineral oil would.

In this study, dermatitis sufferers were tested to see how their skin, and specifically their TEWL rating, a way of measuring the skin permeability, performed with mineral oil or virgin coconut oil (VCO) applied over 8 weeks. I immediately perked up at this because I have been doing an experiment myself using VCO straight onto my skin and dropping it into my bath water to get a good coating. And, yes, I have ruined the bath! A year or so ago I started reacting to the grains and sunflower topically (after a skincare product was labelled incorrectly and I had been inadvertently using sunflower, which I know I am sensitive to, for months, sigh) so I was trying to strengthen my skin. We are pretty convinced that, internally, coconut oil is very healing so why not on our outer skin too? Anyway, that was my thinking. And then here we are with a nice study showing me the wisdom of my ways..

The researchers concluded that:

In the VCO group, 47% (28/59) of patients achieved moderate improvement and 46% (27/59) showed an excellent response. [Ed; That’s 55 out of 59, 93% improved].

In the mineral oil group, 34% (20/58) of patients showed moderate improvement and 19% (11/58) achieved excellent improvement. [Ed: that’s 31 out of 59, 53% improved but far fewer scored excellent – 19% as opposed to 46% VCOs].

The VCO group achieved a post-treatment mean TEWL of 7.09 from a baseline mean of 26.68, whereas the mineral oil group demonstrated baseline and post-treatment TEWL values of 24.12 and 13.55, respectively….[Ed: just look at the difference in barrier integrity there – just 7.09 for VCOs which is almost 50% lower than MOs].

Thus, among pediatric patients with mild to moderate AD, topical application of VCO for eight weeks was superior to that of mineral oil based on clinical (SCORAD) and instrumental (TEWL, skin capacitance) assessments.

Clearly benefits from both treatments but more from the VCO. I wonder too how sustainable the mineral oil treatments would be? My guess would be that you would need to continue applying mineral oils to get the same moisturisation etc whereas I would expect more healing with the VCO over time, meaning less need for it. Mineral oils are great for preventing moisture loss from the skin but are ultimately drying, which is why you get addicted to your lip balms!

So, get slapping the coconut oil on! For interest, I have been using the TGF safe Higher Nature one. Read more about coconut oil here.

The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on S… [Int J Dermatol. 2014] – PubMed – NCBI.

#Gluten Skin: #Dermatitis Herpetiformis

We haven’t often talked about skin disorders related to gluten, have we? I saw this today about the main skin disorder associated with gluten sensitivity: dermatitis herpetiformis (often shortened to DH), and thought it might be useful for some of you. It’s a mainstream introduction from Medscape:

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Here’s a picture of what it looks like – sort of raised red blisters really, although it does vary so always get a proper diagnosis; there are many types of dermatitis.

See here also for a good summary of gluten skin disorders. Sometimes, skin problems can be the only manifestation of gluten sensitivity. In fact, my first ever gluten-sensitive had DH and it refused to go on a traditional gluten free diet. That was years before I made the decision to treat gluten sensitivity with a grain free rather than gliadin free diet. Wish I’d known then for her sake!

Busy Judging!

Just a quick sorry if I have been a bit quiet on the blog front the last few weeks. I have been judging both the Winners and Innovations categories of the

logoFreeFromFood Awards and the


logoFreeFrom SkinCare Awards.

Been lots of fun and, particularly with the skincare entries, lots of peering at very long Latin names, umming and aahing, tutting and appreciative smiling. Anyone watching me would have thought I had gone mad and they would have been half right!

Anyway, just wanted to check in and say I am still here and working on your behalf at the same time. As I have gone through each of the entries, I have written down a – surprisingly long – list of potentially truly gluten free toiletries and foods. Now I just have to find the time to follow them all up and start the process of questioning manufacturers.

One point I will pass on is that if the industry just took the time to say what their Vitamin E/tocopherol came from in their products (ie. wheatgerm, soya, sunflower, synthetic), it would make sensitive people’s  choices a whole lot easier! In case you haven’t sussed it, that’s where much of the tutting came in.. Happily, though, there was much more appreciative smiling going on for lower toxicity levels than I have seen in previous years. Non-toxic and truly gluten free: now that would be good! I am actually tempted to design my own and throw the TGF range into the ring ;).

Anyway, back in reality land rather than dream world, I will be working on the TGF Toiletries list as soon as I get a chance whilst those Latin names are still burned onto my brain cells.



The Importance of Bacteria to Immunity and Barriers

  I just read a fascinating article here about the ongoing research of the so-called ‘human microbiome’, or gut flora in other words. There is some stunning research going on in this area, in the development of probiotics and even transplanting healthy faecal matter containing bacteria, viruses, fungi and all manner of things into unhealthy people to ‘re-set’ their immune systems if you like.

One thing I thought was particularly interesting is what they found happens in pregnant women specifically to help babies digest the breast milk when they are born. As a species, we aren’t really able to digest milks well as we lack the lactase enzyme production but Nature helps out particularly in the early stages. This is why many babies can tolerate breast milk but not cow’s milk formulas and allergy problems start to appear not long after the introduction of the formula:

A number of recent reports shed light on how mothers promote the health of their children by shaping their microbiomes. In a study published last week in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Kjersti Aagaard-Tillery, an obstetrician at Baylor College of Medicine, and her colleagues described the vaginal microbiome in pregnant women. Before she started the study, Dr. Aagaard-Tillery expected this microbiome to be no different from that of women who weren’t pregnant.

“In fact, what we found is the exact opposite,” she said.

Early in the first trimester of pregnancy, she found, the diversity of vaginal bacteria changes significantly. Abundant species become rare, and vice versa.

One of the dominant species in the vagina of a pregnant woman, it turns out, is Lactobacillus johnsonii. It is usually found in the gut, where it produces enzymes that digest milk. It’s an odd species to find proliferating in the vagina, to say the least. Dr. Aagaard-Tillery speculates that changing conditions in the vagina encourage the bacteria to grow. During delivery, a baby will be coated by Lactobacillus johnsonii and ingest some of it. Dr. Aagaard-Tillery suggests that this inoculation prepares the infant to digest breast milk.

The baby’s microbiome continues to grow during breast-feeding. In a study of 16 lactating women published last year, Katherine M. Hunt of the University of Idaho and her colleagues reported that the women’s milk had up to 600 species of bacteria, as well as sugars called oligosaccharides that babies cannot digest. The sugars serve to nourish certain beneficial gut bacteria in the infants, the scientists said. The more the good bacteria thrive, the harder it is for harmful species to gain a foothold.

How fascinating. Another interesting point came up about barriers:

One way to restore microbiomes may be to selectively foster beneficial bacteria. To ward off dangerous skin pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus, for instance, Dr. Segre envisions applying a cream infused with nutrients for harmless skin bacteria to feed on. “It’s promoting the growth of the healthy bacteria that can then overtake the staph,” she said.

I have often wittered on about the importance of the skin barrier and stated my belief that allergy reactions like eczema and dermatitis are due to a broken, hyper-permeable skin barrier. (And don’t get me started about the various creams containing barrier-breakdown chemicals in them that people slather over themselves several times a day to help relieve it…! See my article on this subject, Thinny Skinnieshere.)

Anyway, this comment struck me as what we are actually trying to do with our internal barriers. With the Barrier Plan protocol, part of what we are trying to achieve is to replace some of the lost microbiome – the baby probiotics are important here for a start – and to provide the nutrients for the inner skin to heal, partly by providing the right nutrients for the skin bacteria to feed on. Not so different to external skin, is it? I feel pleased with myself; we are attempting to apply an inner skin cream!

The article goes on to talk about the developing research – there are thousands of species coming to light including some viruses and fungi we tolerate and live with day in day out. The faecal transplant stuff is yielding a lot of info and hope – but the focus is on producing specific probiotic pills to save having to do the full poo transplants, thank goodness:

Dr. Alexander Khoruts of the University of Minnesota and his colleagues want to make fecal transplants standard practice. They can now extract bacteria from stool, “removing the ‘ick’ factor,” as he puts it.

Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues have federal approval to start formal clinical trials on fecal transplants. Eventually, he would like to develop probiotic pills that contain just a few key species required to build the intestinal ecosystem.

“People are starting to take this seriously,” Dr. Fischbach said. “This is a therapy that’s going to help a lot of people.”

I would echo that. Probiotics may need a lot more developing yet but, in nutritional medicine, we have been saying stuff along these lines for many years now. We just need the scientists to be funded now to move it forward to mainstream acceptance. A fascinating area of science, or is it just me because I like anything bowely? :)

Traditional #Gluten Free On A Product Is Not The Same As Truly Gluten Free

   I have had quite a few newer people from the TGF family – and some older ones – getting confused about what gluten free means recently, so I thought a quick reminder might help.

When you are looking at products like foods or toiletries, it is NOT enough for you to choose ones that say ‘gluten free’. You need to use your hidden grains lists if you are on the truly gluten free (in the ebook) and barrier plans (in the plan).

Traditional gluten free is gliadin free ONLY (wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats).  If a product says ‘gluten free’, it just means it doesn’t have any of the 33-mer gliadin protein in it that is linked to coeliac disease to a specified amount at less than 20ppm. In other words, it can still contain starches and up to 20ppm gliadin in them. In some people, even this 20ppm is too high and they can react to other protein fractions as well as 33-mer gliadin.

The Trulyglutenfree approach is free from ALL grains to remove all glutens and not just gliadin.  All grains contain some form of gluten and, since the majority of coeliacs do not heal their villi damage on a traditional gluten free diet, it’s vital in my view, to remove all glutens. Many people have the DQ1/3 genes rather than the coeliac DQ2/8 ones which suggest they are gluten sensitive in a different way. Many of those I have had contact with develop grain problems throughout life progressively. It is also free of dairy since this is the second most common allergen and it too can have an effect on repair and healing.

You can get full food lists and what to look for on labels in the TrulyGlutenFree ebook. This is most suitable for those who are gliadin free (traditional gluten free) but not feeling well or healing.

The Barrier Plan is free from anything that would stop your hyper-permeability and gluten damage healing. This is grain, dairy and legume free and free from any of the known foods that affect barrier integrity. This is totally unique and does not exist anywhere else. It is essentially based on the Primal, SCD and TGF diets with added research on specific barrier hyper-permeability issues. You can get full diet lists and details in the Barrier Plan. This is most suitable for those with multiple allergy whether or not you know it is related to gluten, those with inflammatory and auto-immune disorders (even though I have written it up so far for allergy, it’s the same plan required for all three).

So, hopefully that makes it clearer. It is important to read the info on this site and download the appropriate book or plan before you start purchasing stuff which is invariably unsuitable or you will waste your money.

Re toiletries, remember this articlewhere I mentioned Saaf skincare as the first TGF safe one I have identified? Some of the NAT origin ones are also ok. I am surrounded in my office by stuff to assess and am slowly getting there; it’s tough to find them. Here’s the reason why it’s important, too. If in doubt, check against your lists and ask me.

Hope that helps!

Don’t Stick #Gluten On Your Skin!

Touching a food allergen can cause a skin reaction just as surely as if you had eaten it – and now researchers think they have found the reason why (my emphasis in bold):

“More than 40% of children with atopic dermatitis (AD) have food allergy (1). Ingestion of food allergens can exacerbate AD and is accompanied by expansion of circulating T cells that express cutaneous lymphocyte antigen (24). Cutaneous contact with food allergen can also trigger skin flares in patients with AD (5). These observations suggest that T cells sensitized following antigen exposure via the gut might act to elicit allergic skin inflammation. “

In other words, the food allergy antibodies in the gut can lead to related antibody reactions to that same food in the skin. This is one reason why sticking stuff on your skin that contains one of your food allergens eg wheatgerm, corn etc, can elicit a reaction in the gut or the skin – despite what cosmetic manufacturers tell us (and I have had many conversations with those who deny it can happen). So, it is nice to see a proven link to be able to quote now!

Read the whole (if technical) report here.

See here for the first trulyglutenfree range of toiletries – and I am working on more. NOT easy to find!