Can a gluten-free diet help my skin?

Ask the doctors


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Q. I have terrible skin, and a friend recently recommended that I eliminate gluten from my diet to help manage my condition. Will this work?

A. Not necessarily. Gluten has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Some people believe that eating gluten can inflame the skin and, therefore, cutting it out will help relieve red, inflamed skin or other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema.

But in reality, cutting gluten from your diet will only help if you actually have celiac disease or a hypersensitivity to gluten. If you don't, the gluten probably isn't affecting your skin, and cutting it out of your diet won't have any effect on your skin. It's also important to keep in mind that cutting major food groups from your diet unnecessarily can leave you at risk for nutritional deficiencies and could actually lead to health problems.

So, unless you know that you have celiac disease or a gluten hypersensitivity, it's better to focus on maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, rather than eliminating gluten from your diet. If you are concerned about a particular skin condition, it might also be wise to pay a visit to a dermatologist for a professional opinion.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch