Think Wheat Gluten Is Ok On Your Skin? Think Again… Enter HWG and HWP

I don’t like to get into arguments.  I don’t normally find myself in the he said, she said stuff.  But here’s a report regarding wheat gluten on your skin you should really read.

The consensus floating around the United States and Canada is that “the wheat protein is too large to enter your body through your skin.”

While there is some truth to this, blindly following this advice could lead to an unfortunate set of problems for humans, even if you’re not allergic to gluten at all.

This is Kayoko Matsunaga, M.D., Ph.D.  She is professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Fujita Health University School Of Medicine in Japan.

Kayoko Matsunaga discussing the danger of gluten on skinShe is also the Chair of the Japanese Society Of Allergology’s Special Committee for the Safety of Protein Hydrolysates in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products.

She’s a big deal….

I’m guessing this photo was snapped when she presented her information, and recent studies, to the CIR and the FDA in June, 2014 – at least I found it in the latest CIR (cosmetic ingredient review panel – )

She’s been busily studying an outbreak of immediate type 1 hypersensitivity reactions to HWG,  Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten, from a popular soap in Japan this past year.  

It’s also called HWP, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein. 

She currently has thousands of registered cases of reactions, and here’s where it gets scary.

Aside from the eyelid edema and contact rashes caused by the sensitization, she found that people who were never allergic to wheat before exposure, now exhibit strong reactions to foods made with wheat.

Over 50% of her registered cases exhibit this in clinic, under the watchful eye of her and her team.  25% of them show anaphylactic shock because they sensitization through percutaneoius exposure to HWG.

Eating foods containing wheat ingredients caused anaphylactic reactions in about 55% of these patients, including anaphylactic shock in about 25% of them. Dr. Matsunaga noted that clinical and experimental evidence indicates that these patients exhibit systemic reactions to ingested wheat products because they have been sensitized through percutaneous or mucous-membrane exposures to Glupearl 19S.

What’s HWG Anyway?

HWG, or Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten, is straight wheat gluten that scientists made more dangerous because they are bored, and have nothing better to do than mess with stuff.

The process is called “Hydrolysis”.

It happens when you wash vital wheat gluten to remove the starch.  The remaining gluten is then treated with acid to remove an amide group (deamidate).  This makes the gluten dispersible in water.  The resulting left over proteins have a high molecular weight that are then further processed and hydrolyzed by acid, alkali or protease treatment to yield water soluble proteins or polypeptides, which can be left alone or further turned into a copolymer, or amino acid.

Ok, scientist speak out of the way, what you’re left with is a heavy molecular weight gluten protein that CAN and WILL permeate the skin…

Not All HWG’s Or HWP’s Are Alike

There’s this issue of “molecular weight”.

Depending on many factors in the hydrolysis process ranging from length of time, temperature, and type of acid used, the resulting HWG could have a molecular weight ranging from 300 Da to upwards of  60,000 Da.

Research indicates that a molecular weight of 3000 Da or less is “probably” not going to cause the sensitization.

It just so happens that GluPearl 19S (a brand name of one HWG used in a soap in Japan) had a molecular weight of 50,000 Da.

Don’t count on your kitchen scale to figure this one out – fact is, if you see HWG or HWP on a product label, there is just no way on god’s green earth to know how it was processed, and what its MW is.

And I wouldn’t quite count on the manufacturer to know either.  THAT would be an interesting call to your favorite shampoo’s 1-800 line. “Excuse me ma’am, could you please tell the the molecular weight and hydrolysis process used in your .3% Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten?”  That would make any customer service line stutter.

There’s actually no “standardized” way to arrive at a molecular weight.  Oh sure, you could go down to the hardware store and buy yourself a Size-Exclusion High Pressure Liquid Chromatography machine and then go for  a quick jaunt using Gel Permeation Chromatography – but there’s some argument if it’s accurate.

You see, the same problems have been cropping in Europe, and they are studying the same thing (why do reactions only happen in Japanese people and Brits?  Fish and chips I bet!)

Regardless, over there, they say the way to come to a molecular weight is with a Multi-Angle Laser Light Scattering machine.

They can’t agree on which one is correct.  Yay!  Someone has a job for the next 14 months!


Why is HWG / HWP Used?

Well, it’s sold as an “emollient” by ingredient suppliers.  It’s used to make soaps, shampoos and lotions more luxurious.  Also in hair conditioners, “finishing lotions”, and all other manners of crud products we’re sold.

You can even find a 2ml bottle of straight HWG on for 7 bucks.. and oddly enough, from a website selling cosmetic ingredients aptly named “”  – fitting.

Based on the info provided by Matsunaga in the June CIR meeting, the CIR has decided to revoke it’s previous recommendation of not using HWG on broken skin to re-evaluate the safety of the ingredient as a whole.

Industry leaders have also requested that the panel incorporate this new information into their previous study of vital wheat gluten noting that hydrolysis yields a completely different product.

The Panel decided that these additions were not warranted. hmm


Did You Say Heavy Metal?

I’m not talking about Judas Priest, but something close.  Lead and Arsenic. Yep, suppliers are now being requested to show the levels of impurities, and what’s been asked of them by “the authorities” is “what’s the level of lead and arsenic in your product?”  That’s a feel good question if I ever saw one!

What’s The CIR and FDA Gonna Do About It?

Nothing apparently.  The 131st “panel meeting” was in June, and the CIR has already released the “safety assessment” of HWG.

In their newly released document (the one I’m allowed to link to) they reiterated the findings in Japan, followed by 45 skin patch tests of HWG at a molecular weight of 350Da (say what!?) and noted that HWG at 350Da is safe for you. (you don’t say…)  Here’s the document they produced for public consumption.  Which is different than the document that alerted me to the issue in the first place, but they ask that we don’t quote or reproduce that one.

They stamped it safe for you to use if under 3500Da.  I sure as heck won’t be touching that stuff.


Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein and Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten are different than vital wheat gluten. Through a process of acid baths, the end result is changed to be water soluble and can pass through the skin.

People in Japan and Europe have reported thousands of cases of immediate type 1 sensitization from using HWG, and are now allergic to foods containing wheat with 25% of them having anaphylactic shock from eating wheat.

Symptoms further include swelling of the eye lids and itchy skin rashes from eating food made with wheat after being exposed to Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten on their skin.

There is no way for you to know the Molecular Weight of a polypeptide chain, and I doubt the manufacturer will know either as testing is very expensive.

My recommendation?  Don’t use it – it’s just not worth the side effects.

Jay Harper

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