The ingredient, which causes severe gluten allergic reactions, was initially found in Yuka Cosmetics’ soap, Cha no Shizuku (Drop of Green Tea), and this set off a recall of 34 different products totaling four million items.
The 10 companies are voluntarily carrying out this recall but given the pressure from consumer groups, they had no choice.
“It’s up to the manufacturers to ensure their personal care products are safe,” wrote Julie Gabriel, a former beauty editor for Harper’s Bazaar, in her book, Green Beauty.
This is true in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. However, the European Union and the United States both publish lists of banned chemicals in cosmetics, while Japan only issues a list of permitted substances. This leaves it up to the Japanese manufacturers to anticipate potential problems.
As of Oct. 17, 471 women had sought medical treatment because of severe allergic reactions to the ingredients in Cha no Shizuku soap.
It is not yet known why the wheat extract foaming agent caused the gluten allergic reaction. However, according to a researcher familiar with the problem, “The process of making the extract involved separating protein from the wheat. We think the actual size of the protein particles might be a contributing factor. Apparently, when washing the face, the wheat protein elements got into the eyes or nose mucus, and set off an allergic reaction. The body was reacting as though it was fighting off an infection from a virus or cold bacteria that had entered the body.”
For many people who have no gluten allergy, the reaction was somewhat like hay fever, even though they did not have hay fever either.
Ironically, wheat germ oil extracted from the germ of the wheat kernel, which makes up only 2½ percent by weight of the kernel in its raw form, is one of the best oils, along with olive oil and grape seed oil, for keeping the skin moisturized and young looking. However, wheat oil is unprocessed when used in its basic form.
Gabriel wrote, “Women can avoid a lot of expense by just keeping a bottle of virgin olive oil to rub into their skin as a moisturizers. It’s also a super-good cleanser for removing all sorts of cosmetics, except for metallic-based eyeshades. So it’s no mystery that olive oil is one of the principal ingredients of DHC’s deep cleanser, one of the few Japanese cosmetic products to gain popularity world wide.”
Wheat germ oil in its untreated form, like olive oil and grape oil, is extremely high in vitamin E and other fatty acids beneficial to the skin. Many people feel it is less greasy, which accounts for its wide use in many types of cosmetics.
However, attempts to refine it or use other parts of the wheat plant mean treating it with acid to promote saponification — the process of turning it into a soap-like or cleansing substance — and this apparently also has the potential to turn it into a substance that causes allergic reactions.
Gabriel recommends that women learn to be more immune to advertising. “A simple rule of thumb is to simply avoid any cosmetics with long chemical names you don’t understand.”
The Japan Allergy Association has set up a home page with information on Yuka’s Cha no Shizuku soap as well as other brands of soaps, shampoos and skin lotions that might cause gluten allergic reactions, and what to do if this happens at http://www.allergy.go.jp/allergy/flour/003.html