Can you be allergic to wool? A question we are asked a lot is if our woollen products are less likely to produce an allergic reaction than the last woollen product the customer got an itch from. Wool is made from keratin, the same fibre that makes up the hair on your head, so it doesn’t make sense that you could be allergic to one and not the other. The truth of the matter is you can’t be allergic to the wool fibres themselves and to back up this claim I’ve found the following reputable sources for you to explore:
“There is very little scientific evidence that wool allergy exists. What is often perceived as an allergy is the prickling caused by coarse wool. Any suspected allergic reaction to wool may also be caused by dust mites in the wool. Research has shown that many people are in fact allergic to dust mite urine and faeces, rather than the mites themselves.” https://www.medicalsheepskins.com/wool-sheepskin-1/
It could be assumed that a reaction to dust mites is more a symptom of a woollen carpet or unwashed blanket. Interknit is not in the carpet manufacturing business however we do make baby blankets from Australian Merino Wool and most of these are blended with cotton, making them both machine washable and tumble dryable.
Yet the last woollen jumper you purchased made you itchy, so maybe it’s not an allergy, you argue with us. Maybe it’s your sensitive skin?
“This new analysis found no evidence that wool is an allergen, and if a fabric does cause any sensations of itch and prickle on the skin then it is because of the large diameter of the fibres and not due to the fibre type being wool.” http://www.woolmark.com/news-events/news/debunking-the-myth-that-wool-is-an-allergen/
Longer fibres (worsted wool) and choosing garments made from superfine Australian Merino Wool will ensure you have no itching and prickling. In fact, recent studies have been done by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute showing an improvement in eczema symptoms in babies and young children up to 3 years old when wearing superfine Merino Wool against their skin as opposed to cotton. http://www.woolmark.com/news-events/news/superfine-merino-wool-good-for-skin/
Another study attributes wools natural properties to being beneficial for sensitive skin.
“Wool is a hygroscopic fibre which has the ability to absorb up to 36% of its weight in water and create a thermal buffer between the skin and the external environment. The wool appears to be keeping the moisture content of the wearer’s delicate skin at the levels it should be, preventing it from becoming too dry and therefore reducing the risks of bacterial infection and the desire to scratch the itch.” http://www.iwto.org/sites/default/files/files/iwto_resource/file/Wool%20%26%20Skin%20Health_15%20Dec%202016.pdf
All current studies agree that the type of wool makes a difference, the best being superfine Merino Wool. The other good news is that due to improvements in manufacturing raw wool to yarn, it is now extremely unlikely to have a reaction to any chemicals or dyes applied during the processing. This was an issue when similar studies were done with wool in the 1950’s.
If you are still following this research and believing you are truly allergic to wool, there is one other factor to consider which is an allergy to wool alcohols. Wool alcohols are a fraction of the components of lanolin, a natural product obtained from the fleece of sheep. An allergy to wool alcohols is a true allergy that involves avoiding anything that contains lanolin, not just woollen garments but also many pharmaceuticals; cosmetics; toiletries and even some of the industrial processes that require lanolin. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/allergy-to-wool-alcohols/
Suppose you do have a true allergic to wool alcohol, does this mean you should avoid wearing quality wool garments? The answer is not if they are commercially made. Modern commercial wool mills will treat the wool to remove sticks and dirt and other contaminants and this process will certainly dissolve any remaining lanolin. http://slowyarn.com/are-you-allergic-to-wool
So there you have it. You can’t be allergic to wool (the fibre) in a scientific sense and if you have sensitive skin you may even benefit from choosing quality wool garments. – M