Myth Busting: The Wool Allergy


There’s no doubting wool can do a great many things other fibres can’t – for example it can both absorb and repel moisture. There is one thing it can’t do though, and that is cause an allergic reaction in humans.

Stay with us while we break down the reasons why you can’t be allergic to wool and why so many people still think they can’t wear wool because they’re allergic to it.

Firstly we’ll look at what wool is. It’s a fibre that grows on an animal, like sheep, and it’s made of keratin. Human hair is also made of keratin, the exact same type. Our immune system (the part of us that kicks up an allergic reaction) has been exposed to the keratin in our hair since birth, so it’s not possible to develop an allergic response to either our hair or any other hair made of keratin. When you develop allergies to the hair of other creatures, like cat hair, it’s not the keratin hair fibre you are allergic too, it’s the secretions that stick to the fur.

I think you might guess where I’m going with this, but if you’re allergic to your own hair it’s probably something you’ve added to it, like a dye or a shampoo. If you’re allergic to sheep wool, it’s got to be an allergy to something that’s in it, like grass seeds or lanolin. An allergy to lanolin is a real condition and you would know if you had this allergy because not only would you avoid raw wool, you’d avoid most of the makeup and skin care ranges that use this oil as an ingredient.

A lanolin allergy could be serious if you work as a shearer or with raw fleece in any other manner. It becomes much less of an issue with commercially prepared spun wool as this wool has been thoroughly scoured; washed and dyed before spinning. All traces of lanolin (and grass seeds) are thoroughly removed before we can even begin knitting your jumpers so if you’re getting a reaction from your jumper; you’re not getting it from the wool; the sheep or the paddock the sheep was raised in.

“But wearing a wool jumper itches me!”

“Wool garments have definitely aggravated my eczema or dermatitis.”

Okay, but what we’re trying to tell you here is that it’s not the wool’s fault. There are a lot of reasons why your last woollen jumper might have itched you, and most of them lead back to poor quality fibres or poor quality manufacturing. One concern could be a reaction to the dye’s used in the wool. At Interknit and Branberry we only use wool dyed to comply with Oeko-Tex Standard 100 so we know they’re safe. Another concern could be short fibred wool; coarse fibred wool and wool spun with a ‘halo’, all of which could give a textured finish that itches rather than the soft smooth finishes we can achieve with our certified fine pure Australian Merino wool.

If you’ve previously been left itchy after wearing a cheap woollen garment, we’d urge you try again with our beautiful hand finished, Australian Made range of fashion and homewares. Not only could you be pleasantly surprised to find you’re not allergic after all, you will also benefit from the positive properties of wearing wool.

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