Why is Wool itchy Wool Lifestyle Blog

How to find wool clothing that is not itchy but soft

Do you find wool itchy? You are not alone, as many people do. This article explores why some wool is itchy and how to find super soft wool that is just wonderful to wear.

You may remember those moments in your childhood when your mother forced that scratchy wool beany onto you and all you could do was keep scratching your head. Or that hand knitted sweater that irritated your neck like crazy. Many people also don’t have good memories of wool stockings in the winter time. In the past, there have been many wool items that did not feel very comfortable on your skin. In fact, there is a whole generation who will avoid wool by all means because of their itchy wool childhood memories.

But there is hope. These childhood memories are no longer reality today because time and wool have changed and there are many more wool products available that are super soft to touch and comfortable to wear directly on your skin.

Before we explore why wool can feel itchy we need to clarify one thing and that is that even if some wool makes you itch, it does not mean that you have a wool allergy.

Wool is not an allergen

Many people think that they are allergic to wool. Before we continue, let’s be clear what an allergy is.  An allergy is actually a reaction of the body’s immune system to a substance in the environment that is harmless to a majority of people. These substances are called allergens and depending on the severity of the allergy trigger symptoms like swelling, difficulty breathing, a rash etc.

In 2016, esteemed researchers reviewed studies and research papers of the past 100 years about the topic of wool and allergy. Analysing all of these studies, researchers have found that wool is not an allergen. You can read more about the study here. Wool has the same chemical composition as human hair. Wool and hair are made of a protein called keratin. A wool allergy would mean that we would also be allergic to our own hair. There are very few cases of people being allergic to lanolin, which is the grease on the unwashed wool. However, there is no indication of the wool fibre itself being an allergen.

But why does wool itch?

The reason for people to find wool itchy is a mechanical one. Wool is a staple fibre spun into yarn. This means that some of the fibres stick out of the yarn. This property is what gives wool a fluffy touch (and also causes pilling). Once these fibres touch the skin, they can cause irritation on sensitive skins. However, not all wool fibres irritate the skin because it also depends on the fineness of the fibre. As wool is a natural fibre which grows on the back of a sheep,  wool can vary widely depending on the sheep breed. Some sheep have very coarse wool, this means, very thick wool. Other sheep, like the merino sheep, have very fine and soft wool. The finer (thinner) wool is, the less it will irritate the skin. Therefore it is important that wool garments made to wear next to skin are made from very fine merino wool. While other products like carpets are made of coarser wool because they are more durable.

It takes two: Itchy and Scratchy

Now we determined that not all wool is itchy. However, a lot also depends on the wearer and their skin condition. People with sensitive skin will perceive some fine wools also as itchy on their skin. This is especially the case for people with very thin skin or irritated skin. Wool can also feel itchier on the skin when the skin is hot and moist.

Choose superfine merino wool

Wool growers across the globe have invested a lot of time, money and skill to breed merino sheep with very soft and fine wool that does not irritate the skin. There is actually more superfine wool available in the market than there was a few years ago. The reason being that there was a higher demand for soft wool that can be worn comfortably on your skin, like longjohns, t-shirts, underwear, sportswear etc. Therefore, whenever you are searching for a new wool item, make sure you find garments made out of merino wool.

Understand the micron number

Another way to ensure you are buying soft and fine wool is to look for the micron number. A micron is one-millionth of a meter or one-thousandth of a millimeter.  The fineness of wool is expressed in the micron number. The smaller the number the finer the wool. A number between 15 to 17 micron would be very soft. Very rarely wool is as fine as 12 microns. Our own hair in comparison is on average 60-80 micron thick. Some retailers mention the micron number on their sales page online. Knowing the micron number will help you find soft wool garments.

Softness through processing

The softness of wool can also be reached through different spinning and processing techniques. The wool can be treated with certain chemicals to make it softer. There are also spinning techniques ensuring fewer fibres sticking out of the yarn.

Invest in high quality

Another indicator if a wool garment will be soft or irritate your skin is the quality or in other terms the price. More expensive brands would (generally speaking) invest in higher quality wool to ensure that the product is comfortable to wear. One quality factor is the length of the fibre. The longer the fibre the better it is integrated into the yarn and less loose ends will stick out. Cheaper wool often is shorter in length.

Try wool blends

Some people have less irritation of wool garments blended with other fibres. Silk with wool is, for example, a nice natural fibre combination. Silk is typically a much longer fibre and also super soft because it is a very thin fibre. The properties of silk can compliment wool making it less itchy on the skin.

Label: approved for sensitive skin

The wool industry is currently working on the development of a label that tests and identifies wool for sensitive skin. The testing equipment called the Wool ComfortMeter already exists and tests are underway. Once this label is available it will be even easier to find wool items that are wonderful to wear even for people with sensitive skin. In the meantime follow these three steps below.

How to find non-itchy wool

  • Search for wool garments made out of merino wool as the wool from merino sheep is the softest and best to wear next to skin.
  • Try to find information about the micron number of the wool used. The lower the number the softer the wool.
  • Try different wool brands as each one will be using different types of wool fabrics with different quality of wool. Just because one wool garment irritated your skin does not mean that a softer one from a different brand would do the same.

Hopefully, this little blog post was useful in helping you find wool garments that you can wear comfortably. Is there something I forgot? Or do you have a question, then please let me know in the comments below. I will be happy to help.

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