Part 14: Are people allergic to wool?
Sometimes people wear wool things, and they itch. This might
not be because you are allergic to the actual wool -- and this is a
good thing to know, because wool is a very useful fiber, being warm,
somewhat water-repellant, lightweight, and it takes colors well.
If you itch when you wear wool next to your skin, these might be some
of the reasons:
Wool is great stuff. If you like the look, but it makes you
itchy, figuring out what the true problem is will let you be happier.
- The wool is physically scratchy. This can be caused by two
problems in wool processing:
- The wool fibers are cut not only next to the sheep it came off
of, but midway along the fiber. This means the fibers have poky
ends at both ends of each fiber, doubling its roughness.
- The wool fibers, even if soft when they came off the sheep,
were treated with harsh chemicals to remove lanonlin (natural sheep
oil) and vegetable matter. (This is a nice way of saying sheep
poop.) Wool can be cleaned without using harsh chemicals, but the
harsh ones are quicker. The problem is that the harsh chemicals
will raise the scales of the wool fiber. Wool fiber is like human
hair -- if you look at it under strong magnification, you can see that
it is made of scales, rather like a pinecone before it opens up in the
autumn. After it's been washed with the harsh chemicals, the
scales fluff out, and then you have all these prickly bits, like some
sort of scrub brush.
- You're allergic to lanolin, the natural oil that's in wool and
makes it somewhat water-repellant. You can test this by buying
some purified lanolin at your local drugstore and putting a little bit
on the inside of your elbow (it's sold for handcreams and also for
- You're allergic or sensitive to the dyes.
- You're allergic or sensitive to whatever it was last cleaned with.
- You're really, truly, allergic to wool in any state. You
get hives, your eyes itch, etc. You should probably see an
allergist, because a true allergy can be a serious problem.
Lastly, I've found a lot of good information on fibers via internet
searches. If these pages make you curious for more information,
do some websearches!