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Think you’ve got a wool allergy?

Are you allergic to wool?

Before we delve into all of the amazing properties of wool, there is one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: wool allergies. Often when we describe our wool products to folks, we get a similar response — an apologetic and slightly uncomfortable smile and they say,  “I’m allergic to wool” This got us wondering, how many people are really allergic to wool?

According to large scale allergy studies conducted at the Mass General Hospital, about 6% of people that came in for allergy testing actually were allergic to wool…. A much smaller number than people expect! In general, people who think they are allergic to wool are not allergic at all!  It’s that the wool clothing they wear is very coarse and pricks people’s skin, making them itch.

Grades of Wool
Wool fibers are not that different from human hair, but a they have a lot more scales. Like human hair, there is a lot of variety in the different types of sheep wool. It turns out that the breed and the climate a sheep is raised in affects the coarseness of their fibers (thicker fibers being common to sheep from cooler climates). This thickness is tested by measuring the micron of the wool. The higher the micron number, the itchier the wool. Micron counts in wool have a wide range, the fine range being anywhere from 15-19 microns, that most people would be agree is comfortable to wear against the skin.  Our next to skin base layers use 18.5 micron wool from Rambouillet sheep, so fine you wouldn’t even know you were wearing wool.
A true allergy
There are, however, things that are found hanging onto the wool fibers that can irritate your skin. Vegetable matter gets caught on the fleeces of the sheep as they roam around and is not always completely removed during the processing of the wool. So if you are allergic to grass, you may experience a reaction to wool where much of the “veg” has not been removed. Some wool is processed through acid baths to remove the “veg” matter, which can bother you if you are chemically sensitive. Then there are those who are really, truly, totally allergic to lanolin. Lanolin is the oil that sheep produce naturally to keep their skin soft and supple. Most lanolin is removed from the wool during processing and actually sold to the cosmetics industry because it makes human skin soft and supple. We met a sheep shearer who told us his hands were so soft he could not twist off a beer cap! Remarkably, people with this lanolin allergy don’t usually experience itching but rather get a severe rash. So unless this is the type of reaction you are experiencing, chances are you are just dealing with itchy wool that is causing an uncomfortable but harmless prickle.
Need Proof?
For some people, hearing this is not enough to dispel their memories of that horrible sweater they tried on, and  so we have another idea. We have a sample program where you an request your own swatch of 5×5″ wool fabric (reclaimed from our cutting waste) so that you can test it out. Just send a email to...



with your name and address with the subject line "I Wooly don't believe you, please send me a sample." and we will send you a sample!

April 24, 2013 by Grace Gouin
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