To my surprise, so many claim they're allergic to wool and can't wear knitted garments made out of it. But an actual wool allergy is not currently known.* Many people who think they are allergic to wool have sensitive skin that would be irritated by any kind of coarse fiber.
This is by far the most common cause of a skin reaction to wool and other coarse fibers. Sensitive skin can be so irritated by certain wool that a rash develops.
But there is good news though. Not all animal fibers are itchy. There are lots of wool and animal fibers available that may not cause that reaction. Also the way the fiber is processed makes a huge difference to how irritating the garment will be.
Fine wool sheep produce wool fibers with a very small fiber diameter, usually 20 microns or less. Those sheep account for more than 50 percent of the world's sheep population. Most sheep of this type are Merino or trace their ancestry to the Merino.
Studies have shown that people will complain that the fiber is itchy if more than 5 percent of the fiber in a garment has a diameter of more than 30 microns or an average diameter of more than 22 microns.
This is why some people with sensitive skin may be able to happily wear other animal fibers like Alpaca and Cashmere or the fine wool breeds.
Also wool blends do not irritate your skin in the same way. Blends with cashmere and silk are often soft and smooth enough that they can be worn without causing a reaction.
*A significant minority of us break out in a rash after wearing wool, or have sore red eyes, or even breathing problems. An allergy to wool is actually caused by lanolin, the oil in a sheep’s fleece.
Perhaps the next time you see a woolen item maybe consider this and give that item a chance. Be sure to stop by Artistic Portland to see Karin's beautiful pieces. Not only does Karin create hats, scarves, mittens, and shawls, but she also creates whimsical stuffed animals among other items. Below is a just a small sampling of her work.