Recently published research has shown that wearing superfine Merino wool directly on the skin is beneficial for people with eczema. This adds to a growing body of research findings supporting the wellness benefits of superfine Merino wool. Research has shown that wearing superfine Merino wool significantly improves the severity and symptoms of this chronic skin condition, refuting objections that all wool is prickly and itchy.
What is eczema?
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory condition in which the skin becomes dry, leading to cracks, bacterial infection, redness and itching. Eczema affects up to 28% of newborns with an increasing prevalence in many parts of the world. The most common treatments currently include regular application of non-cosmetic moisturizers and topical steroids to reduce inflammation, as well as antibiotics to address bacterial infection.
Wool is beneficial for people with eczema
Figure 1: Wool works to buffer the dynamic microclimate between the fabric and the skin.
Whether hot, cold, humid or dry, clothing made from Merino wool is the most breathable compared to clothing made from most common apartment-type fibers. Wool can absorb and release twice as much moist air as cotton and 30 times as much as polyester. When worn directly on the skin, wool acts to buffer the dynamic microclimate between the fabric and the skin, helping to stabilize humidity and temperature. It seems that wool resembles a second skin.
Figure 2: Moisture absorption of wool and other fibers showing how wool is one of the best of the common clothing fibers.
People with eczema have particularly sensitive skin, and an Australian study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute found that clothing made from soft superfine Merino wool was well tolerated by study participants and reduced their eczema symptoms. (Note: clothing should have an average fiber diameter of 17.5 microns or finer).
Merino wool is officially recognized as asthma and allergy friendly
As a result of research funded by The Woolmark Company, international certification body Allergy Standards Limited (ASL) has officially recognized Merino wool bedding as asthma- and allergy-friendly.
By developing independent scientific standards for products, ASL's goal is to create the healthiest possible indoor environment for individuals with asthma and allergies. ASL partners with a number of patient organizations, charities and government agencies around the world, including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
In its motivation for issuing its new certification standard (ASP: 02-25/101) for Merino wool bedding, ASL refers to the results in the four recent research articles described on page 3 of this fact sheet.
The body of evidence to show that high-quality, fine Merino wool is non-irritating and poses little risk to people with sensitive skin is growing. A recent report reviewing the literature in this area found that a coarse fiber diameter (> 30-32μm) will cause skin irritation not seen with finer Merino wool. The effects on patients with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis who wore Merino clothing were also recently examined in several clinical studies in Australia and the US.
Dermatological research shows reductive of eczema symptoms
In positive news for people with eczema, three recent dermatological trials have shown that infantile, adolescent and adult eczema patients reported fewer symptoms when wearing superfine Merino wool clothing directly on the skin.
Study 1 - Wool clothing recommended for infants with eczema (MCRI, Melbourne)
The theory that superfine Merino wool worn directly on the skin can benefit people with eczema was put to the test in this study led by Associate Professor John Su of Murdoch Children's Research Institute. The study showed that superfine Merino wool clothing reduced the severity of pediatric mild-moderate atopic dermatitis compared to cotton clothing. The graph below shows the decrease in eczema symptoms over a six-week period while wearing wool clothing and the subsequent increase in symptoms when returning to wearing cotton clothing. Published in the British Journal of Dermatology, this study challenges the misconception that all wool should be avoided by children with eczema. The study concluded that traditional management guidelines classifying all wool clothing as irritants should be modified to include superfine Merino wool as a recommended clothing choice in pediatric atopic dermatitis.
Study 2 - Significant reductions in symptoms for teens and adults with eczema (QIDERM, Brisbane)
A study of adolescent and adult eczema sufferers in Brisbane, led by Dr. Lynda Spelman of the Queensland Institute of Dermatology (QIDerm), has also demonstrated the beneficial effects of wearing superfine Merino wool directly on the skin. Published in the Journal of Scientific & Technical Research, the study concluded that superfine Merino wool base layer clothing may be a valuable adjunct therapy in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. "We have seen significant reductions in skin dryness, redness and itching, and in the measured area of inflammation," Dr. Spelman said.
Study 3 - Significant improvements seen in mean eczema area and severity score (Department of Dermatology, University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
A study of children and adults with eczema by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky also demonstrated the beneficial effects of wearing superfine Merino wool directly on the skin. The study, published in the medical journal Dermatitis and led by Professor Joe Fowler, confirmed that wearing Merino wool clothing compared to standard clothing improved the severity of atopic dermatitis and the quality of life of patients with atopic dermatitis.
"This study and that of Professor John Su and Dr. Lynda Spelman show that clothing made of fine diameter Merino wool should be considered acceptable for people with eczema and appears to be therapeutic for patients with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis,"
- Professor Fowler.
Wool is not an allergen
A highly respected group of medical professionals from around the world has reviewed research articles published over the past 100 years to assess scientific studies claiming that wool causes allergies. The group has now published an article entitled Debunking the Myth of Wool Allergy with the primary conclusion that there is no evidence that wool is an allergen. It found that if a fabric does cause sensations of itching and stinging on the skin, it is due to the large diameter of the fibers and not the fiber type of wool.