Does wool feel scratchy on your skin? This may not be a true wool allergy but what is termed the Prickle effect. A prickle is a mechanical effect that has a stinging sensation caused by coarse hairs in the wool fabric. In fact hair with a diameter larger than 30 microns is the usual culprit and these hairs are also so known as guard hairs on animals. This hair is also stiffer so when spun into yarn, may stick out of the yarn especially when woven and bent into a fabric. The prickle effect will disappear when the wool fabric is removed.
One story I found when I was researching wool allergies is that several states in the US have tried to raise Cashmere (Kashmir) goats but were unsuccessful. In the regions of China, Mongolia and Tibet the goats graze but in the US the goats were fed too well and developed coarser hair. However, since the cashmere fabric comes from the undercoat of the cashmere goat, this story doesn’t ring true although it is entertaining.
A small family cashmere goat farm. These goats only thrive in Inner Mongolia which is what makes it so rare and expensive.
If wearing wool gives you a rash, check with the Mayo Clinic’s gallery of rash photos at
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin-rash/SN00016 to identify the rash and seek further help. Allergists can test for wool allergies by using protein extracted from wool fibers.
A true wool allergy is very rare. Some people say that they are allergic to the lanolin in the wool but wool producers remove lanolin before the wool is spun into yarn and woven or knit into garments. A person with a true allergy to lanolin have to be very careful about the lotions, deodorants, sunscreen, dog shampoo, hair spray, shoe polish, leather that they purchase.
Respiratory allergies from wool are not caused by the wool but from allergens on or in the wool. When dry cleaning wool items it is important to remove the plastic covering used by dry cleaners. Airing the garments for 24 hours is recommended to allow the dry cleaning solution odors to dissipate.