Challenging the common perception that wool may cause allergy and harm skin of children with eczema, scientists have found that superfine wool may actually decrease severity of symptoms. Superfine wool has greater ability to transfer moisture and heat than other major fibres and therefore maintains more stable microclimate between the skin and garment.

The study has been carried out by scientists at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the largest child health research institute in Australia and one of the top five worldwide. The research has been published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Despite limited evidence, woollen clothing has traditionally been considered an irritant to be avoided by children/people with eczema. However wool fibres come in a range of diameters and the superfine wool garments used in the study did not cause irritation and were well tolerated by patients.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the effects of superfine merino wool on childhood eczema. The aim was to improve outcomes for babies, children and families of children suffering mild to moderate symptoms. The results showed that superfine merino wool may actually reduce rather than exacerbate eczema symptoms. When children switched to wool after wearing cotton, they showed a significant decrease in eczema severity whereas eczema worsened when children changed to cotton from wool, the scientists said.

The lead author Associate Professor John Su from Monash University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute says the results “challenge our current practice” when advising about the suitability of wool for children with eczema. “When comparing with cotton, there are inherent differences in fibre properties, [Merino] wool’s greater ability to transfer moisture vapour and heat than other major apparel fibres enable it to maintain a more stable microclimate between the skin and garment,” Su says.

Parents also said that their children enjoyed wearing the woolen garments, found them soft and also reported less itching and skin clamminess. The trial involved 39 children aged from four weeks to three years and was carried out over a 12-week period. The children wore superfine merino wool garments against the skin for six weeks before changing to cotton, and vice versa.