Like a stubborn stain, the idea that wool is an allergen just won’t go away. Recent headlines about the uniforms of American Airlines flight attendants scapegoated the wool in the fabric even though the manufacturer’s standard uniform comprises more polyester than wool, and testing by the flight attendants union found detectable levels of chemicals commonly found in pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.
Moreover, the union reported concerns that the manufacturing of the fabric, not its fibre content, was the source of the problem. Even so, the focus came down to wool “allergy.”
What would Martha Stewart do?
First, the facts. It is a common misconception that wool can cause an allergic reaction. Studies show that all fibres, not only wool, can provoke a prickle sensation on the skin if the fibre end is coarse enough. This prickle can be itchy and cause irritation, but it is not allergy.
While fine fibres bend and brush against the skin, coarse fibres tend to be more rigid and can trigger nerve endings in the skin’s surface.