Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is approaching epidemic levels in Western nations, with more than 25% of all children born in Australia having a degree of eczema. Sufferers of the condition have dysfunctional skin that dries out, which leads to the skin cracking, bacterial infection, redness, scratching and itching.
However, in positive news for the wool industry, two recent dermatology trials – funded by The Woolmark Company – have shown that infant and adult sufferers of eczema have reduced symptoms when wearing superfine Merino wool garments next to the skin.
Study 1: clinical trial of infants with eczema (MCRI, Melbourne)
A study of approximately 40 babies and young children under 3 years old, at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne, showed significant advantages of superfine Merino wool base-layers over cotton in improving the symptoms of eczema. In the study half the children wore 100% superfine Merino wool for six weeks before changing over to cotton, with the remaining children starting in cotton before switching over to Merino wool after six weeks.
“We found that wearing superfine Merino wool led to an overall greater improvement in eczema, when compared with wearing outfits made of cotton,” said Associate Professor John Su.
“This finding challenges prevalent beliefs in the lay and medical communities, as well as findings from older, less rigorously performed studies from the mid-1950s, when coarser diameter and heavier wool garments were used.
“Skin irritation from any fibre type partly relates to the diameter of fibres. While wool can have many fibre diameters, only low diameter (superfine) Merino wool garments were used in the MCRI study.
“When comparing Merino with cotton, there are also other inherent differences in fibre properties: Merino’s greater ability to transfer moisture vapour and heat than the other major apparel fibres enable it to maintain a more stable microclimate between the skin and the garment.”
[…] Featured in the news report were Rheannan Williams and her 2-year-old daughter who suffers from eczema.
“The eczema was red, painful and blistery,” Rheannan said. “But within two to three weeks of wearing wool it was unbelievable… her skin is clear… I would 100% recommend it, it’s amazing.”
The trials have been conducted using lightweight, 150 gram per square metre superfine Merino wool garments with a micron range finer than 18.6 microns.
Program Manager of Fibre Advocacy and Eco Credentials with The Woolmark Company, Angus Ireland, says the studies demonstrate a strong role for superfine Merino in fostering healthy skin and managing eczema.
“The traditional advice to indiscriminately avoid wool against the skin, based on early commentaries that failed to distinguish between wool fibre types, can now be modified to include superfine Merino as a recommended next-to-skin clothing choice.
“It’s interesting to note that, prior to the QIDerm study, most patients say they couldn’t tolerate wool and many believed they were allergic to wool. However, we didn’t have a single patient withdraw from the study due to any types of intolerance of these superfine wools.
“The results from the dermatological research are extremely encouraging and provide a significant opportunity for Merino wool. The findings are potentially not only profound for sufferers of this debilitating and potentially life-long condition, but also for the wool industry.”
The fact that the Brisbane-based study was undertaken throughout the city’s hot and humid summer conditions, also shows that low-micron lightweight wool garments are suitable for all seasons.
Despite limited evidence, woollen clothing has traditionally been considered to be an irritant that should be avoided by individuals with atopic dermatitis (AD). Wool fibres come in a range of diameters, and have beneficial thermodynamic and moisture transport properties.
Objectives: This study examines the effects of superfine merino wool on symptoms in participants with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis.
Methods:The trial was a 12-week, randomized, assessor-blinded, crossover, prospective, cohort study of 39 patients with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis, aged between 4 weeks and 3 years, comparing superfine merino wool ensembles with standard cotton clothing chosen by parents. Participants were assigned to wool or cotton clothing and assessed every 3 weeks for 6 weeks, before crossing over to wear the other clothing material for a further 6-week period, with similar 3-weekly reviews. The primary end point was the SCORing Atopic Dermatitis (SCORAD) index after each 6-week period, with Atopic Dermatitis Severity Index (ADSI), Infants’ Dermatitis Quality Of Life Index (IDQOL) and topical steroid use as secondary end points to measure atopic dermatitis severity and quality of life.
Results: Overall, compared with baseline, superfine wool ensembles were associated with a reduction in mean SCORAD of 2·5 [95% confidence interval (CI) -4·7 to -0·4] at 3 weeks and 7·6 (95% CI -10·4 to -4·8) at 6 weeks when compared with the cotton ensembles. A similar change was observed in ADSI and IDQOL scores for the same period. Body steroid use was also reduced. Conversely, changing ensembles from wool to cotton resulted in an increase in scores.
Conclusion: Superfine merino wool may assist in the management of childhood atopic dermatitis.
A study of child and adult sufferers of eczema, commissioned by AWI and undertaken by the Division of Dermatology, University of Louisville, Kentucky, has demonstrated the beneficial effects of wearing superfine Merino wool next to 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 provided improvements in severity of atopic dermatitis (eczema) as well as quality of life in atopic dermatitis patients.
British Journal of Dermatology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Association of Dermatologists