Short answer: It shouldn’t be.
Merino wool is an excellent performance fabric for many next-to-skin applications. It’s an ideal material for outdoor enthusiasts, travelers, and more. But, since we often associate it with traditional wool, many people falsely believe that it will irritate your skin. With Merino wool, this should never be the case.
Still, it’s essential to look at the reasons and factors behind the itchiness of wool and answer the question: is merino wool itchy?
Why Do We Itch?
Before we talk about wool clothing, we first need to truly understand why we itch. From an evolutionary perspective, our itchiness was vital as our ancestors needed to be alerted of bugs, ticks, and other disease-carrying substances that were on their skin. It’s a defense mechanism that keeps us healthy. Now, let’s look at itching from a more scientific perspective.
When any kind of foreign irritant – chemical, thermal or mechanical – interferes with your skin, a complicated bodily response occurs. An electrical signal is sent to your spinal cord and brain via pruriceptors within c-fiber nerve cells. These specialized nerve cells account for about 5% of the nerve cells in your skin and specialize in only itchy feelings.
The brain then enacts the scratch response, sometimes subconsciously, to relieve that itch. Although – as you already may know – scratching just relieves itchiness temporarily.
This is because the pain receptors in your skin – now activated by your fingernails – drown out the itchy signal. Thus, briefly relieving the pain. The brain releases serotonin to reduce the pain, which is why itching can sometimes feel so darn good.
But when those pain signals quiet down, and your serotonin levels normalize, the itch-detecting pruriceptors in your skin now send an even louder signal. This is because not only is your skin irritated, but you’ve also caused extensive damage to your skin cells from continued scratching. The vicious cycle continues, and mentally, you become so preoccupied with your itch that you can’t seem to focus on anything else!
Overall, the human itching mechanism is essential, annoying, and deeply-ingrained in our body’s chemistry.
See more: Is Merino Wool Good For Eczema?
So, Why Is Traditional Wool Itchy?
Wool is composed of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair. Thus, since people cannot be allergic to their own hair – as far as we know – that eliminates the chemical mechanism for wool being itchy. Also, since wool is extremely thermoregulating, that eliminates the thermal itching response.
Therefore, wool is actually itchy due to the mechanical rubbing of the fabric on your skin, which comes down to two specific factors: fiber thickness and fiber structure.
Traditional wool has a fiber thickness of about 35-40 microns, roughly half the thickness of our hair. That may sound super thin to some, but in the sensitive climate of your skin, it can feel ultra-scratchy. Have you ever gotten your haircut and a few stragglers get stuck on your neck? It’s super itchy!
Wool itself possesses about half that itch factor due to the fiber thickness. Again, it may not seem like much, but it’s enough to be bothersome.
Coarser wool fabrics tend to have less crimp than more delicate wool fibers. The larger the crimp, the softer the material feels to the touch. It also plays a significant role in the flexibility and drape of the garment.
As you can imagine, traditional wool fibers with less crimp than Merino don’t always move with you, thus creating ‘hot points’ for rubbing and chafing. This irritation may cause itching and discomfort, as well.
If Wool Is Itchy, Why Isn’t Merino?
It’s simple… sort of. Merino wool has a fiber thickness of typically 17-21 microns, nearly half that of traditional wool. Thus, the thinner fibers feel more soft and luxurious on your skin, reducing irritation.
On top of that, thinner fibers provide more elasticity and coiling, moving more with your body instead of against it. This makes it more difficult for loose threads to pop out and unwanted chafing to occur.
Basically, Merino possesses all the benefits of traditional wool without the associated itchiness.
Why Does My Merino Wool Clothing Still Feel Itchy?
Suppose you recently purchased new Merino wool clothing, and after wearing it, your skin still feels irritated. In that case, there may be a few factors at play.
You Have Low-Quality Merino Wool
As Merino is a much sought-after fabric, many companies online will use this as a marketing term when their clothing is not actually Merino. It’s crucial to perform the proper research before purchasing any Merino clothing, especially online. Be sure to read other user reviews and do your due diligence into the company actually selling the apparel. Many times, if the price point seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Suppose you have questions or concerns about a specific Merino wool apparel company. In that case, you can head over to our company profiles page. Always check the manufacturer’s warranty and return policy to see if you can exchange low-quality fabric. If your desired company is not on that page, send us an e-mail. We’ll dig into their advertising claims to prove their authenticity. We’re always happy to help!
Your Clothing Has Poor Seam Construction
Aside from the Merino wool fabric itself, the seam construction and overall fit can play a role in apparel itchiness. The seams and threads may rub and cause chafing, and the overall fit may be too tight (or too loose) for your body, thus creating a non-uniform drape.
The best way to combat these non-fabric itchiness issues is to do your research before purchasing Merino wool clothing. Look for keywords in the product description like “flatlock seams” and “anti-chafing” to gauge your potential purchase’s comfort. Also, always consult the sizing charts as there is no universal sizing guide with apparel manufacturers. For more information on fit, we’ve put together several profiles on your favorite Merino wool companies so you can better gauge your online purchases.
You Are Experiencing Pilling Issues
Pilling occurs when loose threads in the fabric congregate together, forming little balls of fuzz on your clothing. These not online make your clothing look overly-used but can sometimes be irritating to your skin.
The critical issue to remember here is that pilling is often natural with wool. When these shorter fibers are removed from the fabric, it increases the strength of your clothing. Basically, the weak spots are being removed. To deal with pilling issues, sometimes wash your Merino wool with rough fabrics like denim, which will safely pull the loose threads away from the clothing structure. For more care techniques and laundry techniques, visit our Merino wool care guide.
You May Have An Underlying Medical Condition
Merino wool is not a cure-all for itchy skin. Sure, it may soothe eczema symptoms and reduce irritation compared to other fabrics, but it has no medicinal effects. Sometimes, the issue of itchy skin runs much deeper than merely changing your clothing fabric.
Suppose you wear high-quality Merino and still feel the need to scratch all day. In that case, it may be time to visit a medical professional to solve your itching problems.
Final Note About Merino Wool Itchiness
Merino wool is a soft and luxurious fabric that should not cause you any itching or irritation. The ultrafine fibers provide a comfortable hand feel. Their structure offers plenty of elasticity to move with your body, thus minimizing rubbing and chafing. If you are experiencing excessive itching, make sure to check for pilling, contact the manufacturer, or perhaps even consult with a doctor about an underlying skin condition.
For more Merino FAQs like “Is Merino Wool Itchy” and reviews on all your favorite wool performance gear, make sure to continue reading. You can even follow us on Instagram (@merinowoolgear) for the latest and greatest deals from across the Merino apparel industry.
At Merino Wool Gear, we always strive to remain objective with our reviews. We simply aim to provide you, the end-user, with the necessary information to make an informed decision. We hope to see you again soon!