If you’re like many people living with eczema, you may spend a lot of time trying to figure out what triggers your symptoms. After all, one of the best ways to manage your eczema is to avoid triggers. The fabrics you wear can trigger an eczema flare — and sometimes, the flares may result from a substance your clothing has come into contact with, like laundry detergent.
If wool is a trigger for you, you may wonder whether using wool dryer balls can affect your skin condition. These are balls made of felted wool that you put in your dryer with your laundry to get rid of static cling, prevent wrinkles, and make your clothes feel softer.
Here’s what you need to know about wearing wool and using wool dryer balls if you’re living with eczema.
Lanolin is a fatty substance that comes from sheep’s wool and is often used in skin care products for its moisturizing properties. Products containing wool or lanolin can worsen or trigger eczema, including a specific type called contact dermatitis. In contact dermatitis, skin contact with certain substances can cause irritation or other types of allergic reaction.
Wool cause you to overheat, leading to sweating and itching which, in turn, can trigger eczema symptoms. Wool’s rough fibers can also irritate the skin, which may trigger an eczema rash.
However, unless you have a wool allergy, you may only experience flare-ups from certain types of wool. One study looked at the effects of wearing merino wool — a soft, superfine wool — on people with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis. They found that participants who wore merino wool saw improvements in their eczema signs and symptoms, which in turn improved their overall quality of life.
Before purchasing various articles of clothing made from merino wool, make sure you can tolerate it. Try buying one clothing item, then wear it and see how your body reacts.
Though some types of wool may not cause problems for people with eczema, some medical providers recommend that people with the condition avoid wool entirely to avoid the risk of a flare.
There’s no evidence that wearing clothing that’s come into contact with wool dryer balls can cause eczema flares. However, people living with the condition know they shouldn’t rule out anything as a trigger without testing it.
If you use wool dryer balls and are having eczema flares with an unclear cause, try removing them from your laundry routine for a couple of months and see if your eczema improves. If someone else does your laundry, ask them about whether they use wool dryer balls. There are all sorts of uncommon triggers for eczema, and wool dryer balls might be one for you — even if there’s no specific research about them.
If you suspect an eczema trigger related to your laundry process, you also might look at your laundry detergent or check your dryer sheets or fabric softener. These can contain additives and allergens and are a more common trigger for eczema than wool dryer balls.
Some MyEczemaTeam members have been surprised to learn their laundry detergents may contribute to flares. “I’ve always wondered why I would be itching after washing my clothes,” one wrote.
Even detergents labeled as “all natural” or “made for sensitive skin” could be a trigger for you, so you may have to try several brands before you find one that doesn’t irritate your skin.
“I cannot find a laundry soap that does not break my skin out into hives,” a member said.
If you know or suspect that wool triggers your eczema, following are some steps you can take.
Try avoiding wool entirely and see if that improves your eczema and quality of life. If you’ve been exposed to wool regularly, you may need to avoid it for a couple of months before you see any significant changes.
Make sure you read the labels on your clothing and any skin care products you use so you can fully get rid of any products related to wool.
Clothing labels should list all fiber types used. If an item doesn’t have a label or you cut it off, you can often look at the manufacturer’s website or call them directly to find out exactly what’s in it.
For skin care products, stop using anything with “lanolin” listed of ingredients. If you can’t read the label or if you aren’t sure, reach out to the company online or by phone.
Additionally, stop using wool balls in your dryer, and look for other items in your house that may include the wool, such as blankets, carpeting, or furniture with upholstery containing wool.
Importantly, some manufacturers add wool or lanolin to products but don’t make note of it on the label, so you may not know you’re being exposed to a potential trigger until you experience a flare-up or reaction.
If you need to wear wool as part of a uniform (say, for work or school) and you can’t get an exemption, try wearing another layer between your skin and wool. Many people call this a base layer, and it can sometimes allow you to wear fabrics that would otherwise irritate your skin.
Some eczema experts say this is the most important layer you’ll choose because it makes direct contact with your skin. If you’re not sure what fabric to try, consider something soft, like Supima cotton or silk. (Note that silk is more expensive.)
A base layer may not always offer enough protection. If you’re wearing particularly rough wool or if you are very sensitive, it might poke through the base layer enough to irritate your skin despite your efforts. However, if you must wear wool, it’s worth it to try a base layer for whatever protection it offers.
If you think that your wool dryer balls are irritating your skin, wear something to protect your hands whenever you have to handle them. A simple pair of cotton gloves could help keep the irritating fibers away from your skin. These can also protect your skin from exposure to detergents in situations where you can’t choose which one you’re using.
If you suspect that wool is a trigger for eczema but you can’t avoid it completely, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. They may be able to suggest one of the many eczema treatments. Some of these are available over the counter, while others are available only by prescription.
If you suspect wool triggers your eczema and have removed it all but still experience symptoms, talk to your dermatology provider about that, too. They may be able to suggest other possible triggers that you wouldn’t have thought of, or they might be able to help you figure out where you’re still getting exposed to wool.
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