Is Alpaca Wool Hypoallergenic? (Lanolin Free)
Updated: Feb 10
Alpaca wool has many amazing qualities, like being super soft and incredibly strong. You may have even heard that alpaca wool is mostly itch-free, too. But what about allergies? Is this super fiber hypoallergenic, too?
Alpaca wool does not contain lanolin, which means that it is hypoallergenic. People with wool allergy get an allergic reaction when they touch wool that contains lanolin. Since alpaca wool does not contain lanolin, people with wool allergy can wear alpaca wool, without suffering an allergic reaction.
For many people, alpaca equals wool, and wool equals allergy. I can only imagine how hesitant people can be when it comes to trusting a type of wool that would not cause them any suffering. Read on to find out more about why alpaca wool is hypoallergenic.
This article does not replace medical advice. If you have an allergy, always consult a professional healthcare specialist.
Defining Important Terms
Before we dig into the wonderful world of lanolin free alpaca wool, let’s get our terms right first.
When something is hypoallergenic, it means that a product probably does not contain allergens.
In other words, hypoallergenic means that no allergy-producing substances or materials are in the product.
But... here’s the catch: there is no official scientific or legal definition of the term hypoallergenic, and you might therefore expect something to be free of allergens, while it actually isn’t!
Companies have no restrictions or guidelines as to what they are allowed to call hypoallergenic. As you can understand, this can be problematic for people with allergies and/or sensitivities.
One of the things that people can be allergic to is lanolin. Lanolin is a greasy substance that is naturally found on animal fibers. Wool-bearing animals are especially known for wearing the substance on their fleece.
Lanolin is greasy and oily, yet it is not a fat (complicated science, read more on Wikipedia). It is a substance that you can find on all types of sheep.
3. Wool Allergy
A wool allergy is a medical condition that can be diagnosed by a doctor. If you have a history of reacting to wool, and/or have other allergies or asthma, you may find yourself allergic to wool and other things.
The allergic reaction includes, but is not limited to, irritated skin, a runny nose, and watery eyes. For people with an allergy, the reaction continues even though they are no longer in contact with the substance that caused it.
A doctor is the only one who can decide whether or not you are allergic. With special tools, he or she can confirm whether or not you are allergic, and if so, what to.
4. Wool Sensitivity
With similar symptoms, but generally less intense, people can also experience wool sensitivity. The difference between an allergy and sensitivity is the response to the allergy and how quickly and severely symptoms can develop.
People with a sensitivity to wool will likely cause an itch on the skin when in touch with wool, while an allergy can cause more severe symptoms, too. People who are sensitive to wool are normally helped by simply removing the fabric from their skin.
People with an allergy can experience irritated skin, rash, a runny nose, and watery eyes. In this Healthline article, you can read more about Wool Allergy and sensitivity.
Allergy-producing substances are not limited to wool and fabrics, but also concern make-up, toys, and even pets! People with an allergy or sensitivity don’t have many other options than to stop wearing or using that which causes them a reaction.
Why Animals Produce Lanolin
Lanolin is Mother Nature’s trick to protect animals from (rough) weather and climate. It protects wool from sneering winds and icy colds, wet climates and burning sun. It helps sheep to wick away water from their coats. It depends on the breed how much lanolin an animal produces.
So, lanolin helps sheep to be water resistant, that’s great, right? Not for everyone, unfortunately.
Lanolin might be helpful for wool-bearing mammals. When their fleece or wool is used for making clothes, untreated fiber will still maintain this grease when it is turned into sweaters, scarfs or other garments. For people with wool allergy or sensitivity, lanolin can be one of the causes of discomfort.
Luckily, there are things you can do.
If you have an allergy, you want to be looking for items that are labelled "hypoallergenic" to give you somewhat of a guideline, keeping in mind that it may not be 100% accurate.
You can always test products on your forearm first, to see how your skin reacts.
If you know exactly what you are allergic to, a better option would be to look for the ingredients or components and find the one that may cause an allergic reaction to you (and not buy anything that contains ingredients causing you any reactions).
For people with a wool allergy or sensitivity, avoid using wool altogether, opt for treated wool, or choose a lanolin free alternative, like alpaca wool.
You Can Treat Wool to Be Lanolin Free
You might wonder if there is a way to make sheep wool free of lanolin, and yes, there is. However, the process could be chemical and bad for the environment. There is a way to DIY at home, which is free of chemicals, but might not be as effective.
So, not all products that include sheep wool cause an allergic reaction necessarily. However, given the lack of guidelines and laws regarding the definition of hypoallergenic, they may still include some degree of lanolin.
On the other hand, products that have been treated to remove the lanolin may have used chemicals and have damaged the environment.
How to wear wool without using chemicals and without risking an allergic reaction? Wear alpaca!
Why Alpacas Don’t Need Lanolin
Since alpaca wool doesn’t contain lanolin and is considered to be hypoallergenic (without doubt about whether it actually is hypoallergenic, or not - as long as it’s 100% alpaca wool!!!), alpaca wool is a great, natural alternative to wear, without risking an allergic reaction.
How can alpaca wool be wool without containing lanolin, you may wonder. Well, because alpaca wool actually isn’t wool, its fiber is hair. Being hair, the alpaca fiber has a different consistency, a different structure and different capacities.
Alpaca wool actually has wicking, water resisting capabilities, without using lanolin. Its hair has tiny little scales instead of lanolin. These scales help to give alpaca wool a shiny structure, which suspicious people might confuse for the greasy, allergy-causing lanolin. But it’s not. It’s scale-like texture is designed to keep water out without using the greasy help like its sheepy family members do.
So… Alpacas don’t produce lanolin, its fiber is still water resistant, and it is also said that it is warmer and stronger than sheep's wool. Why in the world would we want to use anything other than alpaca wool?
Well, because every great thing has a downside, right? Alpaca wool can be expensive and exclusive. Besides, it is blended with other types of wool, too.
Assume that it is 100% alpaca wool that you’re looking for if you’re looking for a hypoallergenic garment.
Alpaca Wool Is Expensive
Some people may argue that alpaca wool is expensive, some may not. I’m personally convinced that alpaca wool is expensive (aka there’s a high price on the labels), but that it is absolutely worth it, because of its qualities (water-resistant, super warm and isolating, durable, sustainable, etc.).
Alpaca Wool Is Exclusive
Think of your favorite shop around the corner. Unlikely they’ll have a 100% alpaca woolen sweater in line with your style and preferences, ready and available. Alpaca wool comes from an animal called the alpaca, native to Peru, currently home to mostly South American (Andean) countries.
Contrary to sheep, alpacas aren't bred to provide for wool. The alpaca-wool industry is pretty much limited to the natural supply and demand that the animals can provide for. Which has been pretty balanced over time, with a slight peek of interest in the past twenty years, now that people are finally looking into more sustainable options (YAY! :) ).
Fast Fashion Uses Blends
In conclusion, alpaca wool is not always and everywhere available. On top of that, when the big brands are including alpaca wool in their "exclusive lines", they will often use blends (AAAARGGGGGHHHH!!) that are possibly not hypoallergenic, (wool blends), unsustainable (acrylic and other synthetic fibers), and not a good representation of what alpaca wool can really be.
So, Let’s Review: Is Alpaca Wool Hypoallergenic?
YES, it is. Alpaca wool is a great hypoallergenic alternative to wool, because…
100% pure alpaca wool does not contain lanolin, and is therefore hypoallergenic.
100% pure alpaca wool does not need to be treated with chemicals
100% pure alpaca wool is a sustainable, (dare-I-say better) alternative to other wool substances.
Check the label to make sure "Alpaca Wool" actually means 100% pure alpaca wool :)
Once you go alpac-a, you never go back-a.
OMG I really said that! :)