Is Alpaca Wool Itch-free?
Updated: Feb 10
You might have heard that alpaca wool is hypoallergenic and that it is possible for people with wool allergy to wear it. But does that mean that it is itch-free as well?
Not all alpaca wool is itch-free, as this depends on the thickness of the fiber:
<20 microns: itch-free
21-29 microns: most people don't feel an itch
>30 microns: itchy
Regular alpaca wool is generally between 23 and 40 microns, while royal and baby alpaca is between 18 and 23 microns.
Whether wool is itchy or not depends on the quality of its fiber. The quality of wool is measured in its thickness, so in general thicker wool means more itch. But is thinner wool necessarily superior?
All types of fibers and hair are measured in micrometers, or microns, in short. They are used to express the diameter of wool fiber. Microns are used to determine a couple of things:
In general, when wool contains fewer microns in diameter, it is considered better quality. It also shows that the wool is finer. Consequently, a lower micron will increase the value.
To fully understand the scope of the micron, I’ll give you this list of hair and fibers and the number of microns (or range) that they come in:
Human Hair: 75 microns
Sheep wool: 40 microns
Alpaca wool: 23-40 microns
Baby and Royal alpaca: 18-23 microns
Merino wool: 15-25 microns
Cashmere: 15-19 microns
Silk: 10-13 microns
On top of these fibers, there are so many more fibers available in the world, including many plant fibers. Each and every kind of fiber has its own special qualities, but there is one thing that unanimously is agreed upon: the lower the micron, the softer the fiber to the touch.
Does Soft Mean Itch-free?
While it is generally acknowledged that alpaca wool is super soft, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is itch-free. Most high-quality alpaca wool will not exceed 30 microns, especially yarn used for clothing and accessories. This means that most people will not feel an itch when they touch the yarn or item.
However, there are people with sensitive skin, and they will definitely feel the itch that comes from wool between 21 and 29 microns. Regular alpaca wool can be as low as 23 microns. So, to answer the question of whether regular alpaca wool is itch-free or not, this will depend on how sensitive your skin is.
For those with sensitive skin, there is the alternative of using baby alpaca. However, baby alpaca also comes in different microns, anywhere between 15 and 23 microns is considered royal or baby alpaca.
If you want to know if your skin can bear baby alpaca or not, you will have to feel it, or find out how many microns you will not be irritated by. Every producer will know the micron of its fiber, but it is not something that is mentioned on the label of an item in a store. Feeling and trying is probably the way to go here.
Royal alpaca is considered to be everything below 19 microns, so technically this should mean nobody will feel an itch from it. Nevertheless, your case might be different and you might want to consult a doctor first.
Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor. This information does not replace medical advice.
How Do Microns Determine Softness?
Back to the technical part of this article: as stated in the introduction, microns show the fineness of a fiber. Now, since most fibers, and especially wool fibers, have scales, a smaller diameter means smaller scales. Smaller scales mean a softer touch, while bigger scales mean an itchier touch.
Isn’t Alpaca Wool Hypoallergenic?
I hear you wonder… But isn’t alpaca wool hypoallergenic? Yes, it is. However, that it is hypoallergenic (I actually wrote alpacagenic, haha!) does not mean that it is itch-free.
When something is hypoallergenic, it means that it does not contain lanolin. Lanolin is a natural oil, or grease, that is found on many (animal) fibers. It has a greasy texture, and therefore attracts dust and micro-allergens. These get then stuck onto the fiber where they cause unease for wearers with a wool allergy.
Alpaca wool does not have this grease and is therefore considered hypoallergenic. This means that people can wear alpaca without being triggered by an allergic reaction.
Even though alpaca wool is safe for allergy sufferers to wear, it does not mean that alpaca wool is itch-free.
Are There Any Disadvantages of Baby Alpaca?
If baby alpaca is such a superior wool, known for being (almost) completely itch-free, then why not just use baby alpaca wool for everything?
Ha, well… Baby alpaca means that it is the first cut of an alpaca’s fleece, meaning that there is only one time an alpaca can provide baby alpaca wool. After that, it will just be regular alpaca wool.
As wool grows thicker over the years, baby alpaca is understandably the softest type of alpaca wool (with sub-category Royal Alpaca being the softest). Also understandably is that as a consequence, baby alpaca is much more expensive than regular alpaca wool.
However, baby alpaca is not uncommon, and if you have sensitive skin and would like to try out baby alpaca, you will find plenty of options to choose from. Keep in mind that you will need to be willing to pay a higher price (which will be worth it, though).
According to Wikipedia, the Softest Fiber in the World is a batch of merino wool, measured at only 10 microns! That is SUPER soft!