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Beyond the Bale : June 2018
Did you know skin is the human body’s largest single organ, covering an area of up to 2m2? It acts as a physical barrier against the external environment, minimises water loss, regulates our body temperature, has antibacterial capacity, contributes to innate immunity and is key for sensory perception. Talk about multi-tasking! With such a wide range of functions, the health of our skin is essential. And since our skin is generally in direct contact with fabrics, skin health is influenced by the fibre type of the fabric as well as the fabric’s structure. NEW STUDY BACKS WOOL OVER POLYESTER In a new study funded by AWI, researchers are shedding new light on this connection between what people wear and the health of their skin. Scientists from AgResearch tested human skin reactions to different fabrics – and initial findings show benefits for skin health from wearing the natural fibres Merino wool or cotton compared to the synthetic fibre polyester. “We set out with our 32 volunteers – 16 men and 16 women ranging in age from 25 to 63 – to look at how their healthy skin reacted to different close-fitting fabrics,” said AgResearch scientist Dr Alex Hodgson. “Part of the experiment involved the Wearing Merino wool base- layers is beneficial to skin health compared to wearing polyester, according to a new AWI-funded study. The aim of the research is to ultimately open doors to new high value markets for wool. BENEFITS TO SKIN HEALTH BY WEARING MERINO WOOL volunteers wearing Merino wool base-layer shirts, with a patch of polyester on one side of their upper back area, for a minimum of six hours during the day. “We discovered that polyester tended to reduce the hydration of the wearers’ skin and also – especially for men – resulted in increased redness or inflammation of the skin. By comparison, the skin covered with wool did not show any negative effects during the study. From this we can see that wool promoted the maintenance of healthy skin whilst polyester had a drying effect with some inflammation.” Merino wool and cotton performed similarly in this pilot trial. The findings support the premise that wearing natural fibres such as Merino wool next to the skin leads to improved skin health, and have encouraged the researchers to proceed with a second phase of the study. This involves a ‘long-term’ wear study in which the volunteers wear the trial garments continuously for five days and nights. Extending the time that garments are worn may differentiate the skin hydration effects of Merino wool and cotton. R&D BOLSTERS MARKETING “Ultimately this work is about providing guidance or reassurance for consumers. Our aim is that people will be able to make informed choices about what they wear, and what that might mean for the health of their skin,” Dr Hodgson said. This will be music to the ears of Australian woolgrowers. It certainly is for AWI’s Program Manager, Fibre Advocacy & Eco Credentials, Angus Ireland, who says the new research results lend significant weight to AWI’s ‘Fibre Advocacy’ investment program which aims to validate and communicate the health and wellbeing benefits of wool products. “There is huge potential for Merino wool because of the strong trend in consumer markets towards healthy and environmentally friendly products.,” he said. “The work undertaken by AgResearch follows on from previous studies funded by AWI at the Queensland Institute of Dermatology and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute that showed significant reductions in sufferers’ eczema symptoms by wearing superfine Merino wool garments against the skin. New analysis has also found no evidence that wool is an allergen, thanks to separate AWI- funded work. “All these new research results will help enormously with our marketing, especially in sectors such as babywear, sleepwear and underwear, as well as base-layer activewear,” Angus added. “These are relatively new markets for wool, containing products that are used every day and can command a high retail price per kilogram of fibre used – which is good news for Australian woolgrowers.” PHOTO: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou 32 OFF FARM