Food & Bio-Based Products

New research uncovers the health effects of what we wear

New research uncovers the health effects of what we wear

AgResearch scientists are shedding new light on the connection between what people wear and the health of their skin.

In research funded by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), AgResearch has been working with human volunteers and testing skin reactions to different fabrics – and initial findings show benefits for skin health from the natural fibre (wool) over a synthetic fibre (polyester).

The work follows on from studies by AWI at the Queensland Institute of Dermatology and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute that showed significant reductions in sufferers’ eczema symptoms from wearing superfine wool garments against the skin.

“There’s been a lot of science looking at the connection between our health and what we put in our bodies, but here we are looking what we wear on our bodies and what that may mean for our skin health,” says AgResearch scientist Dr Alex Hodgson.

“We set out with our 16 volunteers to look at how their healthy skin reacted to wearing close-fitting fabrics during the day – wool and polyester. The volunteers wore merino wool base-layer shirts, with a patch of polyester on one side of their upper back area.

“We took skin measurements from both sides (wool and polyester) of their upper backs in a lab over a period of four weeks to look at things such as hydration, water loss through the skin, and inflammation.”

“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.”

“The study has a second phase which involves a ‘long-term’ wear study in which the volunteers wear the trial garments continuously for five days and nights. The results of this will be assessed later this year.”

“Ultimately this work is about providing guidance and reassurance for consumers. We know consumers now consider many factors before they buy goods. Just as people now know what different foods can do to their health, our aim is that people will also be able to make informed choices about what they wear, and what that might mean for the health of their skin.”

• The 16 volunteers in the AgResearch study were made up of 8 men and 8 women, and they ranged in age from 25 to 63 years.