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.
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.”
The researchers found polyester tended to reduce the hydration of the wearers’ skin and also – especially for men – resulted in increased redness or inflammation of the skin. The skin covered with wool showed no 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,” Dr Hodgson said.
“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, Dr Hodgson said.
“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 eight men and eight women who volunteered for the study ranged in age from 25 to 63 years.