Wool is truly a wonder material. Ask anyone in the fashion or textile business and they will tell you that wool is really an all-around great fabric. It’s lightweight and breathable, insulating and warm and it can hold a lot of moisture before it gets you wet. But it’s really the lanolin that gives wool its power. And some people are terribly allergic to lanolin. So…does cashmere have lanolin?
What is Lanolin?
What is lanolin? This is one of those words you hear frequently but when you get right down to it, few people know what it is. So what, exactly, is this stuff?
Lanolin is a type of natural coating that is found on wool hairs. It’s this lanolin that makes the wool so soft and so moisture-wicking. Lanolin sort of forms a “shield” around hairs to protect the wool from moisture. This is why wool stays dry and lightweight even in the damp, which is one of the reasons why wool is such a great material to use for clothing of all kinds.
This oily substance gives each wool hair a little protective coating that makes the material extremely strong and durable and resistant to weather, something that developed naturally in order to protect the sheep from harsh outdoor conditions.
What Does Lanolin Do?
The lanolin protects the wool from odor and bacteria as well, something else that makes wool such a superior fabric.
Lanolin also keeps the hairs from matting together because each hair is individually coated with it. Really, it’s pretty incredible stuff when you find out everything it can do. But what is lanolin, really?
Lanolin is a slightly greasy substance, really a type of wax or oil. This is how it coats and protects the hairs to form a shield. Lanolin is produced naturally on the animal. And that animal is a sheep.
Where to Find Lanolin
Only sheep have lanolin on their wool. However, all similar animals, including goats, have a waxy or oily substance on their hairs to give them natural protection against the elements.
People who are allergic to sheep’s wool are probably having a reaction to the lanolin that coats the wool hairs. Lanolin is an allergen to some people, who feel itchy and irritated by sheep’s wool that naturally contains lanolin. It can redness or bumps or other signs of allergic reaction.
But what about cashmere? Does cashmere have lanolin?
What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the most expensive type of wool. It is considered to be a high-end, luxury fabric and it makes frequent appearances in designer clothing that commands a hefty price. Cashmere is prized for its overall softness and smoothness. It is light and strong and warm and soft. Cashmere drapes beautifully and looks gorgeous. It’s a definite favorite among the fashion-savvy and those who prefer luxury materials.
Cashmere wool is obtained from the hairs of goats. It actually comes from a specific type of goat living in a specific region in Asia. Because goats are not sheep, cashmere does not have lanolin. However, goats do create an oily substance that is quite similar to lanolin that performs the same functions. This substance coats the hairs and creates a natural barrier of protection.
The oily substance that coats cashmere hairs, however, is usually processed out of the cashmere through the spinning and dyeing process that makes cashmere goat hairs viable as knittable fabric.
The hairs used to make cashmere fabric are collected from the soft undercoat of the animal, where less of this oily substance is needed because this hair is not often exposed to rain.
Does Cashmere Have Lanolin?
No, cashmere does not have lanolin…but it does have a substance that is quite similar to lanolin. However, most of this is gone by the time the cashmere comes to you in the form of a piece of clothing. This is why people who have an allergy to sheep’s wool will not have a reaction to cashmere. So if you’re allergic to lanolin, you can very likely wear cashmere without fear.
People who are incredibly sensitive to lanolin and similar oils may still have a bad reaction to wearing cashmere because some trace amounts of this protective oil may be present even in processed cashmere. If you have an extremely sensitive wool allergy, it may be best to avoid all wools, even super high-end cashmere. If you’ve had only mild problems wearing sheep’s wool, you may find that you can wear cashmere with no trouble at all.
Cashmere doesn’t have lanoline but it still has a protective coating. If your skin is sensitive to this, you will have a negative reaction to cashmere. However, it will be much less of a reaction than what you experience with sheep’s wool. The best rule is to simply wear something under your cashmere and under all the wool you wear so it doesn’t make contact with your bare skin.
Ask a Naturalist – Lanolin and Sheep’s Wool Allergies
Outlife Expert – Do All Wool Types Have Lanolin? (Are Any Lanolin-Free?)