Is Merino Wool Itchy?

Merino wool is the softest sheep’s wool you can buy and is not itchy. Unlike other kinds of notoriously scratchy wool, merino has a short fiber length and a thinner diameter that makes it smooth and comfortable.

If you picture any and all wool garments as being rough and scratchy, you haven’t yet met merino. Although it’s one of the warmest and most naturally high-tech materials out there, standard wool has got a bad rap due to its relatively rough, scratchy feel. But merino wool isn’t your typical wool. This material is on a whole new level of luxury and performance, bringing the same amazing features as the beloved original fiber, only it trades a rough texture for a super-soft feel.

Why People Think Wool Is Itchy

Many of us think of wool as being rough to the touch, and there’s a good reason why. Traditional wool earned its reputation as a notoriously itchy fiber because it is made of a thicker, longer wool fiber. There’s a misconception that wool is a common allergen and that it’s unsafe for people with sensitive skin, causing redness and rashes, but this is often due to the coarse, scratchy nature of the fiber rather than an allergen. Although it can happen, a true wool allergy is considered very rare.

The length, diameter and treatment of the fiber — such as the dyes used — is what determines how a specific type of wool feels. Thick, coarse and poorly dyed strands of wool will feel scratchier on the skin. This kind of wool is usually cheaper and therefore used for lower-quality garments. It’s also a lot more likely to cause rashes, redness and itchy patches than softer wool styles like merino or cashmere.

What Makes Merino Wool Different?

Merino wool is finer and softer than other kinds of wool, which makes it less itchy. Its fibers are very short in length and smaller in diameter, which makes it a whole lot softer and gentler on the skin. But why, exactly, might a pair of merino wool socks feel so much dreamier than the old-fashioned wool? It’s all about a few key characteristics.

The diameter of a wool fiber is measured in microns. Thicker wools are scratchier, while thinner ones are softer and smoother. Compared with scratchier wool varieties, merino wool is remarkably small in diameter, usually below 24 microns. Traditional wool is usually around 30 microns—this makes it stiffer, and it’s why you might feel itchy if you wear a traditional wool sweater without anything underneath it. For comparison, a typical strand of human hair is between 40 and 90 microns. Our super-fine merino wool measures between 16 and 19 microns in diameter, giving it a soft and luxurious feel.

In addition to thickness, the length of the fiber contributes to how it feels against your skin. The coarsest (read: scratchiest) fibers are the longest, measuring up to 14 inches long. Fine and super-fine wools — such as merino — will be a lot shorter, as short as 1.5 to 3 inches long. Spinning shorter fibers into the material we use to make our apparel helps ensure that fibers are not scraggly.

Merino wool is made from a type of fiber derived from the merino sheep, a species originally from Spain and now most commonly found in New Zealand and Australia. These sheep thrive in cold winters and hot summers while wearing the same wooly coat because their wool is so good at regulating temperature. While other sheep species can also certainly produce wool that’s not as itchy as the traditional stuff — super-fine angora and cashmere are low on the itch scale — nothing is as soft and comfortable as merino wool.

Feel Merino Wool for Yourself

Whether you’re seeking high-tech merino wool base layers for men or base layers for women, our high-performance fiber will become a fast favorite. Not only is it soft on the skin, it’s also a pro at keeping you at the right temp and is breathable enough that it will prevent you from feeling clammy, damp and sweaty. Feel it for yourself to see why merino is the new generation of wool.