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Beware Synthetics & Imitations

Medical Sheepskins and Bed Linen

It is common practice in international medical literature to use the term 'sheepskin' to describe a whole range of products that often bear no resemblance to real sheepskins other than a fur-like pile and/or appearance. The misleading and incorrect use of the term 'sheepskin' and the growing, widespread usage of imitation products claiming to share the same properties as genuine medical sheepskin, has many practitioners confused about the properties and benefits of the authentic article.

CONsequently, a large number of sick and immobilized individuals are sitting or lying on pieces of knit fabric that provide little or no benefit to the patient. In fact some authorities claim that synthetic fabric used for pressure area care may actually be deleterious to skin integrity.

Recent comparative trials have reported the failure of 'sheepskin' to perform adequately when tested under trial conditions. Unfortunately most of these so called 'sheepskin products' are, incorrectly described, imitation knit fabrics and in most cases are 100% synthetic. KNITTED IMITATION FABRICS SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED WITH REAL SHEEPSKIN. If the materials used were identified correctly, many of these trials would have confirmed that it is the manufactured knit fabrics that failed, or performed poorly.

In most cases, manufactured knit fabrics are unable to provide the same benefits as Australian Medical Sheepskins and provide little relief from friction and shear. If a synthetic fabric is used, it will absorb virtually no moisture. Genuine sheepskin, on the other hand, provides a low friction interface which reduces shearing forces (1) and has an excellent capacity to rapidly absorb and dissipate moisture away from the source.

The unique properties of sheepskin cannot be replicated by manufacturing technology. It is not possible to individually implant into backing material, between 4,000 and 6,000 fibres per square centimeter as can be found in sheepskin. It is the unique properties of each individual and independently aligned wool fibre that separate the genuine sheepskin from the many manufactured imitations.

Medical sheepskins are used as an interface between the surface of a bed and the patient and are usually sold and used as a single natural shaped skin. Two skins can be sewn together or made into rectangular shapes. For pressure care of the elbows, heels and ankles, adjustable specialty sheepskin accessories are made in a variety of styles.

  1. Denne. 1979. Rheumatology and Rehabilitation, 1979, 18, 23.