Are Buckwheat Pillows Hypoallergenic?
November 21, 2012 • By
55% of the U.S. population tests positive to one or more allergens. Those suffering allergic reactions caused by down, feather, memory foam or other pillow types are often recommended buckwheat pillows due to their supposed hypoallergenic qualities.
What is a hypoallergenic pillow anyway?
Hypoallergenic claims resonate with consumers and help to sell products. For this reason, buckwheat pillow makers frequently utilize the term hypoallergenic in their marketing literature. What exactly is implied in this claim? Unfortunately it is a bit vague because there is no regulation in the United States that defines or governs the use of the term “hypoallergenic.” Blakiston’s Medical Dictionary defines it:
“Hypoallergenic” – Adjective
A term applied to a preparation in which every possible care has been taken in formulation and production to ensure minimum instance of allergic reactions.
Are the makers of buckwheat pillows taking “every possible care” in the manufacturing of their hypoallergenic products? Let’s look at the two primary components of a buckwheat pillow: 1. the fabric case and 2. the buckwheat hull fill
1. Fabric Case
The most common fabric used in bedding is cotton. It’s breathable, versatile and relatively cheap (at least for non-organic varieties). Above all, it’s very comfortable. Cotton allergies are quite rare. What aren’t so rare are adverse reactions to the residual chemicals that remain from cotton’s cultivation. Unfortunately cotton is grown using some of the world’s most dangerous pesticides.
“Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture… Cotton growers typically use many of the most hazardous pesticides on the market… ” Read more: Problems with Conventional Cotton Production | Panna.org
Fortunately only a few of the many pesticides in use can trigger allergic reactions. They are tested for their allergenic potential prior to marketing just like cosmetics. Thanks to regulations, the ones that are in use do not create serious issues for most people. However, some do. Some of these are used in the production of cotton.
Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides and is thus less prone to cause allergic reactions. Using a strict definition of the term hypoallergenic, it can be argued that manufacturers ought utilize strictly organic cotton in their products.
2. Buckwheat Hull Fill
A small portion of the population is allergic to buckwheat flour-not the hulls themselves. At least one case of a buckwheat allergy has been reported in scientific literature. It should be noted that buckwheat flour is not a common grain in the United States so it is possible that allergies are simply not reported due to a lack of exposure.
Buckwheat is primarily utilized for the production of flour. The separation and cleaning of the hulls is of secondary concern. Only recently have North American mills been able to exploit the increased demand for buckwheat hulls. Some of these mills are outfitted with equipment that leaves behind a product prone to impurities. Methods of extracting the buckwheat can result in the crushing of the hulls into flat pieces, not only destroying their malleable quality, but also leaving behind excessive dust and flour residue.
Vacuum cleaning is the most popular and effective method removing impurities from buckwheat hulls. In truth, many manufacturers purchase the cheapest available buckwheat hulls, which contain more potential allergens than more expensive properly-cleaned hulls.
A Note About Organic Buckwheat Hulls
While there is reduced exposure to potential allergens in the use of organic cotton, buckwheat does not benefit from organic cultivation in the same way. Buckwheat grows very well without requiring any fertilizers or pesticides so it is most often very close to the definition of organic without actually being certified organic. In other words, there isn’t a lot of difference between organic and non-organic buckwheat hulls. For those concerned about allergic potential, the best hulls are simply clean of flour, dust and other residues. Read more about buckwheat hull quality.
Dust mites are the true menace and no pillow type is immune to them.
Dust mites are tiny organisms that live in the dust in your house and are one of the top five most common allergens. If you’re experiencing an allergic reaction to a pillow that you’ve been using for awhile, chances are you’re allergic to dust mites, not the pillow itself.
Dust mite allergies are very similar to a pollen allergy except that the symptoms occur year round instead of just seasonally. All bedding is susceptible to dust mite infestations, including buckwheat hull pillows.
…a hypoallergenic pillow is also designed to repel dust mites, one of the leading causes of allergies. Dust mites gravitate towards shed skin, hair, and oils, all things which tend to accumulate inside the stuffing of pillows over time. Hypoallergenic pillows are sealed so that dust mites cannot get into the pillow, with materials which also repel mold and mildew, substances which can cause allergic reactions. Read more: What is a Hypoallergenic Pillow? | wiseGEEK.com
A common misconception regarding buckwheat hulls is that they are immune to dust mites. They are not. Just like other pillows, with use they will accumulate particles of organic material from your body that dust mites crave.
What are the solutions? You can use dust mite covers. These are generally vinyl or plastic covers that prevent foreign materials from getting inside your pillow. The drawback? These will prevent air from moving freely through your pillow, which can result in it retaining heat and being uncomfortable. Read more about buckwheat pillow breathability. Alternatively, you can just take extra care to keep your pillows clean.
So are buckwheat pillows hypoallergenic or not?
The evidence available today suggests that a buckwheat pillow with properly-cleaned fill and an organic cotton case can be a good option for people suffering from allergies caused by specific pillow materials. That said, manufacturers of buckwheat pillows rarely take “every possible care” in preventing allergic reactions. Buckwheat hull fill is often not cleaned properly and seldom is organic cotton used. In addition, some would argue that a hypoallergenic pillow should always include a dust mite cover, which none of the buckwheat pillows on the market today include.
Manufacturers’ claims that their buckwheat pillow is hypoallergenic should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not necessarily an untruth, but it is a loose interpretation of the term. Our own Hullo buckwheat pillow uses only the best vacuum-cleaned buckwheat hulls and an organic cotton case. We consider it is a great option for those suffering from some types of allergies, but we think that calling it and other buckwheat pillows hypoallergenic is not a completely honest claim.