Lanolin: what it is, how it works, uses, benefits


Lanolin is a waxy substance that naturally forms a protective barrier against sheep's wool. It has become a popular ingredient in moisturizers , hair care products, and soaps, and is widely touted as a natural skin care product for breastfeeding people. Learn about the potential risks, safety, and efficacy of lanolin and its products.

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What is it

The sebaceous glands of sheep secrete lanolin, which keeps their wool soft, hydrated and protected from external factors. Lanolin has properties similar to those of the sebum that our skin produces .

To recover lanolin for commercial use, raw wool is treated with soapy water or kneaded in hot water. The centrifuge then isolates the lanolin. Additional processing includes bleaching, deodorization, and drying .

Lanolin is a waxy substance derived from sheep's wool.

There are more than 50 species of sheep unique to the United States. New breeds of more than 1000 different species are constantly emerging available around the world. Some sheep are raised solely for their wool. Others are grown for meat or dairy, while many have different purposes.

The wool of different breeds differs in length and texture. There are fine wool sheep, long wool sheep, medium wool sheep, wool sheep and special types .

Fine wool sheep produce the most lanolin. Although fine wool sheep's wool is usually shorter, it has a high market value because it does not sting. For example, merino wool is a popular fine wool product. The high lanolin content keeps the texture of merino wool soft and fluffy.

Industrial processing of raw lanolin turns it into a product called Lansinoh. Lansinoh is virtually free of pesticides, detergents, and natural alcohols. Unlike raw lanolin, Lansinoh has less allergy potential, making it more attractive for widespread use.

How Lanolin Works

Lanolin is known as an occlusive humectant. This means that lanolin works by reducing water loss through the skin, similar to oil. While oil can block 98% of the water from our skin, lanolin prevents evaporation by 20-30% .

Lanolin is effective but not as heavy as oil. After cleansing, it is mixed with other types of moisturizers, as well as fragrances, colors, etc. For commercial use.


Doctors often recommend lanolin for breastfeeding women to relieve sore nipples. La Leche League International also approves of this use. The research results are mixed. Some researchers report that the benefits of lanolin go beyond other standard treatments (such as expressed breast milk).

Others note that lanolin has minimal effect on pain after breastfeeding. However , people who receive lanolin from their doctors report greater satisfaction with postpartum care overall.

Some baby care products also contain lanolin, such as baby oil and diaper rash cream . In addition to being used in maternity hospitals, lanolin is also used in a variety of over-the-counter products such as :

  • Eye creams
  • Medications for hemorrhoids
  • Lipstick
  • Lotion for dry skin
  • Make-up removers and make-up removers
  • Healing shampoos
  • Mustache wax
  • Shaving cream

Structure and composition

Lanolin is slightly different from human sebum in that it does not contain triglycerides . At the molecular level, lanolin alcohols and acids make up the majority of lanolin. These compounds combine to form various structures known as high molecular weight esters, diesters, and hydroxyesters .

When alcohol and acid join together, esters are formed. This reaction is a condensation reaction, which means the loss of water during the process.

The term "wool grease" is often used to describe lanolin. However, the most accurate term is "wool wax". Waxes and fats are similar, but not exactly the same. When applied to paper, they leave a greasy stain and dissolve in the same solvents.

The physical properties of waxes such as lanolin are ideal for lubricating, polishing and waterproofing. Lanolin, like beeswax , is ductile, but it also hardens at room temperature. This is why "hard" whisker creams often contain lanolin.


While not all research results are consistent, several studies have shown the benefits of lanolin for breastfeeding. A study in Brazil included 180 women in two test groups. One group used highly purified anhydrous lanolin (HPA), while a second group was recommended to use expressed breast milk (another common remedy for sore nipples).

During the seven-day treatment period, the lanolin group reported significant reductions in pain and physical trauma compared to the expressed breast milk group .

As an occlusive moisturizer, it makes sense to include lanolin in skin care products and creams. There is no conclusive evidence that lanolin is better than petroleum-based waxes or synthetic waxes; however, many people love the fact that lanolin is a natural substance.


Ingesting lanolin can cause lanolin poisoning. Symptoms are usually mild and can include:

If severe symptoms develop, feel free to call 911. Be prepared to provide important information, such as the person's age, height, weight, and the subject responsible for the reaction.

If you suspect possible lanolin poisoning, call the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222). This toll-free line, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will put you in touch with a poison control specialist to advise you on what to do next.

Lanolin poisoning is different from a lanolin allergy. If you are allergic to wool, you should probably avoid products with lanolin just in case. Lanolin allergy can cause the following symptoms:

  • Rash or itching (at the application site)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat, lips, eyes, or mouth.

Avoid adverse reactions by using lanolin only as directed. Keep lanolin out of the reach of young children, who could accidentally swallow dangerous amounts.

If you've never tried lanolin skin creams before, try testing a small area of your skin to see if you are sensitive to it first. Even if you are not allergic, lanolin can cause irritation in some people.


The FDA classifies lanolin as an over-the-counter drug for the protection of human skin. Products that promote lanolin should contain between 12.5% and 50% lanolin as an active ingredient. International lanolin products can vary in concentration and purity.

Get the word of drug information

While many people rely on lanolin's moisturizing properties, others experience negative reactions or find it ineffective. If you notice irritation from lanolin-based products, you'd better avoid them and try alternatives like beeswax or petroleum products.

Experimenting with different treatments you will discover the best substances for your skin type. If you are not sure if lanolin is safe for you, ask your dermatologist or pharmacist. When using new products, it is always best to start with a small application area to see how your body responds.

Frequently asked questions

  • No, but you shouldn't swallow it. Lanolin is like wax. Eating large amounts of lanolin can cause intestinal obstruction.

  • Yes, you may be allergic to lanolin. Research shows that less than 7% of people with contact dermatitis are allergic to lanolin.

    Symptoms of an allergic reaction to lanolin include skin irritation, swelling of the eyes, lips, mouth, or throat, and trouble breathing.

  • Lanolin is obtained from sheep. However, the sheep will not be harmed. Lanolin is produced by the sebaceous glands and is excreted as a coat conditioner. To collect the lanolin, the sheep are sheared, then the wool is washed and passed through a centrifuge, which separates the wax from the lanolin.

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