Lanolin For Skin – Benefits, How To Use, & Side Effects

Ways to make the most of this emollient to get that soft and supple skin.

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Kendall R. Roehl, MD, FACS
By Ramona Sinha, Certified Skin Care Coach

If you struggle with dry and flaky skin, especially during colder months, lanolin can be your skin’s best friend! There are multiple benefits of using lanolin for the skin. This waxy substance has excellent emollient properties and locks in moisture to keep the skin hydrated and soft. However, it may also cause allergic reactions (1).

Lanolin is especially beneficial in protecting the skin from harsh cold temperatures. However, if you are allergic to wool, you should avoid lanolin. Keep reading to understand how lanolin may benefit your skin, why it gained a bad rep, how to use it, and side effects.

What Is Lanolin?

Lanolin is sheep sebum, and its primary function is to condition their wool. It is extracted through the centrifugation technique that separates the lanolin from debris and other chemicals.

Refined lanolin is then used in ointments, topical medicines, and skin care products. It is mainly used for its moisturizing effects. However, in ancient times, people used unrefined lanolin to treat many skin issues. This is because its molecular structure closely resembles that of human sebum.

Lanolin is available in two different forms: lanolin and lanolin alcohol. The latter is used in ointments and skincare products. Lanolin is semi-occlusive, i.e., it forms a barrier that protects your skin and gets absorbed at the same time. Once it sinks deep into your skin, it can hold 400 times its original weight in water. Hence, it keeps your skin moisturized on the surface and from within. Now, the question is, if lanolin is so beneficial for skin, why did it get such a bad rap?

Why Is Lanolin Considered Bad For The Skin?

Everything was going well until the 1960s when people using lanolin products started reporting allergic reactions. This was mainly due to the pesticides that the livestock farmers used to disinfect the sheep. If lanolin is not purified and processed in the right way, traces of pesticides and chemicals remain in it, which then cause allergic reactions. That was when lanolin turned out to be the wolf in sheep’s skin!

Later, with technological advancements in farming practices, extracting pure lanolin was no longer impossible. Lanolin was then back again, ruling the beauty and skincare industries.

Unrefined lanolin may contain allergens, so it needs to be purified through multiple processes. Pure lanolin is a weak sensitizer (2). It often does not cause any allergic reactions. Pure lanolin offers a host of benefits for your skin. Scroll down to find out more.

Benefits Of Lanolin For The Skin

1. Moisturizes The Skin

Lanolin is widely used in skin medications to treat rough, dry, and scaly skin. It can also heal skin burns, rashes, and minor itches. This is because lanolin is an excellent emollient and reduces trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL).

It softens your skin, relieves dryness and flakiness, and keeps it moisturized (3), (4), (5). When you apply lanolin over your daily moisturizer, it forms a layer on your skin to trap water and enhance the product’s efficacy.

A study found that a topical cream containing lanolin and olive oil could lower the risk of dermatitis in infants (6).

2. Can Treat Chapped Lips

Unhappy with your lips because they look like scaly fish during the winters? Lanolin can help you out. Lanolin is a common ingredient in lip balms. It has a waxy texture that covers up your scaly lips and prevents further chapping (7). It also absorbs moisture from the air and helps rejuvenate the tissues in your lips.

3. Helps Prevent Cracked Nipples

Constant breastfeeding can cause chapped and cracked nipples. Lanolin is traditionally used to improve cracked and sore nipples during breastfeeding (8). However, avoid it if you are allergic to wool. Consult a doctor before using lanolin to avoid any harmful reactions.

4. May Heal Sunburns

Lanolin has moisturizing properties. It prevents moisture loss and keeps the skin hydrated to reduce the burning sensation, minimize peeling, and soothe sunburned skin.

5. Keeps Your Cuticles And Nails Healthy

Applying lanolin to your cuticles and nails keeps them soft and healthy. It also helps prevent brittle nails (9).

6. May Improve Fine Lines And Wrinkles

The moisturizing properties of lanolin keep the skin hydrated and plump. This may help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Lanolin is especially beneficial in protecting the skin from harsh winter climates and dry indoor conditions. However, make sure you are using it in the right way. Here is a guide.

How To Use Lanolin

Lanolin is available in the form of creams, lotions, and ointments. Use it as directed by the manufacturer or consult a doctor. You may also follow these tips:

  • Apply a pea-sized amount of the product to the affected area.
  • Rub it gently and leave it overnight or as directed by the doctor.

If you are a nursing mother:

  • Massage a pea-sized amount of the product onto the entire nipple area.
  • Apply it after each feeding.
  • You need not wash it off while breastfeeding (consult a doctor for this).

For soothing diaper rash or dermatitis in kids or infants:

  • Clean the area well and let it dry thoroughly.
  • Apply the product to the diaper area.
  • Wait for a few minutes before you put on the diaper.
  • Do this after each diaper change.

Before using lanolin, read all instructions on the product label and do a patch test before applying it. Lanolin may not suit all skin types and may cause some side effects. Let’s take a look.

Risks And Precautions

1. May Cause Allergic Reactions

Lanolin allergies are rare. However, it may still cause sensitization. A review of 24, 449 allergy-prone patients demonstrated that those with lower leg dermatitis and anogenital dermatitis were allergic to wool alcohols (lanolin) (10).

Lanolin may cause allergic reactions like:

  • Rashes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stinging sensation
  • Swelling (lips and eyes)
  • Sore throat
  • Blisters and burning sensation (severe cases)

2. May Cause Breakouts

If you are prone to breakouts, avoid using lanolin. It is mildly comedogenic and occlusive and can clog your skin pores. Avoid lanolin if you have oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin.

3. May Cause Lanolin Poisoning

Ingesting lanolin may cause poisoning. There is always a risk of pesticide residue in lanolin (11). You may experience symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, skin redness. Hence, be careful when using lip balms or lip products containing lanolin.

When buying products containing lanolin, ensure that the lanolin is non-GMO and pesticide-free. Always go for products that use organic lanolin. Acne-prone individuals and those with wool allergies should avoid lanolin. Scroll down to know lanolin alternatives for your skin.

Lanolin Alternatives

You may go for ingredients like:

  • Mineral oil
  • Paraffin
  • Petroleum jelly

These ingredients form a barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss. Also, they are hypoallergenic.

If you are looking for natural moisturizers, opt for:

  • Beeswax or vegetable waxes
  • Hydrogenated plant oils
  • Shea or cocoa butters

Note: Avoid beeswax if you are allergic to pollen.

Lanolin is a multipurpose ingredient with excellent emollient properties that helps lock in moisture and keep your skin hydrated and soft. However, lanolin may cause allergic reactions and is unsuitable for oily and sensitive skin. So, if you have been using lanolin without any issues, you can continue using it. However, if you will be using it for the first time, do a patch test, and consult a doctor to determine if it is suitable for your skin. This will help you avoid unwanted side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use lanolin on the face?

Yes, you can use lanolin on the face. However, it is best to avoid using it if you have oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin as it may lead to acne breakouts.

Is lanolin better than Vaseline?

The high fat content of lanolin makes it a better choice than Vaseline. Therefore, many prefer lanoline over Vaseline.

Key Takeaways

  • Lanolin (sheep sebum) is a waxy substance used to moisturize skin.
  • It is known for its emollient properties and may help treat dry, flaky skin, chapped lips, sunburns, and cracked nipples.
  • Lanolin is available in many forms like creams, ointments, and lotions. But make sure to use it the right way to reap its maximum benefits.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. STUDIES OF SKIN-HYPERSENSITIVITY TO LANOLIN
    https://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)48387-3/pdf
  2. Paradoxes in dermatology
    https://www.idoj.in/article.asp?issn=2229-5178;year=2013;volume=4;issue=2;spage=133;epage=142;aulast=Adya
  3. Management of Patients with Atopic Dermatitis: The Role of Emollient Therapy
    https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drp/2012/836931/
  4. Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical considerations
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5908267/
  5. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849435/
  6. The effect of daily treatment with an olive oil/lanolin emollient on skin integrity in preterm infants: a randomized controlled trial
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18429773/
  7. Efficacy of HPA Lanolin® in treatment of lip alterations related to chemotherapy
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3881864/
  8. Lanolin
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501842/
  9. Pathogenesis, Clinical Signs and Treatment Recommendations in Brittle Nails: A Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6994568/
  10. A retrospective analysis of contact allergy to lanolin
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11453903/
  11. Lanolin
    https://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/cleared_reviews/csr_PC-031601_5-Mar-91_002.pdf
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author
Ramona is an editor at StyleCraze. Prior to that, she authored over 200 articles on skin and hair care. She... more

Dr. Kendall R. Roehl

(MD, FACS)
Dr. Kendall Roehl is a board-certified plastic surgeon at Memorial Plastic Surgery in Houston, Texas. She offers cosmetic surgery procedures... more

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