What Is Lanolin? Is It Good For The Skin?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Kendall R. Roehl, MD, FACS
by Ramona Sinha
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Are you looking for a natural solution to manage cracked lips, brittle nails, or skin dryness? Lanolin can be the solution to all these issues. This waxy substance is often used in skin care products for its emollient properties and can reduce skin dryness by keeping it moisturized.  However, it also earned a bad reputation for causing allergic reactions (1).

Lanolin can be both good and bad for your skin, depending on your skin type and issues. Scroll down to understand what lanolinis, how they may benefit and affect your skin, and ways to use it.

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 has moisturizing and emollient properties and can reduce dryness to keep the skin healthy. You can use this multipurpose ingredient as long as you are not allergic to it or have oily and sensitive skin. However, always consult a doctor before using it to avoid any adverse reactions.

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Ramona Sinha

Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.
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