Is Lanolin Good For Skin?

Did you know that ancient Greek and Roman sheep farmers had silky smooth and hydrated hands? Their secret was lanolin, a substance that comes from sheep.

When the beauty industry discovered this secret, every brand started adding lanolin to all its moisturizing potions and lotions. Until the ’60s. That’s when a lot of people started reporting an allergy to lanolin.

Its newly acquired bad reputation caused a lot of brands to drop it like a hot potato. But recently, it has gained a new popularity. How is that possible? Well, it seems that lanolin was unfairly maligned…

What Is Lanolin?

Lanolin, also called “wool fat” or “wool wax” (not the most appealing of nicknames, are they?), is a thick, greasy and yellow substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep.

Its job is to protect sheep from harsh weather conditions. It works by acting as a waterproof barrier: when these animals are out in the cold and rain for hours, they won’t get cold (aren’t you just a little bit jealous?).

How Is Lanolin Collected?

You’ll be happy to know that collecting lanolin doesn’t harm sheep. Once they are sheared, lanolin is extracted from their wool before it is washed.

Before it is used in cosmetics, lanolin undergoes a purifying process. All its impurities, like allergens and pesticides used by farmers, are removed. Then, lanolin is tested to make sure it is safe to be put on the skin. Phew!

Why Is Lanolin Used In My Beauty Products?

Lanolin is so popular because it is a fantastic moisturizer for skin, nails and hair. It prevents water loss and acts like a lubricant, making skin soft and smooth.

That’s not all. Because it blends so well with most of the other cosmetics ingredients, it is also used to help form emulsions.

Sounds Great! So, Why Did Lanolin Get A Bad Reputation?

Although Lanolin had been used for centuries by ancient people for its effective moisturizing properties, in the ’60s concerns about its safety emerged.

Why in the ’60s? That’s when farmers started using more and more pesticides on their crops and on their sheep to protect them from infestation. Some traces of these pesticides ended up in beauty products, giving people allergic reactions. Scary stuff, huh?

So, Is Lanolin Really Bad Then?

Well no. Because Lanolin was so popular and widely used, scientists set out to work about making it safe straight away.

As mentioned above, these days, lanolin is purified before it is added to cosmetics, and not very likely to cause allergic reactions (unless your skin is super sensitive!)

A study published in the British Journal Of Dermatology in 2001 illustrates “that lanolin sensitization has remained at a relatively low and constant rate even in a high-risk population (i.e. patients with recent or active eczema)”.

This is a fancy way to say that allergies to lanolin are rare. So, unless you used a product with lanolin and had a bad reaction (which is something any ingredient can cause), there is no need to avoid it.

The only real concern about lanolin is that it is mildly comedogenic. If you’re prone to breakouts, this is not something you want to put on your skin.

What Are The Best Products With Lanolin?

Some of my favourite moisturizers with lanolin are DHC Olive Leaf Milk, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant, and Lancome Nutrix Soothing Treatment Cream for Dry To Very Dry/Sensitive Skin.

They are all very moisturizing and keep even dry skin soft and hydrated for hours. Keep in mind, though, that they are all very basic formulas. They can moisturize skin, but not fight premature aging. For that, you need a serum chock full with antioxidants.

The Bottom Line

Unless you have very sensitive skin that reacts to pretty much anything, are prone to breakouts, or simply refuse to use products derived from animals, there is no reason to avoid lanolin. It is safe, and very moisturizing!

Do you use products with lanolin? If so, what are your favourites?

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Comments

  1. beautifulwithbrains says

    Tammy, me too. It’s such an effective moisturizer, it would have been a shame if it had been dangerous. :)

  2. beautifulwithbrains says

    Pinch, I’m glad you liked it. I think it’s important to know what we put on our skin and I’m glad lanolin works wonders for you. :)

  3. says

    I have some skeins of wool yarn that contains lanolin. I think the yarn was unbleached. It feels very good when I knit and my hands do not feel as dry as when I use other yarns. I guess lanolin is not so bad after all :)
    .-= Dao´s last blog ..Formula D Minerals Swatches =-.

  4. beautifulwithbrains says

    Dao, that’s lovely, isn’t it? Working with wool that contains lanolin is a nice way to moisturize hands. :)

  5. anna says

    i have quite oily skin and i break out easily… but my favourite foundation brand just came out with a new formula with LANOLIN in it!
    my friend is a beauty therapist and she said it clogs your pores and gives you blackheads… but it seems that it is used so often as a moisturiser…
    is my friend just being biased? is lanolin moisturisers/make up ok to use on oilier skin?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Anna, Lanolin isn’t a bad ingredient but it is mildly comedogenic. This means that even though most people will be able to use it without side effects, those that are prone to breakouts like you may get pimples and blackheads when they use it. It also depends on the amount of Lanolin in the product. The further down the ingredient list it is, the smaller the concentration in the product and thus the risk of getting breakouts. But since you have oily skin prone to breakouts, I personally wouldn’t risk using a foundation with high concentrations of Lanolin. Hope this helps.

  6. Nana says

    i love it! my lanolin cream has collagen in it. i think ill just stick with it forever……..its not so expensive and it works so well! ps. ive got dry skin , and it makes my skin soft and moisturized! i also use it for my body! its a gift from sheeps. ha

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Nana, lol. I’m glad to hear it works so well for you. It really is a wonderful moisturizer.

  7. Greendragon42 says

    I have been making my own cremes and have a friend who is convinced that she is super allergic to lanolin. Is there something else that I could use as a substitute?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Greendragon42, mmm you could use shea butter or cocoa butter maybe? Their texture is different from that of lanolin but they’re still both very moisturizing. Hope this helps.

  8. says

    So nice to this article. I am doing a little research for a review of a product that contains lanolin and it’s so fantastic I want to assure people it’s safe! I still use my tube of pure lanolin from breastfeeding as a lip balm.
    Angie´s last blog post ..DIY Eye Makeup Remover PadsMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Angie, I’m glad you enjoyed this article. I’m also glad you found a products that works really well for you and I think it’s great that you’re doing research on this ingredient to assess its safety. Too many people just don’t bother and repeat what they hear even if it is wrong. Well done!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      May, why shouldn’t it be? Contrary to popular opinion, cosmetic ingredients are strictly regulated and it’s illegal for companies to put dangerous substances in their products. So, rest assured that, unless you buy some fake cosmetics, your products are safe.

  9. Ann says

    I am one of the unfortunate ones that have allergies to lanolin, and also caine mix (like in sunscreen). I’m looking for something to use; any suggestions? Just thought I would check.

    Thanks!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Ann, I’m sorry to hear about your allergies. Can you please more specific about what you’d like to me suggest so I can better help you?

      • Ann says

        I’m looking for skin care product lines that do not use lanolin, if there is any. Trial and error is very expensive, especially when it takes only a small amount before my face turns into a large rash. And I haven’t found much that I really like, so I typically don’t use anything, but would like to start a skin care regimen.
        Thank you for the help!

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Ann, I’m sorry lanolin doesn’t work for you. There are lots of products on the market that are lanolin-free, but I would know which ones to recommend as I don’t what your skin type and concerns are. Just look for lanolin-free on the label and if you have any further questions, just let me know.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Evelyn, no lanolin doesn’t make hair grow. It attracts water from the environment into the hair and enhances moisture retention, thus helping keeping hair well-conditioned and soft.

  10. Michelle says

    My daughter has always had dry skin patches on her arms and legs since she was born and her pediatrician told me just to keep a lot of lotion on her…but now the dry skin areas have gotten bigger and now also has them on her cheeks. Is lanolin something I should try putting on her to soften her skin?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Michelle, I’m sorry to hear that. Personally I would try either mineral oil or shea butter simply because these are more moisturizing than lanolin, but you can try the latter if you want to. It will help soften her skin too.

    • JESSE says

      HEY, SAW YOUR COMMENT AND WANTED TO GIVE THE INFO.

      FREEDERM IS A PRODUCT I FOUND ONLINE THAT ABSOLUTELY CURED MY EXZEMA/PSORIASIS PROBLEM. I’M 25 AND SUFFERED FROM DRY ITCHY PATCHES(NOT TOO BIG) SINCE I WAS 9 YEARS OLD. SO BAD IN AREAS OF ARMS AND LEGS THAT I BECAME EMBARRASED AT A YOUNG AGE…I WOULDN’T WANT THAT FOR ANYONE.
      I FOUND FREEDERM BY SEARCHING SEARCHING SEARCHING. I’VE ALSO TRIED EVERY OTHER PRODUCT OR DOCTORS ADVICE, WITH THINGS WORKING FOR AWHILE BUT NOT TOO LONG. A MAINLY RAW DIET WITH TONS OF GREEN VEGGIES AND FRUIT WILL HELP AS WELL.
      I’VE USED LANOLIN TO HELP HEAL SOME SMALL DRY PATCHES BUT THEY COME BACK AFTER STOPPING USAGE.

      FREEDERM WORKS, I BELIEVE IT TO BE A ‘CLEAN’ PRODUCT. AND I DON’T HAVE TO USE IT AFTER 6 MONTHS OF USE. NOW I JUST MOISTURIZE WITH SESAME OIL AND EAT RAW MAINLY. PLUS H20!
      HOPE IT HELPS!
      <3 JESS

      • beautifulwithbrains says

        Jess, I’m glad you found something that works for you and thanks a lot for sharing your experience with us.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Michelle, with Lanolin? Or with the other two ingredients I mentioned? In any case, any creams that lists one of these substances high on the ingredient list should do the job fine.

  11. Perla says

    I had dermatitis for 3 months and tryed all kinds of moisturizers, till i saw this uddeerly amooth cream that contains lanolin, it cured me same day. Im happy. I had opened cuts on my hands from the dermatitis, they healed with in hrs.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Perla, I’m sorry to hear you had dermatitis, but glad that you’ve found something that helped your heal, and so fast too!

      • Chris Ott says

        i have enjoyed reading the messages about lanolin and if I may add some facts to your argument for lanolin the first is that people who say they are allergic to lanolin are probably just making assumptions and they should be tested as three hospitals over a 10 year period tested over 800 thousand patients and found that one person per million has a true reaction to lanolin also the pesticides in EP grade lanolin are lower than vegetable oils we ingest daily.

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Chris, thank you for your insightful comment. I agree. Many people believe they are allergic to lanolin simply because of the undeserved bad reputation this ingredient has gained over the years. But the only way to know for sure what you are allergic to is to have tests done. And lanolin allergy isn’t that common.

          • Ann says

            While the actual number of people allergic may be low, it is part of the test strip normally used by dermatologists to determine skin reactions (along with I think 31 other ingredients). So if in doubt, that test can be requested and easily ruled out/in. That’s how I learned of mine.

            • Chris Ott says

              Patch tests are a little miss guided because the lanolin they use is a standard grade that is no longer used in general cosmetic/Pharma and baby care because standard lanolin has about 8% free fatty alcohols and these are principle component of lanolin in which allergens are found. The grade used today has reduced free fatty alcohols level to below 3% and the allergen potential in reduced to lower than 1 person per million. So if you have an allergy to lanolin you are 1 in a million.

            • beautifulwithbrains says

              Ann, I didn’t mean to say that no one is allergic to lanolin, but only that people are too quick to blame that when there are other ingredients, such as fragrance, that are more prone to cause allergies. When you have an allergic reaction to a product, it’s definitely best to have allergy tests done straight away so you know what to avoid.

              • Ann says

                Oh, I know. But I went through 15 years of trying to avoid those other ingredients (because that’s what everyone blamed) when it wasn’t that. I’m just saying from my experience testing is the best route and to not automatically rule anything out. If I’m really 1 in a million then I’m jealous of all the other women! I’d kill to be able to use Eucerin again!

                • beautifulwithbrains says

                  Ann, that’s true. Many people wrongly avoid lanolin, but sometimes that can be the culprit too. Getting tested at the first sign of allergy is definitely best.

  12. peter says

    Hi, I have been told by a GP that I could use the creamy milky salve for my very dry skin. Now I have been advised, because of my skin that, one must be careful of Lanolin. This salve contains +- 0.1% lanolin. Will this be harmful to my skin. Should I be on the lookout for any differences/affects on my skin? Various products, especially, if mixed specially are very expensive and Medical Aid does not pay for this.
    Please advise, thank you so much.
    regards
    Peter

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Peter, if you have sensitive skin, I would advise you to try the cream on a small area, so if an allergic reaction occurs, only that part will be affected. If nothing happens instead, you can safely use the cream. Hope this helps.

  13. ccroft says

    I have eczema on my palms and soles of my feet. I was told by a very reputable dermatologist to avoid any product with Lanolin. Although it feels like a nice layer of moisture, it is not absorbed and it serves as a water attractant, it actually absorbs moisture from your skin, leaving it drier than even before. I found he is right!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Ccroft, I guess that depends on your skin type and weather conditions. Lanolin is a humectant, so it could, under particular circumstances, draw moisture from your skin, causing dryness. But that’s a problem with most humectants.

  14. Sue Holmes says

    It was really interesting to read about lanolin. I have wanted to buy this for my face but cannot find out where to buy it. Can anyone tell me where to buy lanolin which is free from additives and perfume. I would be so thrilled as I’ve been looking for years to find this. Many thanks

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Sue, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I guess to buy it, you’d have to contact a manufacturer. Unfortunately, I don’t know any, but I’m sure that if you google them, something will turn up.

    • marie says

      When I was nursing my babies I discovered pure lanolin. You can find it in the baby care aisle (I bought mine at Target) and it’s designed to use on your nipples and doesn’t need to be washed off before baby nurses again. I can’t think of anything more pure than that! I also have a tendency to get dry cracked feet so I use it on my feet at night, wear socks to bed and wake up with super soft feet! Did the same trick on dry hands in the winter. I’ve never used it on my face though.

      • beautifulwithbrains says

        Marie, I’m glad it works so well for you. It’s a wonderful moisturizer, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your tips with us.

  15. Goodfello says

    Bwb may i ask any health related question?can heavily infectous intestinal worms induce malaria-like feverish feelings?

    • Gio says

      Goodfello, I’m sorry but I can’t answer medical questions. I’m just a blogger who has been studying skincare for years, not a doctor. If you are unwell or have any health-related question you should consult a doctor.

  16. LinMat says

    I remember as a little girl (now 69) my Mother using Lanolin on her face. She had a little bottle with yellow substance in it. I used to love watching her use it and even tried a little myself. I loved the smell of it. She used it for years. She lived to be 95 and when she passed she still had beautiful, smooth skin with very few wrinkles.

    • Gio says

      Linmat, thank you for sharing your memory with us. Lanolin is a wonderful, underrated, moisturizer, isn’t it?

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