Lanolin is an effective moisturizer that was already used back in the Greek and Roman times. Back then, sheep farmers’ hands would be silky smooth and hydrated thanks to this substance and with time, its benefits became well known to everyone and it started being used in a wide variety of products. But in the 1960s more and more people reported allergies to Lanolin and this ingredient began to gain a bad reputation. But is it deserved? And what is Lanolin exactly?
What is Lanolin?
Lanolin, also called Wool Fat or Wool Wax, is a thick, greasy and yellow substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It protects sheep from harsh weather conditions by acting as a waterproof barrier, so that when these animals are out in the cold and rain for hours, they won’t get cold.
How is Lanolin collected?
The collection of Lanolin, however, doesn’t harm sheep. Once sheep are sheared, lanolin is extracted from their wool before it is washed. The Lanolin that it is used in cosmetics and personal care products is then purified to remove all the impurities (like allergens and pesticides used by farmers) and tested to make sure it is safe to be put on the skin.
Why is Lanolin used in beauty products?
Lanolin is used in cosmetics and personal care products because it is a fantastic moisturizer for skin, nails and hair. Because it acts like a lubricant, it makes skin soft and smooth and also prevents water loss. In addition, 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 then?
Although Lanolin had been used for centuries by ancient people for its effective moisturizing properties, in more recent years there have been some concerns about its safety. In 1960s, in fact, 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 products, giving people allergic reactions. Scary stuff, huh?
So, is Lanolin really bad then?
Well no. Because Lanolin was such a widespread ingredient also used in a lots of baby products, measures were taken straight away and scientists found ways to purify it. The type used in cosmetics these days is safe and not very likely to cause allergic reactions. 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 means that, 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 this ingredient. The only real concern about Lanolin is that it is mildly comedogenic, so that’s something people that break out easily should consider before purchasing a product with it.
The Bottom Line
While a few decades ago Lanolin posed a real concern to safety due to the traces of pesticides it contained (who could possibly want that on their skin?!), these days this ingredient is purified and its chances of causing allergies are small and not higher than that of other ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products. If you’re one of those few people that has an allergy to it, or break out easily or simply refuse to use products derived from animals even if they weren’t hurt in the process, skip it. But for the majority of people there is no reason not to use Lanolin.