Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science)  on 12th Oct 2020

Lanolin Can Be An Effective Moisturizer. Here's Why

Lanolin Can Be An Effective Moisturizer

Moisturization is the key to healthy and glowing skin. Lack of it can cause your skin to lose hydration, dry out your skin, and make it appear dull, lifeless and flaky.

Many reasons can cause your skin to lose moisture, like overexposure to sunlight, harsh cold or dry climate, specific physiological and pathological conditions, and aging. However, you can rehydrate your skin back to its plump nature by using various types of moisturizing ingredients available in the market.

The three main types of ingredients that help retain moisture in our skin: 

  • Humectants like glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid which attracts moisture from external sources. 
  • Occlusives like petroleum jelly, silicone and lanolin oils help to seal the moisture within the skin. 
  • Emollients like linoleic and lauric acids form a protective film on the skin to trap the moisture.  

Among these components, Lanolin oil has a dual effect. It acts as an occlusive as well as an emollient. Lanolin oil has been in use in cosmetics for long.

It has quite a few benefits on your skin and can show great moisturizing ability. In this article, we would take the liberty to discuss lanolin oil and how it is beneficial to your skin.  

What is Lanolin Oil?

Lanolin is a greasy substance that is secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. Chemically, lanolin consists of sterol esters and is waxy.

Its role is to protect the sheep's wool and the skin from the severe cold climate and other environmental factors. It conditions the sheep's wool to make it smooth and silky and also preserves its natural texture.

This desirable conditioning property of lanolin oil has guided it to the cosmetic industry and is now widely used in skincare and hair care products.

About 97% of pure lanolins are long esters; the remaining are lanolin alcohol, lanolin acids, and lanolin hydrocarbons. Hydrolysis of pure lanolin produces lanolin alcohols that are a rich source of cholesterol. Lanolin alcohols are also excellent emulsifiers that are extensively used in cosmetic products. 

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How is Lanolin Oil Extracted?

Lanolin oil is quite similar to the sebum produced by sebaceous glands in human skin. It is an amber-colored substance that is sometimes referred to as "wool fat." However, it is a misnomer, as all fats should contain triglycerides. But unlike sebum, lanolin does not have triglycerides and are formed of esters chains.

After the wool is obtained from the sheep, Lanolin is extracted by washing the wool in hot water with a specially formulated wool scouring detergent to remove dirt, sweat salts, other impurities, and wool grease, i.e., the lanolin in raw form.

Once the crude lanolin is taken out, it is centrifuged in a centrifugal machine that divides the lanolin oil from other impurities and chemicals. This pure lanolin is then processed under various treatments to make it usable in cosmetics.

It might not have come to your notice but Lanolin is one of the major components in the lotions, creams, lip balms, and even the hair conditioner you use so frequently.  

How does Lanolin work?

Lanolin is categorized under both occlusive and emollient ingredients.

Though they can trap moisture, they cannot hydrate your skin. However, it can work wonders in combination with a humectant. While the humectant fetches moisture from the environment and rehydrates your skin, the lanolin forms a thin shield over the superficial dermal layers and prevents the moisture from escaping.

This moisture retention property of lanolin highly reduces skin dehydration even under extreme weather and keeps your skin soft and plump always.  

How often Can you use Lanolin? 

Lanolin oil incorporated products are suitable for daily use. However, it is better for individuals with oily and acne-prone skin to avoid lanolin oils. It can be used in both AM and PM regimen. You can easily use lanolin oils alongside other moisturizing products.

What are the benefits of Lanolin Oil? 

Here are 7 beneficial effects of Lanolin : 

1. Helps in reducing water loss from the skin 

According to a recent study, it was found that it can significantly reduce water loss from the skin layer by about 20 to 30 percent. Retaining moisture in the skin helps to keep it soft, improve its appearance, and get rid of rough, dry and flaky dermal layers.

It also assists in improving and healing broken skin, leaving your skin rejuvenated. 

2. Keeps your skin moisturized 

In combination with humectants like aloe, honey, or glycerine, lanolin oil helps moisturize your skin. While humectant pulls moisture in from the environment, lanolin oil prevents it from evaporating by forming a protective film over your skin.  

3. Mimics an anti-aging Agent 

Lanolin oil or lanolin alcohol themselves do not have any anti-aging property. But according to some studies, lanolin can retain twice the weight of water than in normal circumstances. This causes your skin to appear plump and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and make your skin look much younger.  

4. Helps in treating chapped lips 

How to layer Helps in treating chapped lips

Lanolin oil has a similar effect on your lip as it has on your skin. It is widely used in lip balms. Unlike other moisturizing ingredients that only affect the superficial layers of the skin, lanolin penetrates beyond these layers and helps hydrate the deeper layers.

According to research done in 2016, it was found that lanolin cream improved the hydration of lips in patients who were suffering from dry lips as a side effect of chemotherapy.

Lanolin is also safe to use on babies who have dry skin.  

5. Helps in conditioning your hair 

Thanks to the moisture-retaining property of lanolin oil, it is also an active ingredient that helps fight dry and frizzy hair. However, it only works on wet or damp hair as lanolin can only trap moisture but cannot hydrate your hair by itself. Using lanolin oil in your hair-care regime gives you soft, silky and smooth hair.

On the downside, lanolin has a greasy and waxy texture than other hair oils, which may not get removed by only rinsing with water. It is recommended to thoroughly wash your hair with a cleansing shampoo to get rid of the lanolin grease. 

6.Helps in treating sore and cracked nipples 

Nursing moms often suffer from sore or cracked nipples due to the long duration of breastfeeding. Studies have shown that pure lanolin oil can be of incredible help in treating sore and cracked nipples.

However, it is recommended only to use 100% purified lanolin for sore nipples as impurities in lanolin, if ingested by the infant, can cause an allergic reaction in them. 

7. Is an active ingredient in your manicure-pedicure regime 

Lanolin oil also helps to moisturize your finger and toenails. This helps to prevent cracking and chipping of nails. It also strengthens brittle cuticles and makes your nails smooth and brings a healthy shine to them. 

What are the potential side effects of Lanolin? 

Though generally, Lanolin oil can be beneficial for people, some people can be allergic to it. If ingested in huge amounts, it can also be poisonous. If the waxy lanolin is consumed continuously, it can build up a layer in the intestines. Let's see what can be the harmful effects of Lanolin Oil.  

1. Lanolin Hypersensitivity Reaction 

Individuals who are allergic to wool can also be hypersensitive to lanolin products. Though lanolin allergies are rare, a study done on people using lanolin oil have shown that about 1.7 percent of 25,000 people exhibited symptoms of lanolin hypersensitivity reactions.

Someone who develops an allergic reaction to lanolin oil can show specific symptoms like; 

  • Swelling in the eyes, lips, mouth and throat  
  • Rashes and hives
  • Difficulty in breathing. 

2. Lanolin Oil Poisoning 

Lanolin oil poisoning can happen if someone, by chance, ingests a considerable amount. Those who use lip balms with lanolin in it are at a higher risk of developing lanolin oil poisoning due to frequent application. They should be cautious not to swallow excessive amounts of lanolin incorporated lip balms.

Individual who is suffering from chronic lanolin poisoning may show symptoms which include: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Rash 
  • Swelling and redness of the skin 
  • Vomiting and nausea.  

3. A rare sign of skin infection 

Lanolin oil has been shown to cause skin infections in a few cases. It can result in skin burns, stinging, redness and irritation. Sometimes, lanolin can cause unusual sogginess or wetness on your dermal layers. It may cause the skin to turn white and incredibly soft.  

4. Lanolin can be highly comedogenic 

Lanolin oil is extremely greasy and is not suitable for use if you have oily skin. Lanolin creates a film over the dermal layer, which prevents your skin from breathing and blocks the sebaceous glands from sebum drainage. Thus, lanolin oil can clog your pores and aggravate acne and breakouts on your skin.  

The Bottom Line  

Lanolin oil is an amber-colored waxy substance that is an incredible emollient and occlusive obtained from nature. Not only can it be beneficial to your skin, but it can also be helpful to combat dry and frizzy hair and nails.

However, it is always wise to have a small patch test before applying lanolin on your skin.