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What is lanolin and is it really a wonder moisturiser?

June 3, 2009

Lanolin, also known as wool fat is the sheep equivalent of sebum (the stuff that makes our skin and hair greasy). It consists of liquid waxes and is produced by the sheep to give it some protection from the elements. You see, unlike us humans sheep can’t usually just put on some clothes or pop up and umbrella when it rains therefore their coat has to be able to protect them from a variety of weather conditions. Think about it like this, wool is a great natural fibre and one that us humans have been using for many many years to keep us warm. However, try making a swimsuit out of pure wool and it soon becomes heavy and waterlogged.  That is because by the time we get the wool, the lanolin is all gone so the wool fibres have no protective barrier around them and they become soaked. Lanolin acts as a waterproof barrier, allowing sheep to be out in the rain all day without getting weighed down and cold. AMAZING!

So, what good is lanolin to us?  Well, anyone who has spent time in a shearing shed will know that the grease that comes off the flease leaves the shearers hands soft and silky (not very macho but hey……).  It also ensures that the blades and metal structures in the shed remain shiny and rust free (again, due to its water repellent properties).  So lanolin is a great natural moisturiser, lubricant and rust stopper!

Back in the day, sheep farmers would just take it for granted that they would have silky smooth skin after handling the fleeces.  References to lanolin can be found in the bible as well as in ancient Greek and Roman records.  At some point in lanolin’s history the benefits of this wonderful and totally natural fat became known by the general public and it soon became a traded item, valued for its and water proofing and emollient  properties.

In the 1960’s concerns over the safety of lanolin arose. It was around this time that farmers had upped their levels of pesticide use to cope with growing demand for produce.  Books like “A Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, 1962  helped bring the issue of pesticides and public health to majority and soon people began questioning the safety of this ingredient. After some investigation lanolin was found to often contain traces of pesticide residue. Some of these were traced back to crop spraying and some from the sheep dip used to prevent things like fly strike. This wasn’t good news.

As lanolin was a constituent of many baby products, the concerns over its safety were acted upon immediately and work began to find ways of purifying the lanolin. By the mid 1970’s methods were available and a high purity and clean lanolin was taken to market. Unfortunately by this time the bad press had sullied lanolin’s name and petroleum based oils and waxes had taken lanolin’s place. Terms like “Lanolin free” were seen to be a mark of quality as consumers were worried about the irritation potential that lanolin was seen to have.

Lanolin’s negative image remains today although it is beginning to return to fashion as people demand alternatives to petroleum (how the pendulum swings).   The lanolin that is produced for today’s personal care products is of the highest and purest quality. It is tested down to very minute levels to ensure that no impurities or potential allergens remain.  Indeed just the other week a whole range of lip balms were launched under the trade mark  Lanolips – this range was developed by Kirsten Carriol here in Australia (Check out our article, Coffee with Kirsten here)

Chemically lanolin is a waxy blend that melts at around 40C. Its waxy nature make it a really good skin moisturizing agent that is capable of penetrating the skins outer layer to nourish it from within. It forms  a non-occlusive barrier (it doesn’t smother the skin)  meaning that the skin can still “breathe” through it – this is important so that the skin can carry out normal biological functions. Lanolin  was linked to many allergic reactions during the 60’s and 70’s but these have lessened now due to the cleaning up of the raw material making lanolin quite a safe material on the whole.

While the collection of lanolin does not harm the animal (it is collected from sheared fleeces) some people are against the use of animal products. If this is the case for you we recommend trying some of the low melting point plant based waxes and butters such as Shea or Coconut as equivalents.

sheep

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2009 6:07 pm

    Hello! I have been reading your blog for ages, and I loved your beautiful piece about lanolin. Just a little correction, that the new Australian Lanolips brand is actually my brand (not Miranda Coggins). I think there may be a similarly named brand in Kansas US, that has absolutely nothing to do with mine. LOVE YOUR BLOG! Kirsten Carriol, Lanolips Creator

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      June 5, 2009 6:22 pm

      Hi Kristen,
      I will get that changed immediately! I was reading about you in the Sunday Magazine last week and was mighty impressed. Developing your own brand is no small task so good on you and thanks for the blog feedback. It is great to know that others share my passion.

  2. July 11, 2012 7:40 am

    Hello! Thanks for this post! I use lanolin in my brand – which is still very brand new. I would be really interested to know what they test for in lanolin to ensure the purity? Are there some lanolin brands that are better than others? Thanks! http://www.grooveherbs.com

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      July 14, 2012 12:42 am

      Hi there,
      Congratulations on having your own brand, what a challenge! There are tests that you can do for purity on both your finished cosmetics and your ingredients. However, because of the costs involved most smaller brands just go by the product specification, C of A and MSDS. These should give you some re-assurance as to levels of impurities in your materials.

  3. Elena permalink
    August 27, 2012 2:02 pm

    Can I just get the pure lanolin at the store and just put it on my face?

    • Garden Gal permalink
      November 9, 2012 3:17 am

      Yes. Just remember – it’s heavy, sticky and somewhat barnyard smelling. But worth it!

  4. Rajeev permalink
    June 27, 2013 2:38 pm

    i love lanolin because of its uniqueness.

  5. Toine Brown permalink
    December 21, 2013 4:23 am

    I have used all the products that state it will brighten your skin, but I went and got pure lanolin from the health store, put it on my face overnight and when I woke up the next morning and looked in the mirror my fsce looked like it had life. I noticed that before I used it my face looked dry and dead, butnow after cleaning my face at night I pu a small amount on a nd when I wake up the next morning I look alive snd not thst dead dry look I use to hsve.

    • February 19, 2014 1:42 am

      That’s fantastic! I am going to try it, too.

  6. April 3, 2014 9:15 am

    i have eczema and i’m so allergic to Lanolin its untrue – that triple Lanolin moisturisor they have in nail salons is like my kryptonite. i’m looking for a moisturisor with 0 lanolin that is cheap because i use SO MUCH .:(

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 3, 2014 6:20 pm

      Hi Sophie,
      There are many, many products that don’t contain Lanolin that you could try. Maybe your dermatologist can help you select some suitable products (I’m sure you’ve been down that route). I have itchy eczema prone skin too and find that creams that smother my skin (oil only, heavy balms and sticky products) over heat me and cause me to itch more. I don’t put that down to allergy, more a sensory issue but that might be worth exploring in your case too. Good luck with your skin journey.

  7. Heather permalink
    April 5, 2014 10:45 pm

    Xxx

  8. April 21, 2014 4:50 am

    Hello …
    Was wondering … you mention that the Bible has references to lanolin. Could you tell me where those references are please? Thanks

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 21, 2014 1:25 pm

      Hi Cathy, I can’t help you with your bible references.

    • Mandy permalink
      August 5, 2014 11:01 am

      Yes, I’m not sure the point about lanolin being in the Bible is correct in the above article. I put lanolin on my face at night, it is very good. Great article.

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