Bleetingly good skin care – It’s Lanolicious
Lanolin used to be one of those ‘love it or hate it’ ingredients in skin care. Being a chronic eczema sufferer I spent pretty much all of my childhood avoiding it because I was told that it would be likely to irritate my skin. Indeed ‘lanolin free’ had become somewhat of a selling point long before we’d ever developed a taste for ingredient hate and that was mostly due to the deeds of some unscrupulous lanolin purchasers who in their wish to save a few dollars had been pushing the rough, sheep-dip infused stuff into cosmetics. Naughty, naughty. Anyway, all of that was sorted out pretty quickly, lanolin was found to be an AMAZING skin-friendly ingredient and, fast forward to the present day and everything old has become shiny new again. Lanolin is all good!
And it is all thanks to its special chemistry.
According to this old article published by my cosmetic society colleagues Lanolin consists of around 95% esters, 4% free alcohols and 1% free fatty acids. Mean anything to you? Me neither until we dig a little deeper.
Woolgrease is collected from sheep, washed and dried to give anhydrous lanolin. This product is too coarse and dirty for cosmetic use but has many industrial applications.
Anhydrous Lanolin is the first really useful form of lanolin as far as commercial chemistry goes. This can be treated in a number of ways.
Ethoxylated Lanolin: This turns the fat into a surface-active material that can be used to de-grease surfaces. Ethylene Oxide is reacted with the lanolin to form a range of surfactants including the commonly used PEG-75 Lanolin which is a highly effective emollient, conditioning agent and moisturiser.
Aceetylated Lanolin: This is another very useful branch of lanolin chemistry giving high quality emollients which help oils and pigments to spread or wet out better – great for colour cosmetics. Examples are Isopropyl Lanolate and Cetyl Acetate (and) Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol.
Low Pesticide and Hypo-allergenic Lanolin are most commonly used for the cosmetics industry and can be further reacted to produce all of the other different types of lanolin based ingredients. These are made by further cleaning and refining to remove residues and other impurities.
Lanolin Wax is formed by a process called fractionation. This separates the high melting point waxes from the lower melting point oils using heat and pressure rather than chemicals (usually). Lanolin wax can be used in place of things like beeswax and caranuba wax in many industrial and cosmetic applications.
Hydrolysis is a reaction that uses ‘water’ to split the anhydrous lanolin into different chemical components. This leaves us with Lanolin Fatty Acids and Lanolin Alcohols.
One of the most well-known Lanolin alcohols is cholesterol – 25% of the alcohol content (and being Easter today we should all be reminded about that as we munch our chocolate eggs). Cholesterol is a natural lipid (fat) found in the skin and its main job is to maintain normal barrier functioning by binding water in the stratum corneum – very useful!
Lanolin Fatty Acids can be used as emulsifiers (to bind oils and waters together in creams, lotions and butters) or they can undergo further reactions to form esters.
Today there are 107 different derivatives of Lanolin listed on the COSING European cosmetics database including lanolin surfactants to clean you, lanolin emulsifiers to hold your creams together, lanolin esters to help your sunscreen and lipstick actives spread and perform better and lanolin oils to help you keep your skin moist and soft.
We have nature to thank for this wonderfully rich ingredient but it is our knowledge and love of chemistry that turns this one ‘dish’ into a banquet fit for a thousand kings.
Want some lanolin rich skincare of your own? These guys have to be our favourite lanolin lovers: Lanolips