Do you carefully read the labels of your care products? Then you have probably seen the ingredient lanolin. Lanolin is made from the fat found in sheep’s wool and is often used in creams and cosmetics.
What is lanolin?
Lanolin is known as wool fat or wool alcohol. It is a soft, yellow, waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It is for this reason a natural product, but it is not vegan. The purpose is to waterproof and protect the wool.
Chemically, lanolin is a complex mixture of esters, fatty acids and alcohols. Lanolin can be mechanically extracted from raw wool, by squeezing it or pressing it out, but many methods in the past have used a cocktail of chemicals for this purpose. Tallow is extracted from sheep wool and this is then purified and refined into anhydrous lanolin. Crude lanolin constitutes about 5–25% of the weight of freshly shorn wool
Lanolin in products
Lanolin is easily absorbed through the skin and resembles the sebum produced by the skin. The substance is very emollient and moisturising, because the water emulsifies on the skin and is retained there. It is a perfect ingredient for hydrating and protecting the skin. It creates a protective film layer over the skin, allowing it to function and breathe naturally.
Lanolin is used in many care products such as face creams, body lotion, hand creams, soap, shower gel, shampoo, hair conditioner and hair masks. But you can also find lanolin in cosmetics such as blusher, lipstick and lip balm. Medical grade lanolin is used as a base for ointments because it is easily absorbed by the skin. It facilitates the administration of any medicinal ingredient it contains. Furthermore, wool fat is present in a large number of household products: washing-up liquid, detergent, fabric softener, wax polish, leather wax, car wax, shoe polish and other ‘waxes’ that are used to keep things glossy.
You may be allergic to lanolin. When your skin comes into contact with lanolin, this can cause eczema to develop or worsen. In this case, try to avoid lanolin; this can be a challenge, because it is an ingredient in so many products. Check the labels or packaging of your (beauty) products for lanolin (E913) or one of the alternative names: wool alcohol, adeps lanae, adeps lanae anhydrous, alcohol lanae, amerchol L-101, amerchol CAB, anhydrous lanolin and aquaphor.