Did you know that ancient sheep farmers were known to have soft, smooth hands, despite being outside all day? It turns out that it was all due to how they handle sheep. Used for its thick substance derived from sheep’s wool, Lanolin has not only gained a reputation for its moisturizing properties but also for its long-standing history with skincare products. With that, comes a ton of questions on whether this animal product is safe to use. Lanolin is a fantastic emollient that helps lock in moisture, but as with many ingredients in the skincare industry, it is processed.

In a modern world with the demand for safe and natural skincare options are at an all-time high, that leaves us to question: does Lanolin actually do more harm than good? A study in the British Journal of Dermatology claims that lanolin sensitization has an annual rate of 1.7% – lower than that for a 50% concentration. As a result, the amounts of lanolin used in skincare products, like body and facial moisturizers, make the risk in toxins insignificant. So, is lanolin a super ingredient or a toxin risk to our skin?

What is Lanolin?

Lanolin is the purified product that secretes from the sheep’s sebaceous glands. As a greasy yellow substance, this natural animal product is harvested from wool. Primarily consisting of long-chain waxy esters, it is also called wool grease or wool wax in skincare products. Used for skin treatment, protection, and cosmetic enhancements; unrefined lanolin has been used for centuries by various cultures.

Due to its high-fat content, lanolin prevents the evaporation of water from the skin, also known as transepidermal water loss. This is because its hydrophobic properties can help aid against irritation and infection as it helps seal in natural moisture in the skin. As a result, lanolin keeps the skin hydrated, which is needed to help speed up healing.

How Safe is Lanolin For Your Skin?

Generally, Lanolin is considered safe for healthy skin. If you are not allergic to wool or wool alcohols, adding lanolin in your skincare products is safe to use. However, occlusive products and ointments with lanolin that are made to heal skin may differ. Despite being a common ingredient used to help heal burns, scrapes, eczema, raw nipples, and post-procedure skin, allergies linked to lanolin is rapidly increasing.

For example, researchers discovered that patients with chronic wounds are 11% higher chance of reacting to lanolin, according to a 2017 study by AARHUS University. Not to mention, another recent study conducted of more than 1,000 children with eczema found that sixty-six percent of them had an allergic reaction to lanolin alcohol. As a result, Lanolin may not be what our skin needs when it is in the process of healing.

Common Side Effects of Lanolin

Lanolin is classified as “non-expectant to be toxic or harmful” and a “low-risk health priority.” Pesticides are removed during the modern purification process, reducing the likelihood of allergic reactions caused by lanolin. However, livestock owners admit to “dipping” sheep wool into insecticides to prevent the onset of pests. This means pesticide residue in lanolin can accumulate in fat tissue and in the milk of breastfeeding women.

Those who are exposed to wool alcohol, the main component that is associated with allergies, may develop allergic contact dermatitis. In addition, swallowing products that contain lanolin can lead to poisoning.

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Is Lanolin right for you?

Lanolin is a great addition to your skincare regime if you have dry skin. However, those with oily skin or prone to breakouts may not experience the same benefits to this animal product. There are many ingredients that can replace lanolin to prevent transepidermal water loss. Other options include mineral oil, paraffin, and petroleum jelly (Vaseline). All of which are hypoallergenic but also made from hydrocarbons of fossil fuels.

Unless you are prone to allergies, have very sensitive skin, or refuse to use any animal products, lanolin is a safe ingredient to use in your moisturizing regime. However, if you are looking for a more national option, consider trying organic beeswax, or plant-based ingredients like hydrogenated plant oils and vegetable wax.