Lanolin: Greasy, yet waterproof

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LANOLIN is an oily, yellowish substance extracted from wool-bearing animals like sheep used for a variety of products ranging from skin ointments, water-proofing wax and other raw materials found in items like shoe polish.

Also called wool wax, wool fat or wool grease, this substance is produced by sheep and other wool-bearing animals through their sebaceous glands which are associated with hair follicles.

Frequently used as raw material for producing vitamin D3, the name lanolin originated from a trademark later known as the generic term for a preparation of sheep fat and water.

Recent studies showed that antibiotics are present in the lanolin. As a water-proofing agent lanolin helps sheep shed water from their coats.

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According to studies some breeds of sheep produce large amounts of lanolin. Lanolin is extracted by squeezing the wool between rollers.

Manufacturers remove most if not all the lanolin when the wool is processed into textiles like yarn or felt.

Lanolin is mostly a mixture of cholesterol and the esters of several fatty acids. Crude or non-medical grades of lanolin also contain wool alcohols that may cause allergies for some people.

Insoluble in water, lanolin is considered an excellent emollient and as mentioned, is used in many commercial products varying from rust-preventative coatings to cosmetics to lubricants.

Sailors are known to use lanolin to create a slippery surface on their propellers and stern gear that prevents creatures like sea barnacles from sticking on.

Soothing skin

Because of its water-repellent properties, lanolin is converted to lubricant grease to prevent corrosion in products made of stainless steel, which is exposed and thus becomes vulnerable to rust when starved of oxygen.

While it may be an allergen to some people, manufacturers produce medical grade lanolin that can be used as a cream to soothe skin.

This grade of lanolin is also suitable for treating an assortment of skin conditions ranging from chapped lips, diaper rash, dry skin, itchy skin, rough feet, minor cuts, minor burns and skin abrasions.

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A type of lanolin cream called Lansinoh cream is used by some breastfeeding mothers to treat sore and cracked nipples.

Lansinoh cream is said to be a pure, hypoallergenic, bacteriostatic medical grade lanolin. When used on ointments, lanolin readily absorbs through skin and enables absorption of the medicinal chemicals it carries.

Due to its high emulsion content lanolin is used in many cosmetics like glossy lipsticks, skin creams and medicinal creams.

Constant, prescribed use of lanolin based products help keep skin smooth and soft and provides moisture for persons suffering from dry and cracked skin conditions like eczema.

Some of the products containing lanolin are as follows:


  1. Steroid containing creams or ointments
  2. Haemorrhoidal preparations
  3. Medicated shampoos
  4. Veterinary products
  5. Liniments


  1. Hand creams
  2. Moisturizers
  3. Protective creams
  4. Self-tanners
  5. Sunscreens
  6. Glossy lipsticks
  7. Makeup removers
  8. Foundations, powders
  9. Eye makeup
  10. Hairspray
  11. Shaving creams
  12. Baby oils, diaper lotions

Industrial products:

  1. Printing ink
  2. Furniture and shoe polishers
  3. Textile finishers
  4. Lubricants, cutting fluids
  5. Paper
  6. Leather

Medical advice:

However as with everything using cosmetic products which contain lanolin too much can result in allergic reactions for some sensitive people.

Doctors and dermatology experts will advise people to find out what products containing lanolin one may come to contact with and then generally avoid them.

This entails looking closely at ingredient labels of many creams, potions and lotions that one buys and trying to find out any worsening of symptoms when in contact with lanolin or other substances.

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People may also be advised to do research on medical materials available at libraries or the Internet or, for a bit of effort, contacting manufacturers in order to learn whether lanolin was used in making their cosmetic products.

One is urged to contact his or her doctor for more advice and opinions or even consult your local contact dermatitis clinic which may have listings of lanolin sources and lanolin based products.

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