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What is lanolin? The natural skincare marvel sourced from sheep’s wool

This natural ingredient may help moisturize your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Lanolin
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

We have a lot to thank sheep for. Not only are these fuzzy creatures the source of a widely used natural fiber—wool—but they also give us a star skincare ingredient. Lanolin, which is derived from sheep’s dense, protective wool, is a natural skincare ingredient with significant nourishing and moisturizing abilities. This versatile ingredient has a range of applications, from baby care products to higher-end cosmetic formulations. 

Here, we’ll dive deeper into the world of lanolin, shedding light on its origin, its benefits for skin, and how you can use it safely and effectively in your skincare routine.

What is lanolin?

Lanolin, often called wool wax or wool grease, is a yellow fat extracted from sheep's wool. It’s a naturally secreted product of the sheep’s sebaceous glands and is used in skincare thanks to its emollient properties. This means it can soften and soothe your skin.¹

Lanolin has a unique dual action: It protects and treats skin. Its hydrophobic properties allow it to create a protective barrier on the skin's surface. This barrier effectively seals in existing moisture and guards against potential skin irritants and infections. In addition to general skincare, lanolin is used to protect baby skin. It's also a popular remedy for sore nipples in breastfeeding mothers due to its gentle, yet effective moisturizing properties.²

This natural ingredient produced by our wooly friends is a versatile and beneficial ingredient in the realm of skincare. Let’s take a closer look at its benefits and how they work.

The skin benefits of lanolin 

As a natural ingredient, lanolin brings several skin benefits to the table. It not only aids in maintaining optimal skin hydration but also possesses wound-healing properties and can help treat persistently dry lips.

Treat dry lips

Dry, chapped lips can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, making it important to find an effective remedy. Lanolin has shown impressive results in treating dry lips due to its hydrating properties. One study indicates that lanolin can effectively reduce symptoms of dehydration and signs of lip dryness caused by the toxicity of chemotherapy, making it a potentially beneficial supportive therapy for cancer patients.³

Maintain skin hydration

Maintaining adequate skin hydration using the right moisturizing products is an important part of any effective skincare routine. When your skin is properly hydrated, it looks plump and vibrant and functions optimally, maintaining its natural barrier against environmental aggressors. According to one study, lanolin has significantly reduced trans-epidermal water loss—the amount of water that evaporates from your skin—by 20% to 30%.⁴ This means that it can form a protective layer on the surface of your skin, effectively sealing in moisture and preventing dehydration. This becomes particularly important during winter when skin tends to dry due to harsh weather conditions. 

Enhance wound healing

Aside from helping hydrate your skin, lanolin can also help you heal. In one study, researchers found that ointments containing lanolin as a base ingredient could help treat wounds from cuts and burns. The ointments not only supported the growth of healthy skin tissue and natural collagen (a protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity), but they also halted harmful skin changes and had an anti-inflammatory effect.⁵

Lanolin also has a rich history of use in breastfeeding care. Specifically, it is used to alleviate pain and heal cracked nipples, a common issue experienced by many breastfeeding women. One study compared the effectiveness of lanolin with other treatments, such as peppermint and dexpanthenol medicines, in healing traumatized nipples. The results revealed that lanolin had a similar therapeutic effect, demonstrating its natural prowess in aiding wound healing even in sensitive areas.⁶ However, some research indicates that alternative treatments, like hydrogel dressings, could be a more effective option that offers more efficient pain relief for nipple soreness compared to lanolin ointment.⁷

Using lanolin safely 

Using lanolin safely is key to leveraging its numerous benefits without adverse effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated lanolin can be used safely in cosmetic products at concentrations ranging from 12.5% to 50%.⁸

It’s important to remember that while lanolin is a natural product, it can contain residues of pesticides and detergents from the wool cleaning process. However, high-quality lanolin products, such as HPA lanolin and Lansinoh, are purified to remove these residues. This improves their safety and minimizes allergenic potential. Individuals with known allergies to wool should avoid using even the most purified lanolin products, as there may still be a risk of an allergic reaction.⁹

As always, it's best to perform a patch test when trying any new product and consult a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

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FAQs

What moisturizer is derived from sheep's wool?

Lanolin, a natural fat derived from sheep's wool, is a potent skincare ingredient. It is an effective moisturizer due to its emollient properties and can also enhance wound healing. However, you should avoid using it if you have a known allergy to wool.

What is lanolin made up of?

Lanolin, also known as wool wax or wool grease, is a yellow fat secreted from the sebaceous glands of sheep. It's a complex substance composed of long, waxy molecules called esters or sterol esters.¹⁰ This unique composition gives lanolin its characteristic emollient properties, making it a great moisturizer that softens and soothes your skin. Due to these beneficial qualities, it's widely used in various cosmetic, skincare, and pharmaceutical applications.

Is lanolin good for your face?

Yes, lanolin can benefit your face because of its moisturizing properties. It forms a protective barrier on your skin, helping to seal in existing moisture and keeping skin hydrated and soft. Additionally, lanolin can aid in the healing process of minor skin wounds and reduce irritation, which can benefit skin recovery. However, as with any skincare ingredient, lanolin might not suit everyone. If you have a known allergy to wool, you may experience allergic reactions or skin irritation from lanolin.

For this reason, it's always a good idea to seek personalized advice from a dermatology provider before incorporating new ingredients into your skincare routine. They can provide insights tailored to your specific skin type, conditions, and concerns to ensure the most beneficial and safe use of products.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to: 

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for Lanolin. (n.d.)

  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for Lanolin. Ibid.

  3. Purnamawati, S.,et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. (December 2017)

  4. Andritoiu,CV., et al. Evaluation of the Wound Healing Potential of Some Natural Polymers on Three Experimental Models. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). (2021, May 14)

  5. Shanazi, M., et al. Comparison of the Effects of Lanolin, Peppermint, and Dexpanthenol Creams on Treatment of Traumatic Nipples in Breastfeeding Mothers. J Caring Sci. (2015, Dec 1)

  6. Dodd, V. Chalmers, C. Comparing the use of hydrogel dressings to lanolin ointment with lactating mothers. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. (July 2003)

  7. Santos, PS., et al. Efficacy of HPA Lanolin® in treatment of lip alterations related to chemotherapy. J Appl Oral Sci. (March 2013)

  8. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (2023, March 28)

  9. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®). LanolinNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2023, May 15)

  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for Lanolin. Ibid. 

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Subject to consultation. Subscription required. Results may vary

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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