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Lanolin oil is a secretion from sheep’s skin. It’s similar to human sebum, an oil secreted by the sebaceous glands that you may notice particularly on your nose.

Unlike sebum, lanolin contains no triglycerides. Lanolin is sometimes referred to as “wool fat,” but the term is misleading because it lacks triglycerides needed to be considered a fat.

The purpose of lanolin is to condition and protect sheep’s wool. This conditioning property is why the substance is now widely used in human cosmetics, skin care, and hair products.

Lanolin oil is extracted by putting sheep’s wool through a centrifuge machine that separates the oil from other chemicals and debris. The process is performed after the sheep is sheared so the extraction of lanolin causes no harm to sheep.

You may already be using products that contain lanolin oil without realizing it. Many medicine cabinet staples including lip balms, lotions, and nipple creams contain the amber-colored substance loved for its moisturizing ability.

Lanolin oil is known as an emollient, which means it helps soothe dry or dehydrated skin.

A 2017 study indicated that lanolin can reduce water lost through the skin by 20 to 30 percent.

Simply put, lanolin is extremely hydrating and has the ability to soften skin to help improve the appearance and the feel of rough, dry, or flaky areas.

Many products that contain lanolin oil also contain humectant ingredients like aloe, honey, or glycerin.

Humectant ingredients actually pull moisture in from the air. Lanolin itself is not a humectant. It can trap water once skin and hair is moist, however.

Lanolin is classified as an emollient and an occlusive moisturizer, which means it has the ability to slow water loss from the skin.

Lanolin for face wrinkles

Many products that are touted for their “anti-aging” benefits contain lanolin oil or lanolin alcohol. This may lead buyers to believe the lanolin oil has the ability to fight fine lines and wrinkles.

While there’s little scientific evidence that this is the case, lanolin can hold twice its weight in water. This can plump skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Lanolin oil for hair

Because of the emollient, moisture-retaining quality of lanolin oil, it can be a powerhouse ingredient in fighting dryness when applied to wet or moist hair. It won’t work when applied to dry hair because there’s no moisture to trap.

Lanolin oil has a waxier texture than other oils designed for hair, and washing with a cleansing shampoo or apple cider vinegar may help to thoroughly remove it from the hair.

Lanolin oil for dry lips

Lanolin oil is effective on the lips for the same reasons it helps treat dry skin and hair.

One 2016 study found that a lanolin cream proved effective in people who were experiencing dry lips as a side effect of chemotherapy.

Lanolin is able to penetrate the lip barrier, instead of other ingredients that deliver moisture only to the top layer of the lip. It’s generally considered safe to use on newborns with chapped lips, however it’s always a good idea to first check with a pediatrician.

Lanolin oil for cracked nipples

The Mayo Clinic recommends lanolin to restore moisture and soothe cracked nipples in people who are breastfeeding.

People who are actively breastfeeding should look for 100 percent pure and refined lanolin. Lanolin that isn’t purified may cause an allergic reaction when ingested by the child.

Lanolin oil can be very effective for people who aren’t allergic to it. But if enough was ingested, it can be poisonous, and its waxy nature can build up in the intestines.

Lanolin oil allergy

Lanolin is thought to be responsible for wool allergies, so people who are allergic to wool may want to avoid it.

Haz-Map classifies lanolin as a “skin sensitizer,” which means it may lead to an allergic reaction when it comes in contact with skin. Lanolin allergies are rare, and one study found that just 1.7 percent of the almost 25,000 allergy-prone people showed signs of a lanolin allergy.

Lanolin oil poisoning

Lanolin oil poisoning can occur in someone who has ingested the substance. People who are using lanolin-based lip balms should be especially careful not to swallow excessive amounts of the product.

Medical emergency

If you or someone you know has ingested lanolin, call 911 as soon as possible and be prepared with their name, birth date, and the name of the product ingested, if possible.

Symptoms of lanolin poisoning can include:

  • diarrhea
  • rash
  • swelling and redness of skin
  • vomiting

Symptoms of allergic reactions may include:

  • eye, lip, mouth, and throat swelling
  • rash
  • shortness of breath

Pure lanolin oil and products containing the oil are widely available in stores and online. Check out these products now.

Lanolin oil is a waxy substance derived from sheep. Its emollient, conditioning properties make it an effective ingredient in combating dry skin and hair. It’s also used as a moisturizer for cracked lips or nipples.

If you’re allergic to wool, it’s best to avoid lanolin. Test a small patch of skin before using any product containing lanolin. Lanolin can also be poisonous if ingested.