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Occlusive, emollient

Important Chemical Components:

Lanolin contains long-chain waxy esters many of which have not yet been characterized. It is thought of as a highly complex combination of esters, di-esters, and hydroxyl esters of high molecular weight lanolin alcohols (i.e., aliphatic alcohols, sterols, including cholesterol, and trimethyl sterols) as well as high molecular weight lanolin acids (i.e., normal, iso-, anteiso-, and hydroxyl acids).1,2

Origin Classification:

This ingredient is considered natural. It is animal derived.

Personal Care Category:


Recommended for the following Baumann Skin Types:



Lanolin is a greasy yellow substance derived from the sebaceous secretions of sheep and other wool-bearing animals. Most lanolin used in skin care products is obtained from domesticated sheep.


Lanolin has been used for thousands of years by human beings for its emollient qualities, and for hundreds of years as an ingredient in skin care ointments (Table 22-1).3

TABLE 22-1Pros and Cons of Lanolin


Lanolin shares two important features with stratum corneum (SC) lipids: 1) lanolin contains cholesterol, an essential constituent of SC lipids, and 2) lanolin and SC lipids can coexist as solids and liquids at physiologic temperatures. Lanolin is characterized by a very different composition than human sebum, though.4 This is also the case for commercial lanolin products. Significantly, the method used to refine the compound determines the quality and composition of the resulting formulation; therefore, not all lanolin products exhibit the same activity.5 Unfortunately, a small percentage of individuals who use lanolin develop contact sensitization to the occlusive/emollient agent. Consequently, lanolin has developed a reputation as a sensitizer that, according to some, may not be deserved.3,6 Nevertheless, manufacturers have responded to such claims and many moisturizing products are now touted as “lanolin free.” Another response to the notion that lanolin provokes allergic reactions has spurred the development of an ultrapure hypoallergenic medical grade lanolin formulation such as Medilan™.


Lanolin is not to be taken internally.


Lanolin is one among several commonly used occlusive agents and is effective as an ingredient in skin care products for its ability to treat dry skin, delivering an emollient effect and reducing TEWL.


Lanolin had long been thought of as a sensitizer given reports beginning several decades ago of links to contact dermatitis. However, lanolin is no longer considered a common allergen so much as one affecting ...

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