What Are the Benefits of Lanolin in Skin & Hair Care?

By Karyn Maier

If your hair is in need of damage control, or your birthday suit feels a bit tight, look to lanolin for help in smoothing things out. Lanolin is one of the oldest of ingredients used to produce natural hair and skin care products – and for good reason. It comes from nature and can really lock in moisture where it counts.

Young woman in shirt looking at the sea
credit: iprogressman/iStock/GettyImages
What Are the Benefits of Lanolin in Skin & Hair Care?

Coat Yourself in Wool Wax

Also known as wool grease and wool wax, lanolin is a waxy material secreted by the sebaceous glands of certain domestic sheep, then harvested from wool and refined for use in the cosmetic industry. Due to its similarity in composition and function to the lubricating oils found in human skin, lanolin is a safe natural ingredient.

Plump Your Stratum Corneum

The stratum corneum, also referred to as the "horny layer," is the outermost layer of skin. It's composed of 10 to 30 layers of specialized water-bearing cells called keratinocytes. These cells are shed and replaced with new cells every 28 to 30 days in adults, although the rate of renewal slows considerably with advancing years. Lanolin is a natural emulsifier, meaning that it binds lipids together that would otherwise separate in suspension. The cells in the stratum corneum naturally contain emulsified moisture, and the action of lanolin enhances the ability of these cells to hold onto it. With improved moisture retention, skin appears more translucent, elastic, smooth and plump.

Dress Your Tresses

In the same way that lanolin traps moisture in skin cells, it helps to restore and prevent moisture loss in hair. Unlike other types of hair products formulated with oils that repel water without mixing with it, a lanolin product forms an emulsion with water that coats the hair shaft and keeps moisture in place. This makes sense when you consider that this waxy substance is engineered to protect sheep's skin while making wool waterproof. Lanolin is also different from other hair conditioning ingredients in that it's not a fat made of fatty acids, but is technically a wax that contains sterol esters, cholesterol, plant alcohols and up to 30 percent water.

Keep it Simple

It may be easier to use a liquid form of lanolin as a treatment for dry hair, but be aware that this product will be more refined and may no longer possess the beneficial properties of pure lanolin. That said, also plan to use lanolin on clean, damp hair. This is because the material won't adhere to dry hair; it needs to work with water to produce a moisturizing effect. Note, too, that lanolin blends well with other natural hair-care ingredients, like shea butter and coconut oil. In fact, as the ultimate emulsifier, lanolin will enhance the benefits of these conditioning agents.

More Than Moisturizer

Lanolin is widely used to manufacture many different kinds of products beyond skin lotion and hair conditioner. In fact, it's found in more than 50 kinds of lipstick compared to less than 30 varieties of hair conditioners and skin moisturizers combined. Lanolin is also found in styling gels, facial cleansers, tanning products, sunscreens, eye shadow, foundation and shaving cream. This substance so closely resembles human sebum and does such a good job of locking in moisture that it's used to break in baseball gloves and keep them pliable. It's also used to prevent rusting of automobile parts and oil rigs. Mixed with skin-penetrating oils and waxes, lanolin is even used as a carrier to transport certain medications into the body when administered under the skin.