Lanolin is the natural oil found in sheep's wool. It helps protect the sheep from cold, wet weather by making the wool oily and water-repellent. Sheep are trimmed of their wool regularly, and when that wool is processed for making yarn, the lanolin is removed and saved for use in a variety of products, including skin and haircare products, where it acts as a strong moisturizer.
How Lanolin is Used
Lanolin is a thick, waxy oil. It is a key ingredient in many thick, waxy products such as shoe polish and leather-softeners. It is also used as a lubricant for some types of machinery, tools and musical instruments. But some of the most common uses are in cosmetics, skin care and hair care products. This is because lanolin is most similar to the natural oils produced by human skin.
Lanolin for Skin Care
Lanolin is one of the best substances for use on delicate, dry or chapped skin. It is often a key ingredient in chapsticks, creams, shaving lotions, and skin moisturizers. It is often used medically to soothe rashes, minor burns and abrasions. In these cases, it is very purified; less-refined lanolin can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Lanolin for Hair Care
Lanolin is a very heavy moisturizer. It has been used for many years as a hair and scalp conditioner, pomade, and dry-hair treatment. Although it provides excellent moisturizing benefits to the scalp and hair, it can weigh down thin or straight hair. It is more popular for use on very curly hair, or as a pomade for slicked-down or fixed hair styles, where flowing movement of the hair is not wanted.
How Does Lanolin Work?
Lanolin works by creating a barrier on the surface of the skin to help prevent water from evaporating. The skin makes natural oils for this purpose, of course, but these oils can be washed away, leaving the skin dry and chapped. At times, the environment may be colder, drier or windier for your skin oils to handle, and adding extra oil on the surface helps gives extra protection.
What are the Alternatives to Lanolin?
There are other oils like lanolin that cover the skin in a protective layer. Some people are allergic to lanolin, especially if it is not purified enough, and some people prefer to avoid animal products (although sheep are not killed to have their wool collected). Alternative options include petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or mineral oil, which work similarly. These are by-products of gasoline production.