Lanolin Is That Key Ingredient In Skin Lotions

Photo by Heinz Leitner, c/o www.123rf.com

Lanolin is a common ingredient of skin products and an important one for helping to keep skin free of bacteria and fungi. In skin lotions it is an emollient and a very effective moisturiser.

If you saw it in its native state, it would be an oily, greasy, yellowish liquid which is produced from oil or sebaceous glands in the skin of sheep. We might also call it wool wax or wool fat.

It functions in the animal as a coating to keep their wool warm, dry and as healthy as possible. Given we do not produce anything from our oil glands that is as helpful from this perspective then it’s not surprising to see it in skin lotions. Here, it is used to moisturize the skin and keep it supple and smooth. It has also been developed into creams to soothe and protect sore and cracked nipples of breastfeeding mothers. It is commonplace for sore nipples to develop during this time of feeding which occurs when a baby is placed in an uncomfortable position at the breast.

The material also contains components in it which act as antibacterial and antifungal agents. 

Sheep coated in wool which contains lanolin.
Sheep’s wool contains a cosmetic ingredient, lanolin.

Where Does Lanolin Get Extracted From ?

When a sheep is shorn of its wool, the lanolin which coating the wool fibres is extracted from the pelt usually by boiling the wool in a hot salt solution. On cooling, the lanolin floats to the surface as a grease layer which is allowed to cool before further cleaning. The lanolin at this point is often dirty and needs cleaning up. The rough oily layer is mixed with olive oil and shaken with water which dissolves dirt and purifies the lanolin further.

What Is It Made Of?

Lanolin is a complex mixture of fatty acids, esters and alcohols. It makes up between 5 and 25% of the weight of freshly shorn wool.

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