What Is Lanolin Lotion?

Melissa Barrett

Lanolin lotion is made using oil extracted as a byproduct of wool production. This grease comes from the hide and fleece of the sheep and is very similar to the natural oils found in human skin and hair. Once separated from the wool, lanolin is often mixed with fragrance and other additives to form products that are effective in the treatment of dry skin. Other skin conditions, including acne and diaper rash, may also be treated with pharmaceutical lotions made from lanolin.

Lanolin oil is found in many skin care products.
Lanolin oil is found in many skin care products.

People have been using lanolin to soften hands since the domestication of sheep for wool. During the shearing and washing of the wool, the oils transferred onto the hands of the shepherds, making them noticeably softer. Logically, these workers began to separate the oil from the water used to clean the raw wool and set it aside for future use. Written records of the separation process date back as far as the first century.

Sheep are not slaughtered in the process of extracting lanolin.
Sheep are not slaughtered in the process of extracting lanolin.

Today, lanolin is still commonly used in the treatment of dry skin. Like most moisturizers, lanolin lotion works primarily by creating a barrier on the surface of the skin that keeps natural oils from escaping. In addition, natural wool grease is very similar to the oils found in human skin, allowing it to be more readily absorbed than many other moisturizers. As such, medicinal lanolin lotion can frequently carry topical antibiotics and antifungal medications more deeply into the skin than its chemical counterparts.

Negatively, consumers should be aware that allergic reactions to lanolin lotion, while still rare, are more common than most other skin treatments. Mild to moderate itching and a rash that resembles acne are the most commonly complaints associated with lanolin allergy. In rare cases, however, breathing difficulties and swelling have been reported. Statistically, these reactions are more likely to occur in individuals with wool allergies.

Additionally, many animal rights organizations oppose the manufacture of lanolin lotion and other products made from sheep wax. These groups argue that, while the actual shearing process is painless, the living conditions of the sheep and the veterinary practices of the shepherds are cruel. The main contention is a process called mulesing, in which portions of skin around a lamb’s anus and genitals are removed to avoid maggot infestation. Opponents to the practice, which is usually preformed without anesthesia, claim that the process is inhumanely painful. As maggot infestations can cause severe pain and are often fatal, however, proponents believe the procedure is the most compassionate option.

Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.
Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.

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Discussion Comments


As I understand it, the scare about toxicity years ago caused companies to only use certified clean lanolin nowadays, so although it's not as easy to find in lotions, when you do find products that contain lanolin they are safe to use. I wish they were easier to find, lanolin works best on my dry skin, and I find most common and easily found hand lotions don't have lanolin any more!


While some swear by lotion with lanolin and don't think any other product is quite as good, there are a few good alternatives out there.

For women who want to use something other than lanolin based lotion to prevent chapped skin from breast feeding, a friend of mine has used a few kinds of "nipple butter" products. For other chapped skin, my sister, who has a lanolin allergy, likes to use cocoa butter. She says it works better than an other dry skin lotion to moisturize her skin.


Not all lanolin used in body lotion and other cosmetics is created under bad conditions. There are smaller companies which take very good care of sheep that are used for lanolin.

What really worries me personally about larger companies with lanolin in their products is that it has been known to also contain pesticides and other toxic by-products.

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