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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.
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.
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.