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What Is Lanolin + 4 Interesting Cream/Liquid Uses

Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Lanolin has been used for thousands of years for its ability to soften and relieve dry, painful, and cracked skin. Its popularity peaked in the mid-1900s but is now declining due to its potential to cause skin allergies. Read on to find out more about the uses of lanolin, precautions, and user experiences.

What is Lanolin?

Lanolin comes from wool grease, which is a wax secreted by sheep glands. Lanolin protects sheep wool from the weather and harsh environments [1].

The ability of lanolin to help cleanse the skin and retain its moisture makes it a common component in cosmetics and medical creams. However, its potential to cause allergies in sensitive people is a potential downside [2].

To be safe for use, lanolin must contain only a small percentage of fatty acids, moisture, ash, and chloride. There must be no alkali, ammonia, glycerin, petrolatum, or other impurities present [1].

Mechanism of Action

Lanolin has strong emulsifying properties. This means that lanolin is able to break large fat particles, mix them with an aqueous phase, and distribute them evenly. It also helps with absorption. Because of these properties, lanolin combines well with materials used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals [1].

Lanolin also has soothing, cleansing, and lubricating properties. These make it useful in the medical field as a base for creams and ointments [1].

Uses of Lanolin

1) Dry & Damaged Skin

Medilan is a medical-grade lanolin that is ultra-purified and hypoallergenic, meaning that it causes very little irritation to the skin. Lanolin increases the water content in your skin. The hypoallergenic, soothing, and moisturizing nature of lanolin makes it useful for eczema and other dry skin conditions [2].

Premature babies do not have an effective skin barrier. In one randomized study of 60 premature infants, the infants received topical lanolin treatment twice daily for 2 weeks. Topical lanolin decreased the amount of water lost through the skin, the severity of dermatitis, and the bacteria on the outer layer of skin [3].

A second, 4-week study of 173 premature infants compared lanolin use to emollient cream use. The infants undergoing lanolin treatment showed a bigger decrease in dermatitis symptoms [4].

Lanolin helps increase new skin growth, which supports wound healing. In a pig study, topical lanolin applied to skin wounds significantly increased new skin growth. However, lanolin also increased skin inflammation [5].

Nipple Cream

A traumatic nipple is one of the most common problems for breastfeeding mothers. Many studies have found that lanolin is an effective nipple cream.

In one 14-day study of 126 breastfeeding mothers, lanolin was among the most therapeutic creams in relieving nipple pain [6].

In another study of 151 breastfeeding women, women in the lanolin group reported higher satisfaction with their feeding method and were able to withstand longer feedings compared to the group that used a commercial product [7].

A third study of 84 mothers showed that lanolin cream was more effective than breast milk. Thus, lanolin is an effective way to reduce nipple pain and promote healing of nipple trauma [8].

Chapped Lips

Chemotherapy can cause problems with the lips that can lead to infection. In a study of 57 chemotherapy patients, those that used lanolin showed less dehydration. However, lanolin did not reduce lip pain [9].

2) Dry Eyes

Lanolin has an effect on treating dry eyes and corneal abrasions. Corneal abrasions are when the outer layer of the eye (cornea) is scratched.

One study of 120 patients tested lanolin’s protective effects on the cornea. Lanolin and polythene both prevented corneal abrasions [10].

In mice with dry eyes, lanolin reduced dryness and was safe for corneal application [11].

3) Anal Fissures

An anal fissure is a tear of any size in the anus, often characterized by blood in the stool.

In a study of 71 children, the group that received topical lanolin ointment had 92.9% healing of their anal fissures [12].

4) Hair Quality

Lanolin is a conditioning agent in shampoos and conditioners. Conditioning agents increase softness and gloss while reducing flyaways and tangles. Lanolin can increase lubrication, luster, and hair softness [13].

Limitations and Caveats

Most of the studies on lanolin are very old. Lanolin was at its peak in popularity in the mid-1900s, so most of the studies are from that time. The use of lanolin is quite limited because of the prevalence of allergy and limited knowledge about the allergy details [14].

Lanolin Side Effects

Lanolin can cause allergic reactions in sensitive patients. This has caused concern about its use [15].

On the other hand, a study determined there is no prominent allergen in lanolin and that lanolin is a weak irritant. There has not been a single case of allergy reported by workers engaged in recovering wool wax. This is important because they have the most contact with lanolin [14].

How to Use

Forms

Medalin is a medical-grade lanolin cream, ultra-purified and hypoallergenic. Medalin is a common cream used for dry skin. There are also many drugstore versions of lanolin cream used for dry lips, nipple irritation, and dry skin [2, 3].

Liquid lanolin retains the properties of lanolin. The liquid increases the spreadability and is more easily used in products [16].

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. SelfDecode does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment. Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on SelfDecode.

Some mothers that have used lanolin-based creams while breastfeeding claim that it is able to instantly soothe their painful nipples. But, they also say it is also usually thick and sticky, which makes it hard to apply.

Patients who have used lanolin for dry, irritated skin say that it is the only product that can hydrate their dry and cracked skin. But, they also say it typically does not smell good and is not easy to spread on the skin.

Some people who have used lanolin as a lip moisturizer claim that it made their lips drier than they were original, while other users claim that it has made their lips soft and that they are no longer peeling.

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic

Aleksa Ristic

MS (Pharmacy)
Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets. 
Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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