Lanolin has been used for thousands of years for its ability to soften and relieve dry, painful, and cracked skin. Lanolin was commonly used in the mid-1900s but is currently used less because of its ability to cause skin allergies. Read on to find out more about the health benefits of lanolin, and the cause for concern.
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 .
The ability of lanolin to help cleanse the skin and retain its moisture makes it a common component in cosmetics and medical creams. However, because of its allergens, its health benefits are not well-known .
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 .
Mechanism of Action
Lanolin has strong emulsifying properties. This means that lanolin is able to break large fat particles up into smaller ones and distribute them evenly. It also helps with absorption. Because of these properties, lanolin combines well with materials used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals .
Lanolin also has soothing, cleansing, and lubricating properties. These make it useful in the medical field as a base for creams and ointments .
Health Benefits of Lanolin
1) Relieves Dry 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 .
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 .
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 .
Lanolin helps increase new skin growth, which helps heal wounds. In a pig study, topical lanolin applied to skin wounds significantly increased new skin growth. However, lanolin increased skin inflammation .
Useful as a 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 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 .
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 .
Useful for Chapped Lips
Chemotherapy can cause problems with the lips that can lead to infection. In a study (RCT) of 57 chemotherapy patients, the patients that used lanolin showed less dehydration and dryness. However, lanolin did not reduce lip pain .
2) Can Help 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 ICU patients tested lanolin’s protective effects on the cornea. Lanolin and polythene both prevented corneal abrasions .
In mice with dry eyes, lanolin reduced dryness and was safe for corneal application .
3) Can Relieve 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. However, the children treated with cow type I collagen spray had a higher rate of curing. Still, both treatments were effective for anal fissures .
4) May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Some early research shows that lanolin may have anti-cancer properties. In mice, lanolin applied to cancer cells decreased the total amount of tumors. Lanolin was most effective when applied before the tumors developed on the skin .
Another study found that lanolin applied to the skin with another anti-cancer substance had small anti-cancer effects. Although these studies show interesting results, they are both old. To make use of lanolin as an anti-cancer treatment, more studies need to confirm its properties .
5) Might Protect Bone
Osteonecrosis occurs when bone tissue dies due to a lack of blood. In rabbits, both cholesterol and lanolin-rich diets reduced bone tissue death. The lanolin component of the diet may be responsible for the anti-osteonecrosis activity .
6) Might Improve Hair Quality
Lanolin is a conditioning agent in shampoos and conditioners. Conditioning agents increase softness and gloss while they reduce flyaways and tangles. Lanolin can increase lubrication, luster, and hair softness .
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 .
Lanolin can cause some allergic reactions in patients. This has caused concern about its use .
Another study determined that 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 these workers would have the most contact with lanolin .
Medalin is a medical-grade lanolin cream that is 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 .
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.