What’s the Story with Lanolin?

Health & Beauty Products

Lanolin is a popular additive used in many health and beauty products on the market today. It’s claimed to be a natural, animal-derived ingredient that aids in moisturizing and hydrating the skin. What exactly is lanolin and is it good for us?

Lanolin is a greasy yellow substance made from secretions (sebum) from the skin glands of sheep, to condition their wool. It is a natural, animal-derived product harvested from shorn wool. Unrefined lanolin has been used for thousands of years by various cultures, and refined lanolin has been used for over a hundred of years in ointments.  

Lanolin is a long chain waxy ester that contains cholesterol but with a different composition than human sebum. There are two common forms, lanolin and lanolin alcohol.  The latter adds a molecule to provide a smoother skin feel. Because of its high fat content, lanolin is occlusive, meaning it prevents evaporation of water from the skin (transepidermal water loss).  This helps the skin heal.

Lanolin is generally considered safe for intact skin.  But really…  Who uses ointments or occlusive products on normal intact skin?  Ointments and occlusive products are designed to be used on healing skin.  This is the trouble with lanolin. Despite being a common ingredient in a number of products marketed to help heal eczema, burns, scrapes, raw nipples and post-procedure skin, the incidence of lanolin allergy is rapidly increasing.  For example, a recent study of over 1012 children found 66% of children with eczema reacted to lanolin alcohol (1). Another study looking at allergic reactions in patients with chronic wounds found 11% reacted to lanolin (2).  This is not what our skin needs when it is trying to heal!

The rapidly rising incidence of lanolin allergy is thought to be related to increased exposure to lanolin.  This is not surprising given how ubiquitous it has become in skin care products.  The public and health care professional need to be educated about the increasing allergy to lanolin as many pediatricians, dermatologists and plastic surgeons continue to recommend lanolin-containing products.  I’ve witnessed this first hand in my practice on a weekly basis!

There are many other ingredients that can replace lanolin to prevent transepidermal water loss.  The cheapest options are petroleum jelly (Vaseline), mineral oil and paraffin. All of these options are hypoallergenic but made from the hydrocarbons of fossil fuels. Beeswax represents a natural option; however, like lanolin, is animal-derived. Plant-based options are a great alternative both for your skin and for the environment. These options are sustainably sourced and include vegetable waxes that are hydrogenated oils to make them solid at room temperature to provide occlusion.

Common irritating ingredients like lanolin drove me to create Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm. I created this Healing Balm to provide a hypoallergenic, plant-based ointment for healing skin. Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm is the perfect replacement for ointments containing animal-derived or fossil-fuel ingredients that may irritate the skin.


  1. Lubbes S, Rustemeyer T, Sillevis Smitt JH et et al. Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Dutch children and adolescents with and without atopic dermatitis – a retrospective analysis. Contact Dermatitis. 2017 Mar;76(3):151-9.
  2. Smart V, Alavi A, Coutts P, et al. Contact allergens in persons with leg ulcers: A Canadian study in contact sensitization. Int J Low Extrem Wounds. 2008;7:120-5.

Please contact us if you have any questions by filling out this form or emailing us at hello@doctorrogers.com.



Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.

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