Lanolin has a long history of being used for beauty care, especially for the skin. In fact, this substance has been used by people for more than 8,000 years now. In ancient times, Egyptians are known to put chunks of lanolin on their head and sit under the sun allowing the solid lanolin to melt and cover their body. They were of the belief that lanolin would help to make their skin softer. Pharmaceutical and medical texts dating back to 2000 years provide plenty of directions for using lanolin.
The word lanolin has been derived from the Latin terms "lana" denoting wool and "oleum" meaning oil. However, from the chemical point of view, lanolin is basically a wax and not oil. This natural substance is secreted from sheep's sebaceous glands and it protects these animals' coat against rain as well as various other elements.
Lanolin is obtained from sheep's fleece after shearing. Extraction of lanolin, however, does not cause any harm to the sheep. Approximately, 100 pounds of wool provides anything between two and four pounds of lanolin. Different from refines synthetic compounds, lanolin is a natural substance and can be renewed.
Prior to using lanolin in cosmetic products, this natural substance needs to undergo a process for purification with a view to remove all the impurities contained in raw lanolin, such as allergens and even pesticides used by farmers. Subsequently, lanolin undergoes various tests to ensure that the substance is safe for use on human skin.
Lanolin is very popular owing to its wonderful skin moisturizing properties. It also keeps the nails and hair hydrated. At the same time, lanolin is effective in preventing water loss and also serves in the form of a lubricant, thereby making the skin smoother and softer.
Since lanolin combines extremely well with majority of other ingredients generally used in cosmetics, it is also employed for helping emulsion formation. Lanolin is extremely useful for our skin, nails and hair. It has been found that the chemical composition of purified lanolin (also known as anhydrous lanolin) is the same as that of the lipids found in human skin. This is one of the major reasons why lanolin is so useful for our skin. The lipids in our skin control the pace at which our body loses water and helps to keep the skin hydrated. Lanolin possesses the ability to retain about twice its weight of water, thereby serving as a reservoir of moisture and keep our skin adequately hydrated. Lanolin is known to be partially occlusive, which means that it is not only breathable, but also takes up and protects moisture. Hence, lanolin protects our skin by forming a moisturizing barrier. It has been found that the soothing and comforting abilities of lanolin last for several hours.
Lanolin is known by several other common names such as wool fat, wool wax and wool grease. It is a greasy yellowish substance derived from animals bearing wool and it serves in the form of an excellent ointment for our skin. In addition, lanolin is also used in the form of a water-proofing wax as well as a raw material in various substances, like in shoe polish. A natural grease or "wool fat", the chemical composition of lanolin is similar to that of wax.
Natural water repellent, lanolin is basically the smelly yellowish natural oil present in sheep's wool (see above). Hence, it is not difficult to guess that lanolin works as a water-proof shield for the sheep. In addition, lanolin also possesses anti-bacterial and antifungal properties that help to protect the skin of the sheep from various types of infections. As far as its composition is concerned, lanolin is a blend of wool fat and 25 percent to 30 percent of water.
Wool fat, on the other hand, is a combination of various dissimilar chemical compounds, counting cholesterol as well as esters obtained from fatty acids.
Skin creams containing lanolin work excellently for people with very dry skin. Lanolin belongs to the emollient class of moisturizers that are rich in lipid content. One reason for dry skin or why our skin becomes dehydrated is the absence of adequate amounts of lipids. As a result, water easily leaves our skin. In such circumstances, applying lanolin to the skin helps those minute gaps created by water loss to be filled by this natural waxy substance, thereby preventing any further water from escaping. Generally, lanolin is blended with humectants (substances that possess the ability to retain water) and then applied to the skin. This helps the skin to hold moisture for a prolonged period.
Lanolin is a very popular ingredient in nearly all the lip balms available in the market these days. Lanolin has two effects when applied to the lips. First, the wax-like texture of this natural lubricant makes it easy to apply evenly without causing any mess. This helps to cover the lips and keeps them hydrated, thereby preventing any further chapping. Second, lanolin also takes up moisture from the atmosphere in the area, thereby revitalizing the dry skin tissues and, at the same time, it helps to alleviate pain and prevent the skin from cracking.