Lanolin softens and protects. It's harvested without harming animals. It's quickly absorbed by the skin without clogging pores. So why are people avoiding it?
What Is Lanolin?
A pure, natural product, lanolin is simply the wax taken from sheep's wool, after the sheep has been shorn. The sheep is not hurt. He probably does not enjoy having his fur cut off, but the people who do this are highly trained, they do it quickly, and the sheep joins his herd again in a matter of minutes.
The clipped wool is naturally covered with a pale-yellow, water repellent wax. Also known as wool fat, it's purpose is to keep the sheep healthy and dry. It's extracted from the wool by a boiling process. This is crude lanolin.
Refining - the Key to Safety
The next step is to refine this wax, and remove impurities. PBS recently made a documentary on lanolin, and they purified it by mixing it with olive oil and water. The impurities dissolved into the water and oil, leaving the lanolin as an off-white wax which could be gathered up.
In commercial lanolin processing, refining is done in sterile environments and through many stages. This refining process is the key to the safety of the lanolin. Depending on the needs of the manufacturer, the lanolin can be refined crudely, in which case it may still contain impurities. Or it can be refined to medical grade - safe enough for nursing mothers to use on cracked nipples.
So Why the Bad Press?
There are two potential problems with lanolin.
1. It can be refined to acceptable cosmetic grade and still contain impurities, some of which can be allergens. People who are allergic to lanolin are probably allergic to unrelated ingredients that were not removed in the refining process. Also, some manufacturers use a chemical bleach to whiten the color. And the finished product may have been mixed with vegetable oils or soft paraffin that comes from other sources. There could be impurities in these additives.
2. Some lanolin can be tainted with DDT, dieldrin, lindane, or other toxic pesticides. It's possible for these carcinogens to make their way into our skincare products. This is because the sheep may be eating food that has been treated with these or other insecticides.
How to Make Sure Your Lanolin Is Safe
Both problems are solved by buying your lanolin-based products from a reputable company; a company you know and trust; a company with visibility - a website with contact information; a detailed label on their product. Make sure the lanolin in your lotion is labeled as pure grade, fine grade, highly refined, or medical grade. If you're unsure about the grade, email the company through their website. The well-refined lanolins will be free of pesticides and impurities.
When purchasing a finished skincare product, make sure, too, that it has not been tested on animals. The website My Makeup Mirror has a list of companies that do not use animal testing, and this list is constantly being updated.
Lanolin itself is not likely to cause allergic reactions, although each individual must check with their doctor before using anything that is absorbed into the body.
Pure lanolin is obtained without harming the sheep - as opposed to emu oil, which is gathered by killing the bird. Lanolin is a near-perfect skin softener and emollient. Many lanolin-based products are non-animal tested. And by making sure the soap, lip balm, skin cream, moisturizer, or hair product you use contains only high grade or medically graded lanolin, you can breathe easy, and enjoy lanolin's benefits.
Suzann writes for the website My Makeup Mirror [http://www.MyMakeupMirror.com ] - a potpourri of articles, product reviews, and how-to's on hair, cosmetics, and well-being.