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What is Lanolin Oil?

author image Norma Chew
Norma Chew is a retired registered nurse who has been a freelance writer since 1978. Chew's articles have appeared in the "Journal of the Association of Operating Room Nurses" (AORN), "Point of View Magazine" and "Today's OR Nurse." Chew has a master's degree in health care administration from Nova Southeastern University.
What is Lanolin Oil?
Lanolin oil comes from sheep. Photo Credit: lemonpink/iStock/Getty Images

Sheep are the only source of lanolin oil. A sheep gets sheared once yearly and provides about 10 pounds of wool annually. Lanolin is an amber-colored fatty substance taken from the sheep’s wool before it is washed. According to the Lanolin website, liquid lanolin is known as an emollient and an emulsifier and is soluble in mineral and vegetable oils.

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Lanolin is made up of wax esters, fatty acids and other organic compounds. It is solid at room temperature and melts at 100 to 107 degree Fahrenheit. Lanolin oil derives from lanolin but is a liquid at room and body temperature. Lanolin oil softens the skin and is a good humectant (something that absorbs moisture from the air), making it ideal for use in skin and hair products.


Because of lanolin oil's emollient properties, it is commonly used in skin and hair products, and is particularly helpful for very curly hair or hair with a slight wave. It rehydrates, controls and retains skin moisture, and leaves the skin smooth, soft and fresh-looking. Lanolin oil is used as a stabilizer, as an emulsifier in ointments, and in medications such as zinc oxide. Lanolin oil benefits industries as an anticorrosive or a lubricant and is often used in the leather industry.

Other Industrial Uses

Lanolin oil has many other industrial uses. Lanolin oil controls fluidity and drying time in paints and varnish and is a penetration inhibitor in inks. It is added to polishing waxes and abrasives, and it acts as a paper conditioner to enhance softness of the paper. Lanolin is useful in metal-cutting oil and in engineering as lubrication grease.


Many products kept in the home contain lanolin oil. They include lotions, creams, makeup removers and medicated shampoos. Other products include baby oil, diaper-rash products, lipsticks, and powder and foundation makeup. According to, when someone swallows products containing lanolin oil, lanolin poisoning can occur.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Symptoms of lanolin poisoning include vomiting, rash, redness and swelling of the skin along with diarrhea. If poisoning is suspected, says to seek immediate medical help and do not let the person throw up unless told to do so by the Poison Control Center or a professional healthcare provider.


No animal testing or cruelty to animals is involved in the process of obtaining lanolin from the wool of sheep. The sheep’s wool also grows back naturally.

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