Lanolin is an oily substance obtained from sheep wool. Manufacturers extract sebum from the wool, then clean and refine it to produce a final product known as anhydrous lanolin. Lanolin combines easily with water, making it a useful ingredient in hand creams, lotions, moisturizers, sunscreens, makeup products, hairspray and shaving cream. Lanolin is generally safe, but a few problems are associated with this substance.
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Livestock owners routinely dip sheep into insecticides because these animals are susceptible to pests. A study published in the September 1992 issue of the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" found that lanolin samples contained several types of pesticide residues, and the contamination level varied significantly among batches. The authors noted that pesticide levels were not high enough to be immediately dangerous, but the residue presented two specific dangers: Some of the identified pesticides potentially could accumulate in fat tissue, and some could accumulate in the milk of breast-feeding women.
A component of lanolin, wool alcohol, is the main source of allergens connected with this substance. People who are allergic to wool alcohol may develop allergic contact dermatitis, a type of rash, when they use products containing lanolin. A rash from contact dermatitis may involve noticeable swelling, redness, itching and even blistering. It can affect not only the skin where lanolin was applied, but anywhere else on the body the individual has touched, such as the eyelids. The rash usually develops within several hours of using the product and dissipates over a few days.
Swallowing products that contain lanolin can cause poisoning, according to the MedlinePlus website. Signs of lanolin poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, rash, and skin redness and swelling. Eating large amounts of lanolin can cause an intestinal blockage. If a child or adult swallows a lanolin-containing product, seek immediate medical attention. Serious cases of lanolin poisoning may require gastric lavage, or the emptying of the stomach contents through a tube inserted into the digestive tract through the mouth. Additional treatment may include the use of activated charcoal, breathing assistance and intravenous fluids.
- New Zealand Dermatological Society Inc.: Wool Alcohols Contact Allergy
- MedlinePlus: Lanolin Poisoning
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry; Determination of Pesticides in Anhydrous Lanolin and Lanolin-Containing Pharmaceutical Preparations; David L. Heikes and John C. Craun
- New Zealand Dermatological Society Inc.: Allergic Contact Dermatitis