Allergic reactions to cosmetic ingredients, such as lanolin, are as common as they are irritating. Unfortunately for most, experimentation is the only way you’ll know what ingredients your skin can and can’t tolerate.
Significance and Purpose
Lanolin is the oily substance that comes from sheep’s wool. On the sheep, lanolin helps make the wool waterproof. It is an effective moisturizer and is most commonly used in creams, salves and lotions, and to a lesser extent in pharmaceutical preparations and for commercial use. Lanolin is extracted from sheared sheep’s wool, then refined and purified for cosmetic uses. It is the wool alcohols that make up 50 percent of the lanolin that are to blame for itchy skin rashes 1.
- Lanolin is the oily substance that comes from sheep’s wool.
- Lanolin is extracted from sheared sheep’s wool, then refined and purified for cosmetic uses.
If you have an allergic reaction to lanolin, you will most like experience an itchy skin rash on the part of your body where you applied the product containing the lanolin. It may take a few hours or up to a day or two for your skin to react. The most common reaction sites are your hands, face, arms and feet since this is where the lanolin came in contact with your skin. A lanolin skin reaction typically produces a mild allergic reaction, but in some people it may be more extreme. A mild reaction consists of a scaly patch of skin or small, red itchy bumps. If you applied the product to your face, your lips and face might swell. In more extreme cases, your rash might not only itch and burn, but may even develop into blisters, according to DermNet NZ.org
- If you have an allergic reaction to lanolin, you will most like experience an itchy skin rash on the part of your body where you applied the product containing the lanolin.
The first step in treating a skin reaction to lanolin is to stop using any product containing lanolin, wool, or any derivative, such as:
- adeps lanae anhydrous
- aloholes lanae
Apply a topical steroid cream, such as hydrocortisone, and make sure it does not contain any lanolin. Taking an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, may also help reduce the allergic reaction. For more serious skin reactions, consult with your healthcare provider.
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Your doctor can test you for a lanolin allergy to determine if you have a true allergic reaction to wool alcohols or if lanolin is more of an irritant 1. The DermNet NZ.Org site states that a dermatologists can use a patch test with 30 percent wool alcohol to determine a person’s level of sensitivity 1. Self-testing is another option available. Place a small amount of lanolin-containing product on your skin and examine it over the period of five to seven days. If you choose to self-test, talk with your doctor first.
- Your doctor can test you for a lanolin allergy to determine if you have a true allergic reaction to wool alcohols or if lanolin is more of an irritant 1.
There are a variety of products on the market that contain lanolin. Some, such as hand lotions and body creams, are easier to identify than others. If you are allergic, make sure you read labels carefully. Here is a list of some products that contain lanolin that may surprise you:
• Shaving cream • Sunscreen • Dog shampoo • Hemorrhoid cream • Hairspray • Shoe polish • Printer ink • Leather
- There are a variety of products on the market that contain lanolin.
- Some, such as hand lotions and body creams, are easier to identify than others.
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- DermNet NZ: Allergy to wool alcohols
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Lanolin chemical compound. Updated November 29, 2017.
- Sheep 101 and 201. A beginner's guide to raising sheep. Updated September 2, 2020.
- Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) Lanolin. Updated December 3, 2018.
- Purnamawati S, Indrastuti N, Danarti R, Saefudin T. The role of moisturizers in addressing various kinds of dermatitis: a review. Clin Med Res. 2017;15(3-4):75-87. doi:10.3121/cmr.2017.1363
- Jackson KT, Dennis CL. Lanolin for the treatment of nipple pain in breastfeeding women: A randomized controlled trial. MaternChild Nutr. 2017;13(3). doi:10.1111/mcn.12357
- MedlinePlus. Lanolin poisoning. Updated October 3, 2019.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wax. Updated July 20, 2017.
- Mariani Neto C, De Albuquerque RS, De Souza SC, Giesta RO, Fernandes APS, Mondin B. Comparative study of the use of HPA Lanolin and breastmilk for treating pain associated with nipple trauma. Rev Bras Ginecol Obstet. 2018;40(11):664-672. doi:10.1055/s-0038-1675180
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. CFR - Code of federal regulations title 21. Updated September 19, 2019.
Based in Florida, Andrea Cooley has been writing professionally since 1990. Her work has appeared in "Imago" magazine, and in 2007, she wrote a manuscript on healthy aging that resulted in the publication of a book. Cooley holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of South Florida.