Lanolin is a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals.
Lanolin's waterproofing property aids sheep in shedding water from their coats.
Lanolin's role in nature is to protect wool and skin from climate and the environment.
Lanolin can also be restored to woolen garments to make them water and dirt repellent, such as for cloth diaper covers.
Lanolin, when mixed with ingredients such as neatsfoot oil, beeswax and glycerol, is used in various leather treatments, for example in some saddle soaps and in leather care products.
The word is derived from Latin lāna ‘wool’, and oleum ‘oil’. Lanolin is also occasionally referenced as wool yolk, wool wax, or wool grease.
Lanolin used by humans comes from domestic sheep breeds that are raised specifically for their wool.
Historically, many pharmacopoeias have referred to lanolin as wool fat (adeps lanae); however, as lanolin lacks glycerides (glycerol esters), it is not a true fat. Lanolin primarily consists of sterol esters instead.
Certain breeds of sheep produce large amounts of lanolin.
Lanolin and its many derivatives are used extensively in both the personal care (e.g., high value cosmetics, facial cosmetics, lip products) and health care sectors such as topical liniments. Lanolin is also found in lubricants, rust-preventive coatings, shoe polish, and other commercial products.
Lanolin extracted in production:
Crude lanolin constitutes about 5–25% of the weight of freshly shorn wool. The wool from one Merino sheep will produce about 250–300 ml of recoverable wool grease. Lanolin is extracted by washing the wool in hot water with a special wool scouring detergent to remove dirt, wool grease (crude lanolin), suint (sweat salts), and anything else stuck to the wool. The wool grease is continuously removed during this washing process by centrifuge separators, which concentrate it into a wax-like substance melting at approximately 38 °C (100 °F).
Lanolin is also used in lip balm and many other products.
Learn about waterproofing textiles & apparel in our fashion industry terminology section.
Learn about the benefits of wool.