What Is Lanolin Soap?

Meg Higa

Lanolin, derived from the Latin words for “wool” and “oil,” is a waxy substance secreted by the hair follicles of sheep, covering their fleece. Since sheep were first domesticated, this so-called “wool grease” has been harvested as an unavoidable by-product of processing wool into textile. A fortunate extract, lanolin has a variety of uses, including industrial water-repellent lubrication, but its widest application is in cosmetics and toiletries. Natural lanolin soap is a popular skin-cleansing bar for many people, especially discerning new mothers.

Lanolin is found in many skin care products.
Lanolin is found in many skin care products.

To create lanolin soap, the lanolin must first be extracted from the sheep. The lanolin can be pressed free from its coat, but most processors wash it off with warm, scouring detergent and then separate the liquefied, oil-like product with a spinning centrifuge. Repeated centrifugation, as well as removal of impurities such as sweat salts and organic pesticides used to maintain the healthy husbandry of herds, yields the increasingly higher grades of lanolin necessary to make lanolin soap.

Lanolin is a waxy substance found on sheep's wool.
Lanolin is a waxy substance found on sheep's wool.

When anhydrous, or purified to the extent of removing all trace of free water, lanolin is as hydrophobic or water-repellent as synthetic petrolatum, more commonly known under the brand name Vaseline®. Lanolin breathes; it is permeable to gases such as oxygen. Increasingly, laboratory studies support its hypoallergenic qualities of lanolin soap because of its resistance to chemical reactions with other human bodily compounds. Lanolin is a protective, anti-bacterial barrier for open skin wounds and a healing salve for skin disorders such as eczema.

Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.
Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.

There are several other properties of lanolin which make it ideal for lotions, creams, soaps and other cosmetic products. It is a lubricant, a purely physical aid against abrasion. It readily emulsifies, or breaks apart and suspends evenly throughout a liquid medium. It melts and spreads at just above body temperature — about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius).

Lanolin soap takes advantage of its defining emollient function. It water-proofs a sheep’s fur coat and skin; and conversely, prevents the loss of moisture within skin to evaporation. Likewise for human skin, it is a protective barrier for maintaining hydration balance while retaining skin’s other natural functions. Not that a smooth baby’s bottom needs it, lanolin soap is a gentle skin cleanser favored by some new mothers.

Many skin care products are made with lanolin, including gentle facial soaps and cleansers.
Many skin care products are made with lanolin, including gentle facial soaps and cleansers.

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Discussion Comments


I use a lanolin shaving soap. It's great stuff. It got rid of razor burn for me. It might not be good for people with oily skin though. It might cause breakouts.


@SarahGen-- It sounds like you have a really good bar of soap. I have used lanolin soap before and it was kind of disappointing. It didn't moisturize my skin and it was difficult to rinse off. I guess there are different quality lanolin soaps out there. I'm experiencing dry skin again so I might read some reviews and give lanolin soap another try.

I've been using pure lanolin soap for the past two weeks. It was a gift by a friend who is into natural products. I have very dry and sensitive skin and I have tried many different types of soaps. Lanolin soap is definitely the best soap I have ever used and I don't think I will ever switch to something else.

I was intending to use the soap for my body and I have used it that way. It made my skin very soft and hydrated. The itching that I experience due to dryness (especially in winter) simply disappeared. After seeing the great results on my body, I ordered another bar of it to try on my face and I'm very impressed. My face feels so soft and supple.

The soap is not very cheap, but I think it's going to last me for a very long time and it's absolutely worth it.

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