The word sebum has a bad rap in skincare because it conjures up images of a greasy complexion and breakouts. But there is such a thing as good sebum, which is oil that keeps skin in a balanced state so that its barrier functions are not disrupted. Like how cod fish liver oil, which is rich in omega fatty acids, is good for health, good sebum is required to maintain the oil-water ratio of skin at its optimum level, to reduce what we call transepidermal water loss so that skin doesn’t get dry, scaly, rough and itchy.
It is not enough to just pile on the hydrating skincare when your skin doesn’t have enough good sebum to effectively lock in the moisture. That’s where lanolin comes in handy.
What is lanolin?
Lanolin is a type of animal-derived fat. Essentially, it is sebum that comes from sheep. We know that sounds revolting, but hear us out. Lanolin is sebum that is produced by the oil glands of sheep. It helps keep their skin and wool conditioned and water-resistant, and is generally extracted from the wool after the sheep is sheared. So, lanolin products can be cruelty-free, if the product is not tested on animals. It is considered a natural ingredient, but it is not vegan-friendly.
What does lanolin do?
In its raw form, lanolin is a soft, waxy substance that looks like petroleum jelly. Beauty brands have their different ways of processing lanolin into different forms to include in their products. But its main purpose is to moisturise skin and act as an emollient – by forming a layer on skin, to prevent moisture loss. It is therefore used in many types of skincare products, such as face creams, body creams and lotion, and even in nipple cream to help soothe sore, dry and chapped skin.
Are there any drawbacks?
Lanolin is generally safe to use for most people. But if you are allergic to wool, you will want to avoid this because, well, it does come from wool.
Some studies have shown that frequent exposure to lanolin can result in sensitised skin and cause allergies, which is why you see that some products have a “lanolin-free” label. But the evidence is not strong or substantial enough to cause concern. If you are still worried, it’s always wise to do a patch test on your skin before using the product on larger areas of your body.
Who is lanolin best for?
Because of its emollient properties, lanolin works best for people with dry to very dry skin. Its primary purpose is to lock in moisture, so your skin doesn’t lose as much moisture to the environment. Thus, it prevents the onset of itchy, rough and scaly skin.
Here are five products that have lanolin that you should add to your skincare routine:
Text: Kayce Teo/Her World, Additional reporting: Engracia Ang