Lanolin in personal care: Nature's remarkable moisturiser

Wool grease is a natural substance, ingeniously crafted by nature to protect and nourish both skin and wool fibers of sheep, safeguarding them from inclement weather and other environmental influences. Therefore, refined wool grease products, commonly referred to as lanolin and its derivatives, have gained widespread recognition for their remarkable applications in medicine, cosmetics, and toiletries, harnessing the inherent protective properties bestowed by nature. Thus, lanolin in personal care products is highly valued for its exceptional moisturising qualities.

Functions and applications

Nature's moisture saviour of the skin

The composition of lanolin bears a striking resemblance to the intercellular lipids present in the outermost layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum. Comprising cholesterol, cholesterol derivatives, and free fatty acids, these lipids serve as vital components for regulating the skin’s moisture levels.

In typical circumstances, water evaporates continuously from the skin’s surface. However, inadequate rehydration from the lower epidermal layers can result in a parched, rigid, and fragile stratum corneum. Lanolin possesses the remarkable ability to both prevent moisture loss and provide rehydration. Thus, making lanolin in personal care products highly valuable. This can be effectively demonstrated through a simple experiment.

Exploring the foundation of superior emollient properties

By applying a thin lanolin film onto a glass sheet and submerging it in a water-filled container, the once transparent wax layer turns progressively opaque due to water absorption. When the glass sheet is taken out of the container and exposed to the air, the lanolin film gradually regains transparency as it releases the water through evaporation and subsequent drying. In contrast, hydrocarbon-based emollients like vaseline or petrolatum lack this bidirectional water transport capability. Instead, they create a nearly impermeable occlusive film on the skin’s surface. Lanolin, acting as an auxiliary emulsifier, not only enhances the smooth and silky texture of such oil-based systems but also aids in maintaining their occlusive properties.

Experiments using different variations of the glass sheet method on the stratum corneum, when treated with lanolin, have demonstrated comparable outcomes. Besides the chemical resemblance between lanolin and human skin lipids, further investigations have revealed shared physical attributes, including multilamellar structures. These molecular assemblies bear a striking resemblance to the liquid crystal formations found in skin lipids. The exceptional emollient properties of lanolin in personal care products, especially in lanolin-based skincare products, can be attributed to the distinctive chemical and physical characteristics inherent to lanolin.

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