Lanolin: Is it Really Safe?

Lanolin was named Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2023 due to the increasing frequency of allergic reactions. The controversy of lanolin’s allergenicity began in the 1920s and has continued to the present time.

What are other names for lanolin?

A variety of different terms are used to refer to lanolin (and its components and derivatives), such as wool alcohols, wool fat, anhydrous lanolin, amerchol, lanolin alcohol, alcoholes lanae, wool wax, and wool grease.

Lanolin is produced from wool fat (sheep). The term lanolin is derived from the Latin terms lana (‘wool’) and oleum (‘oil’); sebum is extracted from sheep’s wool, cleaned, and refined. Lanolin is a naturally occurring substance that is secreted by the oil glands of wool producing mammals. This substance is purified through centrifugation & extraction. Lanolin is a complex mixture of high molecular weight esters, aliphatic alcohols, sterols, fatty acids, and hydrocarbons that has been widely used for centuries for its emollient properties. The prevalence of lanolin contact allergy in dermatitis patients varies from 1.2% to 6.9%. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the most common side effect associated with the use of lanolin cream is an allergic reaction or skin irritation. 

Although an allergy to lanolin can be caused by initial exposure, it is thought that lanolin allergies and sensitivities are more likely to develop due to repeated exposures. This means that children and older adults are also at greater risk of developing contact allergies to lanolin over time due to repeated exposure. Babies and Mothers may develop an allergy due to chronic use of nipple balms and diaper creams.

Creams with lanolin, or pure lanolin, are often used to treat breastfeeding women’s nipples. A number of women report getting an allergic reaction to lanolin, which is why some people label this condition as nipple cream allergy. Nipples, when breastfeeding, can often have small cracks and openings which allows lanolin to enter the mother’s blood stream contributing to a potential allergic reaction.

The irony is that there are a number of topical treatments being used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, dry skin and open wounds that contain lanolin. Initially the soothing properties of lanolin might help, but as the repetitive exposure to the allergen kicks in, it may just make it worse over time; or a full-blown allergy may be created. Users will often increase use of the product to combat the symptoms not realizing the treatment is contributing to the problem.


A few interesting facts about Lanolin

Lanolin can be an emulsifier

Lanolin can hold 2-4 times its weight in moisture

Lanolin can be harmful if swallowed. 

Lanolin is similar to wax so eating a significant amount relative to the baby’s size can cause a blockage in the intestine.


Lanolin poisoning can occur when it is ingested. Babies when breastfeeding will be ingesting any product applied to their Mother’s nipples, including lanolin.


Symptoms of lanolin poisoning 

  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Red Skin
  • Vomiting

Lanolin allergy can occur with the initial exposure or after multiple uses.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to lanolin.

  • Eye, lip, mouth and throat swelling
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin redness
  • Itching or burning
  • Hives
  • Blisters or skin bumps
  • Dryness, cracking, peeling or flaking of skin
  • Skin burning or stinging skin after a few hours, or even after a couple of days, after skin exposure.

Possible lanolin reaction complications:

  • Aesthetic concerns.
  • Secondary skin infection eg, bacterial skin infection.
  • Disseminated secondary eczema (autoeczematisation).
  • Postinflammatory hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation.
  • Lichenification can result from chronic inflammation due to contact dermatitis. 

It is important to be aware of these symptoms of an allergic or sensitivity reaction and stop using the product if they occur. Often a user will experience a side effect but believe the side effect is the problem and will start using the product more. For example, a person uses a hand lotion to treat dry hands. Their skin appears drier, so they use more hand lotion even though the hand lotion is making their hands drier than they were before they started using the hand lotion.

Lanolin is found in many products:

Nipple creams, nipple balms, nipple butters

  • Baby oils, diaper cream and baby lotions
  • Hand creams
  • Emollients and moisturizers
  • Barrier creams
  • Self-tanners
  • Sunscreens
  • Glossy lipsticks
  • Makeup removers and cleansers
  • Foundations/powders/concealer
  • Eye makeup
  • Hairspray
  • Shaving creams


Other names for Lanolin that may be found in the ingredients list:

  • Adeps lanae anhydrous
  • Aloholes lanae
  • Amerchol
  • Anhydrous lanolin
  • EINECS 232-430-1
  • Lanae alcohols
  • Lanolin
  • Lanolin alcohol(s)
  • Wool alcohols
  • Wool fat
  • Wool grease
  • Wool wax


Nipple cracks causing an opening in the skin contributes to increased chances of having an acute reaction to lanolin as well as creating an allergy or sensitivity to the lanolin due to chronic exposure.

Common products that contain lanolin:

  • Aquaphor
  • Aveeno
  • Avon
  • Cover Girl
  • Dermatone
  • Dr. Brown’s Nipple Balm
  • Dr. Talbot’s
  • Eucerin
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Lansinoh Nipple Cream
  • Medela Purelan
  • Mommy’s Bliss
  • Nair Hair Removal
  • Old Spice
  • Skintimate
  • The Honest Company Nipple Balm

Several store brand nipple balms and nipple creams contain lanolin.


What to do if you think you may be having a reaction to lanolin:

  1. If you’ve been diagnosed with, or suspect you may have a lanolin allergy, it is important to read product labels carefully: look for lanolin or related terms such as “wool wax,” “lanolin oil,” or “lanolate” on ingredient lists. (See other terms above)
  2. Before trying a new skincare or cosmetic product, perform a patch test by applying a small amount of the product to a small area of your skin where you intend to use the product. Monitor the area for any signs of an allergic reaction, such as redness, itching, bumps, flaking, rash etc. 
  3. Search for lanolin-free alternatives: There are many lanolin-free products available on the market.  Look for labels that say “lanolin-free”.

The image below depicts a lanolin reaction. Most skin allergic reactions will not be at this level, but instead will be limited to skin redness, drying, flakey, scaly skin, bumps, blisters, red or pink dots. It may be more difficult to see a skin reaction on skin that has a darker pigment.


    The Honest Company Nipple Balm
    Mommy’s Bliss
    Medela Purelan
    Lansinoh Nipple Cream
    NCVI Pure Lanolin Nipple Cream
    Dr. Talbot’s
    Dr. Brown’s Nipple Balm

    The The Green Forest Lady Nipple Balm does not contain lanolin.

    A+D Prevent
    ASuper Duper Diaper Doo
    Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment

    The Green Forest Lady Baby Booty Balm does not contain lanolin.

    The Green Forest Lady Boo Boo Balm does not contain lanolin.

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