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What Is Anhydrous Lanolin?

Rachael Cullins
Rachael Cullins

Anhydrous lanolin is a yellow, waxy oil that is naturally produced by sheep and other wool-covered animals. In sheep, the substance gives the animal’s coat waterproof properties. They produce lanolin similar to the way that humans produce sweat. Lanolin is used in many cosmetic products, but has a variety of household applications as well.

Cosmetic products often refer to anhydrous lanolin as simply “lanolin.” The wax can be found in various moisturizers and lip balms, as it is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties. It is thought to have protective and healing qualities, and as such, is often used on dry skin or chapped lips. Anhydrous lanolin means the product is in its purified form with no additives. Non-anhydrous lanolin is used as a main ingredient in lotion or creams.

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

The chemical makeup of anhydrous lanolin is similar to the structure of lipids in humans, which is one of the reasons why the product is so effective on human skin. It is also used in some shampoos and conditioners. Unlike some animal products, lanolin is not collected in a way that harms the sheep when it is harvested from their wool. It is extracted from the wool only after it is shorn.

Lanolin can be found in shaving cream.
Lanolin can be found in shaving cream.

Anhydrous lanolin has many other uses beyond cosmetic applications. Its protective qualities make it effective for preventing the formation of rust on machinery, and it has been used for this purpose since medieval times. Shipbuilders use lanolin to protect against the rust-causing effects of seawater. It can also be found in many shoe and leather polishes, a testament to its water-repelling qualities.

Anhydrous lanolin may be used in shoe polishes.
Anhydrous lanolin may be used in shoe polishes.

Baseball players often use a lanolin-based product to break in a new glove, as lanolin helps soften and mold leather. Lanolin-based creams are often used by nursing mothers to relieve soreness and dryness. The wax is safe for babies to consume as well, making it an appropriate topical relief for breastfeeding mothers. Lanolin can also be found in dog shampoos and shaving creams.

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

Not everyone is receptive to anhydrous lanolin. The wax causes a skin allergy in some and should be avoided if any sort of reaction or rash is experienced. An allergy to the wax often stems from an existing allergy to the wool from which the lanolin is derived. Symptoms include itchy or red skin or even blisters in some extreme cases. A lanolin allergy can be particularly troublesome because of the vast number of products that contain the wax.

Discussion Comments


"Anhydrous" means it does not contain any water. It does not mean "purified."


We use it for dry, cracked feet. Absolutely amazing results. Smear on and put an old pair of socks on.


@amsden2000 – Like most other toxins, lanolin is safe in small amounts and if it isn't ingested. Things like lanolin are hard to avoid. Especially since using it has so many benefits for skin care and health. It's hard to find chemical products that are as good for your skin as lanolin is.

Personally, I stick to fruit and vegetable byproducts if possible. They don't hurt you if they're eaten and are completely natural – but lanolin is an excellent product and you shouldn't avoid it. Just use your head and store it safely if you do use it.


@tanner182 – I'm surprised that lanolin has been approved for use in food, it's actually poisonous. Since it's in so many things – you should be extra careful with those products around children. If even a small amount of a product can cause intestinal problems.

If it's a child or a smaller person – get medical help immediately. Since chap sticks smell good, children might be tempted to eat them. The symptoms to watch out for are diarrhea, rashes on your arms or face, flushing red on your face and nausea or vomiting.

Just like any other type of cosmetic products or chemicals – all you have to do is put them where kids can't get to them. All of my products are kept on the top shelf in the bathroom cabinet.


@tanner182 - I think it's also really interesting that lanolin hydrous, the pure unmodified stuff, is designed to be absorbed by skin so it works great for human skin as well as sheep skin.

I don't think chewing it would be that gross, actually, so long as it didn't taste like a sheep. Since it's good for skin and helps rejuvenate cells, I'd imagine it might even help improve the health of your gums. Weird thought!


@minthybear19 - I love lanolin so much! It also helps keep your lips nice and soft. My favorite chapstick is made with lanolin and mango butter, and I don't care what anybody says about plain lanolin smelling or tasting bad -- this chapstick is so juicy that sometimes I wonder if it would be okay to eat it.

I didn't know lanolin was in some brands of cover up. I'll definitely keep an eye out for that int he ingredients lists next time I buy make up -- thanks for the tip!


@minthybear19 – There are a lot of amazing things in nature. I always wondered who thought of harvesting lanolin first. It must have been someone who noticed that the sheep all had nice soft skin.

Lanolin is in more than cosmetic products. I was surprised to see that a lot of chewing gums use lanolin as a base. I'm not sure if I like the idea of chewing on sheep wax – but it has been approved as safe as a food additive.


@gimbell - Earwax is actually a pretty spot-on description of the texture of lanolin, although of course lanolin oil and anything that comes in contact with it smells strongly of sheep. Or do sheep smell like lanolin? Lanolin is definitely the reason sheep smell the way they do!

Washing a fleece at home doesn't have to be an ordeal. I buy mine unwashed so that I have the option to save some of the wool for waterproof items. Leaving the lanolin in makes wool items as waterproof as the sheep's fleece was when the sheep was growing it, and that's really handy for hats and outerwear like ponchos.

If I do want the lanolin oil gone, though, I just fill up my kitchen sink with hot water and plain dish soap (mild scents are best, like lemon), put the fleece inside, and wash it around in the water thoroughly by hand. Lift out of the water and let it drain dry on your dish drainer, and voila -- no more lanolin smell and stickiness!

if you have a regular-size kitchen sink, you'll most likely have to split your fleece up into three or four pieces and wash them one at a time. Drain the sink between washings, or the lanolin oil will build up in the water. Good luck!


Lanolin is amazing – it's used in all kinds of personal care products. Lipstick, moisturizers, shampoos and lots of other stuff. I like it because it's completely natural, which makes it better for my skin in my opinion. A lot of makeup brands that don't use lanolin dry out quickly.

I use organic cosmetic products and lanolin oil is in pretty much everything since it makes a smooth oil base. It also is in a lot of coverups. It prevents your skin from drying out. Since it keeps you skin healthy, it can help prevent wrinkles and slow aging too. Another great thing from mother nature!


I used to be into fiber arts as a teen thanks to my mom teaching a class on the subject. At one point, mom took me out to buy my own sheep's fleece so that I would have enough of one color to make myself a sweater once I finished spinning all of it into yarn.

We went to a sheep farm where they sold wool for fiber arts; they had tables of whole fleeces, and I picked out a pretty unwashed silvery one to spin. Unwashed just means that the fleece still has the lanolin in it.

I almost wish I had bought a washed fleece, because the smell of pure lanolin turned out to be a unique musky kind of scent that I didn't really like.

Also, it might sound gross, but the closest description of the texture on your fingers that I can think of is earwax. It's a bit sticky and definitely waxy.

I ended up disliking the lanolin so much that I washed my fleece at home to get it out. If you want to spin your own fleece, make sure you know what lanolin is like firsthand before you buy an unwashed fleece -- washing one at home is a bit of work!

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    • Lanolin is found in many skin care products.
      By: picsfive
      Lanolin is found in many skin care products.
    • Lanolin can be found in shaving cream.
      By: Igor Mojzes
      Lanolin can be found in shaving cream.
    • Anhydrous lanolin may be used in shoe polishes.
      By: Forgiss
      Anhydrous lanolin may be used in shoe polishes.
    • Lanolin is a waxy substance found on sheep's wool.
      By: Alexey Stiop
      Lanolin is a waxy substance found on sheep's wool.
    • Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.
      By: Deyan Georgiev
      Lanolin is known for its skin-rejuvenating properties.