Lanolin Allergy: History, Epidemiology, Responsible Allergens, and Management

Bailey Lee; Erin Warshaw


Dermatitis. 2008;19(2):63-72. 

In This Article

Brief History of Lanolin

The ancient Greeks were likely the first to extract crude wool fat from the wool of sheep. Documentation from 700 bc describes a process of boiling wool in water with extraction of the top layer of grease. A more refined method was discovered in 60 ad by the Greek physician Dioscorides and consisted of pouring wool washings into a receptacle several times until a froth developed. After the froth disappeared, a layer of wool wax was collected.[3] Dioscorides called this product “oesypus,” and it became widely cited in several ancient medical texts and pharmacopeias.[4]

It was not until Otto Braun, a German, patented a method for centrifuging the scouring liquid derived from wool washings in 1882, however, that the term “lanolin,” from the Latin words for wool (lana) and oil (oleum), was coined. Soon after this discovery, the large-scale production of lanolin began in Germany. This process then spread to the United Kingdom, and by the end of the nineteenth century, wool wax was produced in most European countries.[4]

Modern methods for extracting lanolin from wool washings involve more sophisticated techniques, which can be grouped into three main categories: (1) modified centrifugation, (2) solvent extraction, and (3) “acid-cracking” (this involves adding acid to crude wax, which destabilizes and separates the wax for easier filtering).[5,6] Today, the most widely used method of wool wax extraction is the centrifugation process.[5] The crude wool grease extracted by these processes is then purified and modified in numerous different ways to produce the plethora of lanolin products and derivatives.


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