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

Bailey Lee; Erin Warshaw


Dermatitis. 2008;19(2):63-72. 

In This Article

Sources of Exposure to Lanolin and Its Derivatives

Touted for its emollient properties, lanolin can be found in a variety of toiletries, including lipsticks, cosmetic creams and powders, shaving creams, shampoos, and soaps. Ointment bases for topical medicaments are another common source of lanolin exposure.[1] Because of its ability to penetrate the epidermis to the depth of the stratum granulosum,[8,9] and into keratinocytes,[5] lanolin has been prescribed for the treatment of many skin conditions, including xerosis, eczema, and open wounds.[10–12] In addition, it has long been recommended as the treatment of choice for nipple soreness in lactating women.[13–15]

Lanolin is also used for industrial purposes. Wool wax has been applied to metallic surfaces to prevent corrosion, added to ink to prevent crystallization, used in adhesive plasters, incorporated into furniture polish and shoe creams, and even applied to leather to enhance pliability and water resistance.[1] These sources represent potential allergenic exposures although a comprehensive literature search found only two case reports of lanolin dermatitis due to industrial products, one from metal coatings and the other from adhesive plaster.[16,17]

Sheep wool and wool clothing are also important sources of exposure to wool wax, as the content of wool wax in clothing may be as high as that in some cosmetics.[18] Despite this, reports of lanolin allergy among those working directly with sheep or in wool manufacturing are rare. Lord reported four cases of allergic reaction to wool: one with chronic urticaria, one with acute urticaria, and two with eczema. All were caused by contact with wool garments, and all had resolution of symptoms when wool contact was eliminated (patch testing was not performed).[19] Another case of allergic contact dermatitis due to wool clothing was reported in Africa 2 years later.[20]


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