Sunday, August 1, 2010

The chemistry of our nails: Lanolin

Lanolin is extracted from sheep's wool grease (the sebaceous secretions of sheep), and is composed of 138 saturated and 32 unsaturated fatty acids with wonderful sterols like cholesterol, lanesterol, and agnesterol, which we know offer great moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties, and cetyl and stearyl alcohols, which are great emollients and thickeners. (The cholesterol is of particular interest for moisturizing as our stratum corneum lipids are made up 20% to 25% cholesterol and our skin particularly likes this type of sterol.)

We see lanolin in a lot of nail products, especially nail polish removers, because it is such an amazing emollient that offers serious moisturizing and water repellancy. It helps create a barrier to keep water in to help moisturize our skin, and it will help keep lotions and balms on our hands even after washing. This barrier helps reduce trans-epidermal water loss and may help with superficial wound healing. Lanolin can increase absorption of active ingredients in our creastions, and it is great for creating a uniform consistency for a balm or ointment.

You might find anhydrous lanolin on your suppliers' shelves - this means it contains less than 0.25% water. It has an HLB of 10 - so if you're making your own emulsification blend, you'll have to do some calculating - and it is insoluble in water. It can, however, take up to double its weight in water without separating, so if you are making anhydrous products and want to add a little glycerin or a lovely hydrosol, you can do this and ensure it'll stay emulsified. Lanolin has a melting point of 36˚ to 42˚C, which means it'll melt a little higher than body temperature (around the same level as cocoa butter).

As lanolin is derived from animals, vegans and those with dietary restrictions may wish to avoid this product. As well, some people can be sensitive to this ingredient, so do a test before you go adding it to everything you make!

The adorable lamb picture above comes from my massage therapist's website. Loretta and Don have beautiful little lambs every year, both normal type and Icelandic. If you want to see more, click the links! They really are lovely and the Icelandic are born with tiny horns. They're so cute! Loretta takes amazing pictures as well - she took the ones I've posted of our wedding - but you might squee so much, your dog won't be able to hear you by the last photo! 

Join me tomorrow for fun formulating nail care products with lanolin and lecithin!


Sophia1105 said...

Hmn, wasn't that aware of lanolin, esp re: allergies. I've recently found your site and LOVE it, thank you so much for all of your information! It is truly a wealth of knowledge.

And of course thanks for the lambkin links, they are too adorable!

sasha said...

hi! can i use lanolin in one of your emulsified scrub recipes? do you think that's a good idea or would you discourage me to do that? i'm new to this so if you could indulge me please... TIA

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sasha. Why don't you try it and see if you like it! There's no reason not to use it - it's all about our individual preferences!

Anonymous said...

Hello Susan,

You're one of the reasons I started to use lanolin so much.
Even though it's sticky, pure lanolin penetrates very fast. It's also really good for soapers' hands, when you have tested too many fresh soaps ;).
What do you mean by "homogenous aspec in balms"? Does it keep oils from cristallising?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lalla! I didn't use those terms - it took me a minute to figure out what you meant! - but it will help the oils stay more unformly dispersed in a product instead of crystallizing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! I have a few questions about lanolin. I am going to try making a hair wax/paste/pomade type product. Something to add texture and flexible hold to my hair. Since I haven't been able to find any recipes for this kind of product, I've made a study of the many different hair waxes at the drugstore, noting what ingredients each product has in common. I discovered that almost every one I looked at has something called lanolin wax as a main ingredient. So began the mad hunt for lanolin wax online. Making Cosmetics carries it, but only in bulk (40 lb.) quantities. I found another supplier, Organic Creations, that has a product called "Lanolin Wax". But they have a picture of it and it looks more like what other suppliers sell as "anhydrous lanolin". It's more like a sticky, semisolid texture. And the INCI is lanolin, not lanolin wax. Making Cosmetic describes the texture of their lanolin wax as "waxy solid" with a "high melting point". That doesn't sound like the same product sold by Organic Creations. Sorry for the long comment, but this is driving me crazy. I have researched the different types of lanolin derivatives, and I'm wondering, could lanolin wax be the same thing as anhydrous lanolin? Cosmetics Info says that raw lanolin is separated into two phases, a solid phase(lanolin wax) and a liquid phase(lanolin oil). I've also read that anhydrous lanolin is as its name implies, lanolin with the water removed. I've found anhydrous lanolin at a number of different suppliers, but cannot find lanolin wax anywhere else besides the two suppliers I have mentioned. I suspect that getting the right form of lanolin for my hair wax project is important, as it seems to be the "lanolin wax" that gives the hair wax its waxy texture.

Also, is there any other ingredient or combination of ingredients I could substitute for lanolin wax?

Thanks for your time,

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Bridget. Is this is lanolin wax from Making Cosmetics to which you refer? If so, take a look at the INCI. It is different from lanolin. If you look at the lanolin wax from Organic Creations, you'll see that the INCI is lanolin, meaning it isn't lanolin wax.

As you mention, notes under their reference for lanolin, there are different fractions of lanolin, one of them being the lanolin wax. So they are different things.

I cannot stress enough how much you want to read the INCI because the suppliers can call an ingredient whatever they want, but they can't make up an INCI. That's where you get the information you need about an ingredient. (This is a thought I'm sharing with everyone 'cause I figure this is a teachable moment, not specifically directed at you, Bridget.)

Why not ask Making Cosmetics if you can get a sample or smaller amount of it? Or why not see if you can find another recipe that might not contain lanolin wax.

I think beeswax could work just as well if you just use enough for it to be soft and pliable instead of really solid. Check out this recipe from the Natural Beauty Workshop. Leave out the jasmine related things - they're there for the smell. You can use any oil you wish in this recipe. The shealoe butter is going to be quite soft, so you might want to use coconut oil in its place if you don't have it at home. (Although I love shealoe butter and encourage you to get some! It is great in a whipped butter!) Try that and let us know how it works out!

As a second note, I found a recipe in one of my textbooks that called for 94% petroleum jelly and 6% beeswax, so you could play with that idea as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Susan! I think this was one of those moments where I wanted Organic Creations' "lanolin wax" to be the actual thing so much I didn't want to believe the INCI. from what I've read, a major reason lanolin wax is so popular in commercial pomades as opposed to anhydrous lanolin or beeswax is it's higher melting point makes products less likely to melt in heat. I imagine multinational countries need to be sure their product doesn't melt while being distributed. But since my pomade is unlikely to leave my house much, it should be less of an issue for me. Thanks for the link!

Bridget ;)

Birgit said...

Hey Susan,

I am having really hard time with the smell of lanolin. I have cut it down to 3% in my hand balm, and in the jar it smells lovely, but when I sniff my hands, I can still smell wool. I see you use it at 10%, so my question is, do you use very potent fragrance oils to cover it up, or is there such a thing as deodorized lanolin?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Birgit. I don't think I've seen deodorized lanolin, but I'm sure it exists. The smell doesn't really bother me, but you could try some fragrance/essential oils in the product and see if you like it!

Tricia said...

Giving back a little something for all the useful info I've found on this blog:

Lanolin does indeed absorb and hold water-soluble ingredients. I've had good results with an anhydrous hand salve using 8% glycerin and 14% lanolin. These should be the first two ingredients measured into your beaker. Heat and stir well before adding the rest of your recipe. No separation, even if your salve goes through less-than-ideal temperature changes.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tricia! Thanks! I love it when people come back to share their experiences! This is awesome!

Alana said...

Hi! Can super sterols from Croda be a odorless alternative to lanolin? What are the differences between the two? Is lanolin better than super sterols?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Alana! I'm going to refer you over to this post on Super Sterols to read more. My short answer is that yes, it is fairly odourless, but I have no idea where to get this ingredient, so I'd be loathe to suggest its usage.

Alana said...

I found the super sterols at Lotion Crafter, a bit pricy, but they do sell it. I was actually wondering if I could substitute super sterols for lanolin. Also, I have found one source for deodorized lanonin smaller amounts (