What is Lanolin?

Just like gelatin, people tend to avoid lanolin once they discover how it’s produced. You don’t need to be vegan to find lanolin disgusting and objectionable.

What is Lanolin?

Lanolin is a byproduct of wool production. Wool is of course made from sheep hair. And, just like human hair, wool gets greasy. Before freshly-shorn wool gets processed into fabric or yarn, its grease is squeezed out and removed. Who could possibly want the thousands of of tons of this grease the wool industry generates each year? The cosmetics industry!

So basically, lanolin is a wholesome-sounding name for the grease extracted from sheep hair. It’s widely used for lip balm, undoubtedly because the people buying this stuff have no idea what they’re putting on their lips. Lanolin also commonly appears in hand creams, lip balms, and mascara.

Lanolin-derived chemicals go by a variety of names:

  • Cholesterin
  • Isopropyl Lanolate
  • Laneth
  • Lanogene
  • Lanolin Acids
  • Lanolin Alcohol
  • Lanosterols
  • Sterols
  • Triterpene Alcohols
  • Wool Fat
  • Wool Wax

Is Lanolin Vegan?

Since lanolin comes from wool, which in turn comes from sheep, it’s not vegan. As with all other non-vegan substances, there’s substantial cruelty and animal exploitation tied to lanolin that deserves consideration.

Despite the bucolic image of sheep grazing lush hillsides, sheep production is neither gentle nor humane. Much of the world’s wool comes from Australia, where a barbaric practice called mulesing is legal and widespread. In mulesing, the sheep have strips of skin on their buttocks stripped off with a knife.

You can read more about what’s wrong with wool, but clearly anyone opposed to animal exploitation should avoid wool and lanolin alike.

While lanolin is among the most common cosmetic ingredients, it’s easy to find lanolin-free personal care items and makeup. There’s nothing special about lanolin, as it offers no special or unique properties. It’s only widely used in cosmetics because, as an animal byproduct, it’s extremely cheap and most consumers are clueless about its origin.

Related reading: please see our wool page and our animal ingredients list.

Newsletter Signup

Our newsletter is sent out irregularly and infrequently, because we only want to hit your inbox when we’ve got something compelling to share.