The history of lanolin dates back to 8000 years when people first began to use the substance derived from sheep wool. Going by ancient Egyptian history, we find that the primeval Egyptians placed blocks of lanolin on their head. When this lanolin melted in the sun and spread over the face, it made the skin soft. Several therapeutic and pharmaceutical texts written during the last 2000 years offer us valuable information and guidelines regarding the use of lanolin. In fact, the term lanolin is derived from the Latin words ‘lana' meaning wool and ‘oleum' denoting oil. However, chemically, lanolin is not oil, but a kind of wax. To be precise, lanolin is secreted by the sebaceous glands in sheep and shields their coat from rain and other natural elements.
Lanolin is derived from the wool after shearing the fleece of sheep and it is interesting to note that extraction of lanolin does not cause any harm to these animals. Normally, 100 pounds of wool or fleece from sheep produce merely two to four pounds of lanolin. The best thing about lanolin is that the substance is a replenishing natural resource and not a synthetic compound produced artificially.
Lanolin is known by many other names, including Adeps Lanae, wool fat, wool wax or wool grease. Lanolin is greasy and has a yellowish hue. This natural extract from wool-bearing animals like sheep has several uses. It functions as a skin lotion, wax for manufacturing water proof items and also serves as a raw material for different products, such as shoe polish. As mentioned earlier, lanolin is a ‘fat or grease produced from wool' and chemically similar to wax. It is produced by the sebaceous glands of animals that have a wool coat and the sebaceous glands are linked to the hair cells.
Lanolin is a putrid light yellowish crude oil present in the sheep's wooly coats and possesses the quality of holding back water naturally. Hence, it is easy to comprehend that the substance acts as a water proof covering for the sheep shielding them from rain, frost and other natural elements. In addition to its water repellant property, lanolin also possesses anti-bacterial and ant-fungal features that help to save the sheep from any contagions caused by these microbes. Extracted from the sheep's oil glands, lanolin is a blend of wool fat and 25 to 30 per cent water. It may be noted here that wool fat itself is a blend of several dissimilar chemical amalgams, such as cholesterol as well as esters (chemical compounds formed by reaction between an acid and an alcohol with elimination of water) obtained from fatty acids.
Lanolin is exploited extensively in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. In fact, the oils enclosed in lanolin are very akin to the chemical structure of the oils produced by the human skin. In addition, lanolin forms a suspension when mixed with water and this blend is easily soaked up by the skin making it smooth as well as soft. At the same time, application of a blend of lanolin and water on the skin helps to prevent the skin from dehydrating and fissures. This particular aspect of lanolin elucidates the reason why sheep shearers have very smooth hands. Precisely speaking, lanolin is essentially a wax and neither a fat or oil. It thaws out at temperatures between 100°F and 107°F.
Lanolin is extracted from unwashed wool sheared from sheep through a simple procedure. First, you need to add salt to the unwashed wool and boil in water for some hours. Addition of salt enhances the yield of lanolin from the wool. The solution is gradually lessened by evaporating most of the water. Having done this, you need to filter the hot solution and collect the coagulated solid materials and leave them to cool. In fact, you will find a light yellow colored waxy solid float up on the water. This substance is impure lanolin and can be cleansed by removing the raw lanolin and wobbling it with a blend of olive oil and water. This process will help the dirt or impurities to diffuse into the oil and water blend, leaving behind a solid layer of pure lanolin that is off-white in color. This pure lanolin will be found as a suspension between the olive oil and the water.
The characteristics of wool
It may be mentioned here that wool derived from sheep possesses an extremely multifaceted chemical and physical composition and this is responsible for the distinctiveness as well as adaptability of the material as a textile strand. The strands of wool are composed of over 20 amino acids that blend to create long sequences of protein. Wool gets its suppleness from the central arrangement of each woolen fiber - that appears like a three-dimensional corkscrew prototype or like a helical or spiral ‘fold'. The twisted springs of these molecular chains having an enduring and integral memory are responsible for the woolen fibers themselves to appear spiral-shaped as well as their permanent flexibility.
It is important to note that compared to all other textile fibers available, wool has the greatest aptitude to deal with the body moisture in warm as well as cool situations. The porous nature of the woolen cells in the external stratums enables the woolen fibers to soak up and disperse moisture fast and proficiently. Precisely speaking, woolen fibers have the capacity of soak up as much as 30 per cent of their own mass in moisture, which is ten fold more than the ability of any synthetic fiber. What is more, in the process of absorbing moisture, woolen fibers do not make one experience mugginess or sweaty. The spongy or porous structure of the woolen fiber also elucidates why it is such an excellent thermal insulator. Apart from the porosity of the woolen fiber, the web of the strands actually produces millions of air pockets which go on to assist in adjusting the warmth as well as moisture.
Wool is a very tough fiber by nature and it has the capability to curve back on itself as many as 20,000 times without snapping. In comparison to the woolen fiber, cotton can bend back 3,200 times, silk 1,800 times and rayon a mere 75 times! The extraordinary chemical composition and natural content of the woolen fiber makes wool resistant to fire. And, notwithstanding the natural moisture content in it, wool's arid, spongy character enables it to fend off mildew (a thin, typically black, at times white, growth produced by molds on many surfaces) as well as dust mites.
Making your own lanolin hand lotion
Preparing your own hand lotion with lanolin is a very simple job and can be made with ease at home. The recipe for lanolin hand lotion is given below so that you may try to make it yourself at home. To prepare a lanolin hand cream you require the following ingredients:
Blend the lanolin, beeswax and almond oil in an oven safe dish and then place the dish in a pan having one inch and a half of water. Next, put the pan along with the dish containing the ingredients on the oven and heat the blend till the lanolin and beeswax have thawed out. Once these two substances have melted, blend the borax powder, witch hazel and distilled water in a saucepan. Place the saucepan on the oven and heat the substances till they begin to boil. Then gently pour the blend of the melted lanolin, beeswax and almond oil into the saucepan. Stir the mixture meticulously and then leave it to cool. Then the mixture has cooled down totally, you will find a thick white lotion, which you may apply on your skin to smoothen and soften it.
Now, what do you think of preparing an aromatic hand cream with lanolin? In fact, to prepare a scented hand cream with lanolin, you may add any of the essential or aromatherapy oils to the cream you have already prepared. However, while adding the essential oils to the hand cream one must be very cautious to ensure his or her sensitivity to each of the oils in advance and also meticulously follow the warnings on the labels of the oils, if there are any. Precisely speaking, adding five to 10 drops of essential oil ought to be sufficient for around three ounces of hand cream. In case you wish to give the hand cream an unusual feel and fragrance, you may add delicately sliced flower petals and herbs to the hand lotion.
You can perfume the lanolin hand lotion with tee tree oil, which is also at times denoted as ‘tea tree oil', owing to its subtle nutmeg aroma and also because it possesses an assortment of therapeutic features. It may be mentioned here that the tee tree oil is made and enclosed in minute sacs on the leaves of the tea tree plant. These sacs burst open when heated and release the oil content. According to modest estimates, two tons of tee tree leaves will yield approximately five gallons of the tee tree oil.
Other utilities for lanolin
As lanolin is an exceptional water repellant or water proofing substance, it is also made use of in oil rigs to restrain corrosion. In fact, lanolin is a first rate agent that slows down the rusting process. This property of lanolin has also made it useful for auto spare parts manufacturers who cover the auto spare parts with lanolin and store them for long periods without any concern regarding their rusting. The use of lanolin is also widespread in the pharmaceutical industry as it is akin to many of the oils produced by the human skin. Actually, when lanolin is blended with appropriate vegetable oils or soft paraffin (a derivative from crude petroleum), it transforms into an excellent cream that makes a way into the skin. Hence, it is widely used by the pharmaceutical industry as a ‘carrier' to distribute medications just below the skin.
In addition to the above uses, lanolin is also effective as a lubricant, a preservative as well as a leather finish. In fact, you will also find that there are many paints and varnishes that contain lanolin.