One cold winter day not so long ago I was sitting in my kitchen with my friend Evelina while our three-year-olds played. We were talking about how dry and rashy everyone’s skin was, how both of our kids suffer from eczema. I asked her what she uses on her son’s skin and she told me she only trusts lanolin, because he gets cracks around his mouth (as does my guy) and it’s what the nurses used to recommend for her cracked nipples back when he was breastfeeding. So the logic was, if her tube of Lansinoh HPA Lanolin was safe enough to use in an area where he directly sucks, it must be safe to put on his face, right?
Well, one super cute brand that’s just rolling into Sephora seems to think so. It’s called Lano (formerly Lano Lips), it’s from Australia, and it’s already a cult-favourite among cool kids of all ages. Beyond the adorable retro packaging for its lip and body balms, lies some all-natural goodness inside.
But first, we need to back up here for just a sec to explain what lanolin really is. Lanolin is secreted from the sebaceous glands of wool-coated animals, and it helps their tufts repel water. When sheep are sheared (gently, ethically, and once per year to keep them from overheating, ideally!) the yellow-y wax is what’s left behind after the wool has been washed.
Turns out, the molecular structure of lanolin closely resembles the lipids in human skin, suggesting some kind of kindred-like compatibility (remember Dolly, guys?) In terms of skin hydrating benefits, lanolin is said to act as a “moisture reservoir, holding up to 400% its weight in water,” according to Lano’s website. Used as an emollient as far back as Ancient Greece, lanolin has, despite its inherent anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, become the subject of much debate over the past few decades due to sporadic cases of sensitization and allergic reactions.
Lano founder Kirsten Carriol, who grew up on a sheep farm in Southern Australia, stands by lanolin’s classic healing abilities. The daughter of a DNA scientist who used the golden goo to soften his daughters chapped lips when she was a child, Carriol maintains that lanolin became a bad word because of the pesticides used in farming during the 1980s that landed in the absorbent wool coats of sheep, leading to intermittent adverse effects in products of around that time.
As a result, in 2009, Carriol set about refining an ultra medical grade lanolin to remove all impurities, said to be three times more pure (and smooth) than the medical grade lanolin used in hospitals. Of the line, I’m a big big fan of Lano’s 101 Ointment, which I use on my lips and on those crazy red and cracked areas around my kids’ lips when they’ve come home from one of those freezing cold walks home from school. I also quite enjoy the Golden Dry Skin Salve Allover.
And yet, some skincare brands are still resolved to remain “lanolin-free”. Dermalogica Education Manager Charmaine Cooper says that aside from the chance of irritation, lanolin can also clog pores due to its molecule size, which happens to fit right within the diameter of skin follicles (a.k.a. pores). “Over the years, via chemical processes, some manufacturers have attempted to clean up lanolin,” admits Cooper. “But Dermalogica’s approach is that we prefer not to include it in our formulas, due to the natural raw tendency for irritation.”
Fair. And yet I tried it, and neither me nor my kids had a reaction. But then again, we weren’t slathering it all over our faces. Or maybe we’re just in the lucky majority.