Understanding Lanolin Allergy: The 2023 Allergen of the Year

Christopher Chu M.D.
May 30, 2024

As a consumer, you may have heard of lanolin, an ingredient derived from sheep’s wool and found in numerous cosmetics and personal care products. While lanolin has numerous benefits such as retaining moisture in the skin and reducing transepidermal water loss, it was named the allergen of the year in 2023 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) because of its widespread use and increasing recognition of its ability to cause contact dermatitis.

What is Lanolin?

Lanolin is a greasy, yellow, fat-like substance extracted from the sebaceous glands of sheep. It's a complex mixture of esters, alcohols, sterols, fatty acids, and hydrocarbons. This hydrophobic substance helps sheep shed water from their coats and, when used in topical  products, retains moisture in the skin, reduces water loss from the skin, and supports wound healing. One of the most common topical medications that uses lanolin is Aquaphor, but many other products use lanolin.


Do you have a lanolin allergy ?

While lanolin is generally well-tolerated, certain populations are more susceptible to developing a lanolin allergy. Patients with chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema),chronic leg ulcers, or other longstanding dermatitis, are the most susceptible. People with these conditions likely have prolonged exposure to lanolin due to chronic use of topical therapies and enhanced allergen penetration due to impaired skin barriers. A lanolin allergy is due to a hypersensitivity or contact dermatitis, in which the immune system reacts to the lanolin applied, and symptoms can include redness, itching, inflammation, hives, or blistering in the area where the products were applied.

One of the most popular lanolin-based products for breastfeeding mothers


How is a lanolin allergy diagnosed?

Diagnosing a lanolin allergy involves patch testing, in which patches with chemicals are placed on the back. Patient’s then follow-up in 48-72 hours to have these patches removed. The back is then examined to check for positive reactions. At Pure Dermatology, we use the T.R.U.E. test, which checks for wool alcohols. Learn more about patch testing here.


Managing Lanolin Allergy

Once a lanolin allergy is identified, the primary approach is to avoid products containing lanolin. This requires careful examination of product labels for terms like "wool wax," "lanolin oil," or "lanolate." Alternatives to lanolin include plain petrolatum, glycerin, sorbitol, α-hydroxy acids, and certain oils like sunflower seed oil and extra virgin coconut oil, which offer similar moisturizing benefits.



Lanolin, despite its beneficial properties, can be a hidden allergen for many. Awareness of its potential to cause allergic reactions, especially among those with pre-existing skin conditions, is crucial. For those diagnosed with a lanolin allergy, careful product selection and the use of lanolin-free alternatives can help manage and prevent symptoms. If you suspect you have a lanolin allergy, consult with one of our dermatologist, who can help you determine if you may have a lanolin allergy, and guide you towards the necessary testing and treatment.