Is Lanolin Beneficial For Eczema?

lanolin beneficial for eczema

A question from George

Hello Colin,

I was hoping to hear your opinion on a moisturiser by D.R. Harris & Co, the world’s oldest pharmacy. The majority of ingredients in this cream seems very standard, but it is also formulated with isopropyl myristate and lanolin – two ingredients which I know you are particularly fond of. This company also produce lots of shaving paraphernalia which you may also be interested in. I have facial eczema and don’t like to rely too heavily on steroid creams, which my dermatologist is all too keen to dish out. I’m also curious if lanolin can be beneficial in countering eczema as opinion on the internet seems to be on the no side. Regards, George

I have probably written enough about isopropyl myristate to satisfy most people. I have mentioned lanolin a fair bit over the years too. But thanks for this question which allows me to say some more. Yes I think lanolin is beneficial in eczema. And that isn’t just my opinion. The twentieth century’s most famous dermatologist, Albert Kligman, said ‘lanolin is a marvelous material we should emphasise the benefits and not the risks’.  What lanolin does particularly well is to enhance the skin’s barrier function. That after all is exactly what the sheep produce it for in the first place.

So for a condition like eczema where the body’s own immune system is undermining the skin’s barrier function lanolin ought to be particularly beneficial. I don’t suffer from eczema myself, but I do find lanolin is very helpful for dry skin.  I can’t see any reason why lanolin wouldn’t be beneficial for eczema.  Steroids work in a completely different way by suppressing the immune response, so I would expect that the two treatments would work very well together. This seems to be the opinion of a lot of dermatologists as well. They even have a term for how emollients can reduce the amount of steroid cream that a patient needs. They call it steroid sparing.

It is important not to get too paranoid about steroids applied to the skin. Only very mild steroids are used and they are not often applied to large areas. So their effects are unlikely to be harmful. But if you can get good effects from an emollient like lanolin that has no harmful effect and which you can buy and use freely then why not? And if course emollients are much cheaper.

The only drawback with lanolin is that like a lot of natural products it is slightly more prone to cause allergic reactions than synthetic alternatives. But in my opinion it works a lot better than other options, so for 99% of people it’s a great option.

As to D.R. Harris & Co, I confess I have never heard of them before but their website is very impressive as is their location.

 

Medila

Skin Therapy Lett. 2014 Jan-Feb;19(1):5-10. Steroid-sparing properties of emollients in dermatology.
Harcharik S, Emer J.

 

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