Lanolin for Hair: Why It Works and How to Use It

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Tawni Bannister for BYRDIE

For many of us, the pursuit of ultra-soft hair often feels like an endless journey. If you're anything like me, the one time you get soft hair, you realize that you weren't paying attention to what products you used—making it a single occurrence you can only hope to replicate in the future.

When it comes to softening ingredients, lanolin is famous for what it does for your skin—so can it do the same for your hair? We contacted trichologist Lacy Fields and dermatologist Dr. Hadley King to get to the root of hair softness, and to find out if adding lanolin to your haircare routine can have any real impact on the texture. Read on for more.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Hadley King is a New York-based board certified dermatologist, specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
  • Lacy Fields is a trichologist and the founder of Therapeutique Salon & Spa.

Lanolin

  • Type of ingredient: Lanolin is occlusive, meaning it prevents or slows water loss.
  • Main benefits: Healing topical and anti-inflammatory; its occlusive nature prevents the evaporation of water from the skin and hair, making the hair more moisturized and more manageable.
  • Who should use it: In general, those with natural, dry, and damaged hair shafts will benefit most from lanolin.
  • How often can you use it: Depends on hair type. Coarse/kinky hair and wavy hair should use it two times a month, while those with fine hair are fine using it once monthly.
  • Works well with: To become a stellar moisturizer, it should be combined with humectants, like cholesterol, squalene, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and ceramides, and with emollients such as petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil, silicones, and zinc oxide.
  • Don’t use with: In general, those who are allergic to wool should proceed with high caution before using lanolin.

What Are the Benefits of Lanolin for Hair?

The biggest benefits of lanolin come from its moisturizing capabilities. King explains that once a hair strand reaches beyond the surface of the scalp, it is physiologically dead. Because of this, it cannot be nourished, only preserved. "A hair care regimen that allows the protective layer, or cuticle, to remain intact for as long as possible will decrease breakage and drying out of the hair strands. Keeping the hair moisturized with hair conditioners, creams, and oils or lanolin help to avoid dryness and therefore decrease the risk of damage and breakage."

  • Healing topical: Can be used directly on the scalp to minimize irritations. 
  • Anti-inflammatory: Can be blended with other emollients to help reduce inflammation.
  • Won't mess with the hair and skin pH: Lanolin is a natural enhancer of both.
  • Stimulates the sebaceous glands: Because lanolin is derived from the sebaceous glands, massaging into skin can mean ultra-penetration. 
  • Helps to protect the scalp: Great for defense from environmental damage.
  • Helps to enhance natural moisture in hair and skin: Lanolin is great for curly hair, which requires far more moisture than straighter strands do.

Hair Type Considerations

Due to lanolin's flexible and waxy formation, it's great at helping to cure dryness on the skin and scalp once mixed with emollients. However, be mindful about how much you use: Because it is a very heavy and waxy ingredient, lanolin can cause weight and buildup on to the hair and scalp. You'll definitely want to make sure that you are properly using the correct amount on your hair and scalp, as well a using a clarifying shampoo to get rid of any excess gunk.

How to Use Lanolin for Hair

The best way to add lanolin to your hair is by using lanolin oil as a pre-shampoo treatment on damp hair. Fields suggests heat it up for about 15 seconds, then apply a dime-size amount to your entire scalp—adding heat makes for easier application. King recommends applying lanolin to damp hair shaft and ends after a shower to help lock in the moisture.

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