Lanolin, Glycerin, or Aloe Vera?

Aloe Plant
Aloe Plant

A walk through the health and beauty aisle of any drugstore reveals a wide range of products containing at least one of the following ingredients: lanolin, glycerin, or Aloe Vera. Despite the prevalence of lanolin and glycerin-based items, neither agent is as beneficial as Aloe Vera. Further examination illustrates why consumers may want to avoid products utilizing either of these components.


Since the early days of reported allergic reactions in the 1930s, lanolin has become a widely debated suspect for contact dermatitis. Derived from sheep wool wax, lanolin allergy is thought to be caused by the presence of wool wax alcohols. Although seasoned dermatologists agree lanolin is neither particularly potent, nor a common sensitizer and various standard patch-test studies have yielded similar results, there is still a percentage of the population negatively affected by lanolin. For that marginal group, avoiding lanolin-based products is critical. As prominent American dermatologist Professor Maibach observed, “The dermatitis patient who cannot tolerate lanolin is at a serious disadvantage.”


A product of combining water and fat, glycerin is a thick, syrupy liquid that can be used as both a solvent and plasticizer. Glycerin is also a humectant, which means it attracts moisture to your skin. However, if the air is less than 65% humidity, glycerin will instead draw moisture out of the lower layers of your skin. The moisture is held on the surface of your skin, effectively drying it from the inside out. This results in the upper layers of skin feeling soft and conditioned, while in reality the newly formed inner layers are drying out.

Aloe Vera

By contrast, there is over 3,500 years of history to support the effectiveness of Aloe Vera as a proven skin care wonder plant. A desert lily, of which there are more than 200 different varieties, Aloe Vera consists of nearly 20 amino acids, minerals, enzymes, vitamin, polysaccharides, nitrogen and other assorted parts. The combination and balance of these elements are believed to give Aloe Vera its much-touted, anti-inflammatory healing properties. Clinical studies have shown that Aloe Vera can even accelerate the healing process, specifically in skin burns. Similarly, related studies show Aloe Vera extract improves skin hydration and can be used successfully as a moisturizing formula to treat dry skin and various conditions.


Benefits of aloe vera. (2002). Retrieved May, 19, 2010, from

Dal’Belo SE, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PM. Moisturizing effect of cosmetic formulations containing Aloe vera extract in different concentrations assessed by skin bioengineering techniques. Skin Res Technol. 2006 Nov; 12(4): 241-6.

Glycerin (Glycerine, glycerol, glycyl alcohol). Retrieved May 19, 2010, from

Lanolin Allergy. Br Med J. 1973 May 19; 2(5863): 379-380.

Mutt, Nick. Aloe Vera Uses and Benefits in Skin Care. (2008). Retrieved May 19, 2010, from

Orr, Steve. Lanolin Demythologised. 2005 Sept 28; 1-8.

Warshaw EM, Nelsen DD, Maibach HI, Marks JG, Zug KA, Taylor JS, Rietschel RL, Fowler JF, Mathias CG, Pratt MD, Sasseville D, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA. Positive patch test reactions to lanolin: cross-sectional data from the North American contact dermatitis group, 1994 to 2006. Dermatitis. 2009 Mar-Apr; 20(2): 79-88.

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