There seems to be quite a bit of confusion around what wool types contain lanolin and which ones don’t, so let’s be clear:
All wool-bearing animals produce some sort of grease to give their wool the beneficial traits of wool discussed here – there is no such thing as a natural wool type completely free of any lanolin-like substance!
And although the fatty acids produced by each animal vary, I will refer to them collectively as “lanolin” in the following.
Lanolin is an integral part of most natural animal-derived wool as it is needed to keep the fur coat from soaking up rain and sweat. Lanolin helps the fine fibers of the wool to transport away the liquid rather than retain it.
Lanolin works as a natural hydrophobic shield at the microscopic level that ensures that bacteria do not get the liquid needed to support their optimal growth in the wool. This in turn prevents the bad odors generated by such bacteria.
There might be other grease substances than lanolin, but they will be very similar and there is no guarantee that they will not cause a cross-reaction to a lanolin-sensitive person.
Specifically, I will look into and answer the following questions:
If one wants to make completely sure to avoid lanolin, I would advise looking towards the products made entirely from nylon or polyester, or at a fusion product with little or heavily processed natural wool.
One can also always seek to only wear wool on the top of other layers of clothing to avoid skin contact.
However, the processing of the wools to make the yarn used for garments may remove lanolin almost entirely to the point where they may be considered “lanolin-free”.
Out of the “fine” wools, including cashmere, alpaca, vicuna, and angora, merino wool is one of the fine wools with the most lanolin in it.
Although it is surpassed by angora goats wool (mohair) that may contain up to 50% lanolin!
When talking about wool from an animal, it is also important to remember that the lanolin produced by the animal as a whole is not necessarily reflected in the wool that is harvested or especially not in the lanolin content of the final processed yarn.
For example, wool from animals such as the cashmere goat and the musk ox is harvested from particular regions of the animal where less lanolin is produced compared to the coarser wool elsewhere on the body.
These wool types are recommended for people with sensitivity towards the lanolin in sheep’s wool.
However, there are several wool types that contain very little lanolin and are therefore practically considered “lanolin free” after processing.
I am not going into merino wool in this article, as I already wrote a more thorough post on the topic of the lanolin content of merino wool.
Does Cashmere wool have lanolin?
Cashmere wool is a wool type with an even smaller hair diameter than merino wool. It comes from the cashmere goat that bears a soft undercoat, which is used to spin wool that is finer than that of any sheep.
Cashmere does not contain exactly the same type of lanolin as sheep, but it does contain other oily substances with similar qualities that are likely related to lanolin in lamb’s wool.
However, it is often highly processed to remove any remaining oily substance, so very little is left in the final garment.
Another reason for the low lanolin content of cashmere wool is that it is obtained from the belly of the goat, where protection from rain is less needed. Therefore fewer of the glands that produce the oil are present on the skin in that area of the goat.
I am not going to get too much more into cashmere wool here, as I have already written a thorough article comparing cashmere wool to merino wool.
Does Alpaca wool have lanolin?
Alpaca is a relatively fine wool type that comes from the small llama-like animals that live in the South American highlands.
Many sources claim that alpaca wool does not contain lanolin at all, but this is very likely to be a myth.
Raw alpaca wool contains less lanolin than raw merino wool, but the amount of lanolin in the end product may be the same. However, the lanolin content depends heavily on the breed of alpaca from which the wool is harvested.
If the alpaca wool comes from the huacaya breed, it will contain significantly less (less than 3%) compared to the suri breed which may contain up to 20%.
This is for the raw wool, and the processing decides the final lanolin content of the garment, which is usually low if modern processing techniques are used.
Does Llama wool have lanolin?
There seems to be general agreement that llama wool is much less greasy than lamb’s wool.
Some people even claim that there is no lanolin at all in llama wool, but I find that unlikely given their close relatedness to alpacas.
Llamas, being Lamoids like alpacas, have wool that is very similar to alpacas, which does contain less lanolin compared to sheep. The exact amount has not been reported in the literature yet, but I would expect significantly less than the 20% seen for Suri alpacas.
In a publication by Atlee et al. the authors state that the sebaceous glands of llamas (those that produce lanolin) are smaller and less abundant compared to sheep and that this explains the reduced lanolin production of llamas compared to sheep.
Does Vicuna wool have lanolin?
Vicuna wool is properly the finest (and most expensive!) wool you can get.
The vicuna is closely related to alpacas and llamas, so although I have not been able to find any concrete studies measuring the lanolin content in vicuna wool, my suspicion is the same as for the other two lamoids.
I would expect the lanolin content of vicuna wool to be very low and not higher than the 3% of huacaya alpacas.
Does Camel wool have lanolin?
Camel wool is another type of fiber used for clothing, and as they are closely related to llamas, I would suspect that camel wool contains little lanolin or is similar to alpacas and llamas.
People generally report less greasiness of camel wool compared to sheep.
However, it is very likely that camels have some degree of lanolin production as camels do have the sebaceous glands that are responsible for lanolin production.
Does qiviut wool from Musk Ox have lanolin?
Qiviut is the fine (~17 microns) wool from the musk ox that contains a maximum of 7 % lanolin.
While this is a relatively high amount compared to the 3% of huacaya alpacas or the similar amount in cashmere goats, it is found on the less oily parts of the musk ox’ body just like the fine belly wool of cashmere goats.
The fine qiviut wool of the musk ox is produced by secondary hair follicles that are not usually associated with the sebaceous glands of the musk ox as much as the coarser wool produced by the primary hair follicles.
Does Angora rabbit wool have lanolin?
Contrary to the high content of lanolin in the wool of the Angora goats, I have not been able to find any evidence that the Angora rabbit wool contains lanolin.
The potential grease found in rabbit fur may have similar effects to lanolin but is likely to be chemically different and less likely to cause a reaction.
Although wool of angora rabbits is very expensive, this may be the only good option if you are very worried about lanolin.
If you want to save some money, you may also consider a synthetic alternative such as nylon or polyester instead.