Friday, December 9, 2011

Verry Wooly Event: Wonders of Wool #2 The Lanolin: Wool's Right Hand Man {Info}

Wool—Breathable—Water Resistant—Absorbs Moisture—Natural Sustainable Textile

Wool’s Right Hand Man: Lanolin

--Aids in Water Repelling nature of Wool

--Makes Wool Antifungal and Antibacterial

--Keeps the Wool Fibers from Felting

Part of the reason we do not see ewes and rams have a bad hair day is because of the lanolin naturally occurring from their sebaceous (oil) glands. Just as humans secrete natural oils for hair to keep it nice and shiny and from drying out—sheep have the same for kind of protection for their wooly coats.

So what exactly is Lanolin?
Lanolin, an organic ester derived from sheep fleece after shearing, creates an air-permeable temporary barrier and promotes moist wound healing when applied to injured skin. Lanolin is proven to have anti inflammatory, antimicrobial, skin-protecting and barrier repair properties
[Lanolin Definition]

From a molecular standpoint, Lanolin is a fatty acid. Fatty acids are composed of a long chain of Carbon Atoms connected to a Carboxyl group (-COOH). This Carboxyl group contains Oxygen which is polar. He is hydrophilic by nature and would readily mix with water, but because it is connected to a long chain of Carbons the overall effect is a Non Polar molecule. These long chains of Carbons are pretty stable guys. They in a sense are perfectly happy with their circle of friends, the Hydrogen molecules. These Carbons do not care for making any more bonds with other molecules so they are non-polar. Which is why Oils, Fats, and Waxes do not mix with water—this is attributed to their non-polar, hydrophobic nature. The water slicks off pretty nicely—good property to have for the sheep and us!

Whenever people use Lanolin for cloth diapers they are usually instructed to add a drop of baby shampoo and heat the lanolin with hot water or in a microwave. The reason for a drop of soap is because soap acts as an emulsifier/ surfactant allowing the lanolin and water to “mix” in a sense. After the soap is washed out and the water evaporates one is left with a nice Wool Diaper that has a layer of Non-polar, Hydrophobic, Water Resistant molecules. I love chemistry. For more on Emulsion and Oil and Water check the information at Ehow: Adding Soap, Oil, and Water.

I also wanted to add that Lanolin works in conjunction with the microscopic scales of the wool. These scales just like our own hair grow in one direction. Because of the way the scales grow it provides a slick smooth surface—the water runs off. It is this dynamic that goes on that makes wool repel water.

*Air Permeable=Breathability*
As I was researching information about Lanolin I came up with this great article on Breastfeeding and the usage of lanolin on the skin. Gleaning from the research I was delighted to find that Lanolin is Air Permeable. Even though it is waxy and oily it still allows air to flow in and out. I had it in my mind that if I were to lanolize my diapers I would lose the aspect of Wool’s Breathability. I know that it is important for air to be able to enter in the diaper back and forth. Allows evaporation and prevents diaper rashes and sores from forming.

*Antifungal and Antibacterial*

Wool owes some of its antibacterial and antifungal attributes to lanolin. The reason why lanolin is antibacterial is because it is devoid of any “nutrients” that are essential for bacterial growth and fungal growth. Wool is naturally antibacterial because it is able to regulate the temperature. Dampness and wetness are two things that encourage microbial growth. Because wool is able to absorb moisture and allow the moisture to evaporate it discourages bacterial and fungal growth. The waxy oily coat of lanolin gives the wool a first line of defense against bacterial growth.

Antifungal and Antibacterial:

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be a professional! If anything I say is questionable hit me with an email or a comment. I am open to learning and am open to the fact that I am human and make mistakes. I just share what I know, learned, and researched. The best I know comes from my chemistry class! J I left website links to show what I have researched and where I have gleaned info from.