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Category: Medicines - non plant based



Introduction and description

Lanolin (German, from Latin lāna, "wool", and oleum, "oil birth"), also called wool wax or wool grease, is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Most lanolin used by humans comes from domestic sheep that are raised specifically for their wool. Lanolin is technically speaking a wax, but it behaves more like an oil or fat and historically, many pharmacopoeias have referred to lanolin as wool fat (adeps lanae).

Lanolin's main healing properties are for the skin and they are widely recognised. Lanolin is used widely in both 'high-value cosmetics' and skin treatment products.

Lanolin and its many derivatives are used extensively in products designed for the protection, treatment and beautification of human skin


Lanolin's waterproofing property aids sheep in shedding water from their coats, but its main role in nature is to protect wool and skin against the ravages of climate and the environment; it also seems to play a role in skin (integumental) hygiene.

Lanolin is a truly wonderful work of Nature, extraordinarily complex, but extraordinarily effective.  An estimated 8,000 to 20,000 different types of lanolin esters are present in lanolin. Lanolin's complex composition means [thank goodness] that it tends to be used without manipulation or processing by manufacturers in the products it is in.

Lanolin alcohols are a rich source of cholesterol and whilst current medical opinion seems to view cholesterol as 'bad' this site doesn't, recognising its essential role in the body as a source of cell building, it is also 'an important skin lipid' and it is because it helps with skin repair that it has been used extensively in skin care products for over 100 years.

Vermeer - Milkmaid

Apocryphally, it was supposed to have been discovered when it was noticed that milkmaids often had smooth unchapped hands, unlike the rest of farm workers and the link was made between the lanolin used on the udders of cows to prevent udder rash and the positive effect on human skin as well.

There is a fly in the ointment, so to speak. Sheep may be treated for a range of truly unpleasant parasites that inhabit their wool and skin using pesticides and as a consequence, some of these pesticides may linger in the wool of these poor animals. As lanolin is extracted by squeezing wool, some of these pesticides can be transferred to the lanolin.

There are regulations in force in both the USA and the European Union concerning this problem.

In 2000, the European Pharmacopoeia introduced pesticide residue limits into its lanolin monograph. This requirement, which is generally regarded as the new quality standard, extends the list of pesticides to 40 and imposes very very low limits.

Some very high purity grades of lanolin surpass monograph requirements. New products obtained using complex purification techniques produce lanolin esters in their natural state, removing oxidative and environmental impurities resulting in white, odourless, hypoallergenic lanolin. These ultra-high purity grades of lanolin are ideally suited to the treatment of dermatological disorders such as eczema and on open wounds”.

So any allergic reactions [and very very few have ever been reported] may be due to the impurities, not the lanolin.

One reason why lanolin is so widely tolerated and helpful in healing is that it is extremely close in make-up to our own skin secretions. “Modern analytical methods have revealed lanolin possesses a number of important chemical and physical similarities to human stratum corneum lipids; the lipids which help regulate the rate of transepidermal water loss and govern the hydration state of the skin.  Skin bioengineering studies have shown the durational effect of the emollient (skin smoothing) action produced by lanolin is very significant and lasts for many hours”.


It should be clear from the description that lanolin is only ever used externally and is used for skin problems and diseases.

Lanolin can be used for many dry skin or skin irritation problems from rough dry or chapped skin to the problems caused by dermatitis or ezcema.

Lanolin applied to the skin at 2 mg/cm2 has been shown to reduce roughness by about 35% after one hour and 50% after two hours, with the overall effect lasting for considerably more than eight hours. When applied daily at around 4 mg/cm2 for five consecutive days, the positive moisturising effects of lanolin were detectable until 72 hours after final application.”

One of its advantages is that it lets the skin breathe “Lanolin is known to form semiocclusive (breathable) films on the skin.”

In a small clinical study conducted on volunteer subjects with terribly dry (xerotic) hands, lanolin was shown to considerably reduce the signs and symptoms of dryness and scaling, cracks and abrasions, and pain and itch. In another study, a high purity grade of lanolin was found help in the healing of superficial wounds.

Although it has been used as a treatment for sore nipples in breastfeeding mothers, care may be needed to ensure the baby does not ingest the lanolin, it is for external use only. Thus before the baby feeds it must be wiped away and thoroughly removed, and reapplied after feeding.

There have been all sorts of daft studies done in the reseearch community, some of which are truly poor science, thta have labelled lanolin as an allergen plus all sorts of things.  But lanolin in its pure unadultertaed state is none of these things, where the problems lie is when it is 'enhanced' by manufacturers who think they can do better than Nature [with a profit motive of course] and this is the result...

Moisturizers are used by patients with dry skin conditions as well as those with healthy skin to enhance and preserve the smoothness of the skin and to interrupt the dry-skin cycle. Moisturizers are generally considered safe, although skin reactions, such as allergic contact dermatitis from topical preparations may occur. Cosmetic products including moisturizers are among the main culprits of allergic contact dermatitis....Of the 276 moisturizers we tested, 68 percent contained fragrance making it the most common allergen found in these moisturizers. Parabens were discovered in 62 percent  ….Essential oils and biologic additives were found in 45 percent of products, followed by benzyl alcohol in 24 percent of moisturizers. Propylene glycol was found in 20 percent of moisturizers, followed by formaldehyde releasers in 20 percent of products. Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate was discovered in 16 percent of products.  PMID:  21212847

just use lanolin.  Nature knows best.

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