When it comes to fats, we’ve been told we should stay away. But, as science progresses we are learning that not everything is black and white. For example, tallow for skin is a healthy animal fat, high in unsaturated fatty acids. Does that make it a good moisturizer for our skin?
As this trend is kicking-back in full force, more and more beauty bloggers are happy to tell you they are rubbing beef fat balm on their skin as moisturizer.
By now, we know better than to rely on anecdotal stories from people that have tried the latest beauty trend. So, in this article, we’ll try to go beyond that and explore the good and the bad sides of using tallow as a moisturizer for your skin.
Even if you haven’t heard of the use of tallow for skin by now, don’t worry, because we’re here to break it all down for you and see if it’s as good as they say.
Tallow is an ingredient rendered from beef and mutton fat. At room temperature, it’s solid, although when it’s carefully purified and when it has undergone the cosmetic manufacturing processes it gets more of an oily consistency. To be pure and have all the benefits its praised for, tallow must come from grazing animals. These animals have a unique digestive system and are called ruminants. Tallow can be derived from animals such as cows, bison, or sheep. It’s important that the animal is grass-fed so that it has all the beneficial properties for our skin’s health - the food alters the composition of their fat tissue.. Grain-fed animals have smaller vitamin-mineral complexes and an inflammatory imbalance of fatty acids. The benefits discussed below refer to tallow derived from only grass-fed animals.
Just like coconut oil, warm tallow has liquid consistency with bright gold color, but when it’s cooled it hardens and the color changes to a soft cream.
Tallow can be stored for extended periods of time, without the need for refrigeration only if its kept in a sealed container to prevent oxidation.
When searching for tallow, you’re probably going to find articles listing down the benefits of mutton tallow, while others speak about beef tallow. Here’s all you need to know about the two types.
Beef tallow is an animal-fat rendered from beef while mutton tallow is an animal-fat rendered from sheep. Both ingredients are natural products with a long shelf life. They contain a high amount of saturated fats, with beef tallow being a little more saturated than mutton.
Mutton tallow, on the other hand, has a little more Vitamin E than beef tallow, although the differences might not be significant.
Tallow is known for its high concentration of oleic, palmitic, and stearic acid. Beef tallow has higher concentrations of palmitic acid, while mutton leads with more oleic and stearic acid.
Tallow is fat, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for our skin. What’s interesting is that tallow resembles our natural sebum so much (the oil produced by the glands in our skin) that in Latin, tallow is translated as sebum. The resemblance means that the ingredient is usually well received by most skin types, doesn’t cause irritation, and can be a godsend for people suffering from dry skin.
Let’s take a close look at the fatty-acid composition of tallow.
Around 47% of the fatty acid composition of tallow is oleic acid. This acid is classified as a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid and mostly known as an amazing ingredient for dry or aging skin because it has the ability to easily and deeply penetrate into the skin's surface. Inside the dermis, it works to replenish lost moisture and stop additional transepidermal water loss.
Oleic acid can bring the natural oil production back into balance and prevent future breakouts. Most importantly, it doesn’t clog the pores but it forms a protective layer on the skin’s surface that prevents environmental damage.
Finally, it's high in antioxidants, meaning it can fight off free radicals and prevent damage from oxidation.
Another important fatty acid for mature skin is palmitic acid. Did you know that levels of palmitic acid decrease as much as 50% with aging? It’s safe to say, we really need it.
Around 26% of the fatty acid composition of tallow is palmitic acid. This saturated fatty acid is widely used in cosmetics, from detergents and cleansing agents to emollients.
In a cleanser, it can be a little drying depending on what it’s combined with and the cleanser’s pH level (choose a cleanser with lower pH levels). In moisturizers, palmitic acid is a very good emollient because it makes the skin really soft. It retains moisture by forming an occlusive layer.
Stearic acid is another saturated fatty acid found in high concentrations in tallow. It’s used in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, as a fragrance ingredient, surfactant, and emulsifier. Stearic acid has a double function - as a surfactant and emulsifier. Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension between two substances, such as two liquids or a liquid and a solid. In other words, surfactants reduce the surface tension so that water can penetrate the skin more easily. Stearic acid also acts as an emulsifier, meaning that it helps the product contain both oil and water without separating.
Tallow is used by cosmetic companies as a moisturizing ingredient to make soaps, shaving creams, lip balms, lotions, and other skincare products.
These are the most frequent benefits of using tallow for skin:
The natural golden oil is extremely effective in providing intense moisture to dry skin. It absorbs easily and prevents dryness at the cellular level without suffocating the skin's barrier. It won’t clog your pores and it doesn't leave a greasy feeling which means that it’s not only good for dry skin, but oily skin type sufferers can also benefit.
Best of all, the powers of tallow are long-lasting, meaning you won’t need to use it more than once a day. Even in the harshest, dry and cold winter conditions, your skin will be protected and moisturized. Nevertheless, if you’re living in such conditions, you can check out our article on the best winter skincare tips.
Tallow is really nourishing and high in vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Vitamin E is especially important for aging skin since it has potent antioxidative properties that protect the skin from damaging UV light and reduce the damage that’s already caused. With this, tallow becomes effective in handling free radicals and preventing fine lines and superficial wrinkles from deloping. With regular use, you can feel your skin becoming softer and more radiant.
Vitamin E has also been shown to prevent the breakdown of collagen. In one study from 2012, published in Dermato Endocrinology, the authors found that the intake of natural vitamin E products helps against collagen cross-linking and lipid peroxidation, which are both linked to skin aging.
Preventing the breakdown of collagen is a great way to prolong the aging of the skin and tallow can definitely help you with that.
Although there’s no evidence that tallow helps prevent acne breakouts directly, its moisturizing properties, the resemblance with our natural sebum, and the fact it absorbs into the skin easily make this ingredient able to control the sebum production to a certain point.
The problem with acne vulgaris is a lot more complicated. The condition is a multifactorial disease meaning a lot of things come into play to set the development of new pimples. However, sometimes ane is caused by overly active sebaceous glands that happen to go out of control because of certain skincare products, environmental changes, and other external factors. In these cases, tallow can bring back the balance to your skin and calm the inflammation, without clogging your pores or further irritating your skin.
According to the above-mentioned study from Dermato Endocrinology, Vitamin D (also found in tallow) induces the expression of antimicrobial peptide genes in human skin and plays a significant role in preventing opportunistic infections. Moreover, grass-fed tallow contains conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. One study published in the Anticancer Research journal in 2006, investigated the link between CLA and some cancer suppressor-genes. The results indicated that CLA possesses anti-cancer properties and might serve as a chemo-preventive and chemo-therapeutic agent in human breast cancers.
The science-based evidence shows us that by using tallow regularly we can protect the skin from various external damaging factors.
One of the concerns when using products that contain tallow is the purity of the animal parts from which it’s derived. In 2017, the FDA issued a statement concerning the prohibited and restricted ingredients in cosmetics. According to the statement, “to protect against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease," cosmetics may not be manufactured from, processed with, or otherwise contain prohibited cattle materials.”
Tallow that contains no more than 0.15 percent insoluble impurities, alongside with hides and hide-derived products, and milk and milk products, is excluded from that list.
You shouldn’t worry about tallow in cosmetic products approved by the FDA, but you should have this in mind if you buy local or homemade skincare products containing tallow. There are health concerns about using tallow that isn’t manufactured following the strict rules the FDA issued.
Another problem concerning the purity of tallow is the diet of the animals from which its obtained. It’s impossible to know for sure how the animals were treated before they ended up where they did. Usually, you buy products containing tallow from companies that don’t breed animals, but rather buy the ingredient from companies in the meat industry. It’s hard to follow the trace and get first-hand information, so it’s highly advisable to only buy from brands you truly believe in and are loyal to. Fat from grain-fed animals might have inflammatory properties and lose all the benefits discussed above.
Another reason why tallow is avoided in skincare products is that it’s not stable. The ingredients undergo a variety of manufacturing processes, including heating, before the final result is achieved. Ingredients derived from animals have shown to be more unstable, to have an uncertain and uncontrollable composition of animal fats, and as a result, they lack consistent color, appearance, and odor from batch to batch. So, why would you use tallow when there are more stable ingredients that are also cheap?
Tallow is an animal fat, meaning an animal must die for it to be extracted. This can be off-putting for many people, especially animal lovers. There’s been a rise in the demand for cruelty-free cosmetics and more and more giants in the skincare world are pledging to keep animals out of their formulas. This, alongside with the other reasons mentioned above, is why today tallow is harder to find.
Some local manufacturers and DIY skincare enthusiasts have noted that they avoid using tallow because it smells bad. The fat itself doesn’t produce a bad odor, but while the tallow is being derived some of the muscle and other tissue from the animal can end up in the mix, which can make your blend smell bad. For example, reheated pork in most cases releases a characteristic off-flavor that in the industry is known as a "warmed-over" flavor.
If you’re the kind of person that wants to do their own personal skincare products, then here’s one easy-to-follow recipe for making your own tallow balm.
Important note: Make sure the suet you buy is from someone you trust and know that the animals were grass-fed. Animals raised on conventional or factory farms are not recommended.
You’ll probably get the suet in pre-cut into little chunks. If this is the case, then all you need to do is dump the pieces into a crockpot to heat them. However, if your suet doesn’t come pre-cut, you'll need to remove as much meat as possible from the fat. This is important since the meat will smell bad, and plus it can irritate your skin. When you’re done, add the suet in the crockpot and start warming it up on low heat, slowly. This process will take a couple of hours and you need to stir from time to time to prevent the tallow from burning. As a reference, one lb takes about 3-4 hours in a small crockpot.
You’ll know that the tallow is done when it turns to a golden yellow color, with translucent clarity. If there were some bits of meat or bones, you can find them at the bottom of the crockpot. To make sure you don’t include any impurities in the balm, you should strain the tallow with a cheesecloth draped over a fine mesh colander. The final product should be a very clear, golden yellow liquid.
Now that you have your own tallow, let it cool for a couple of minutes and then add the carrier oil. For example, a good ratio is 8-10 parts tallow to 1 part of carrier oil. Yet, you can add more carrier oil if you like the consistency to have a creamier texture.
Again, leave the blend to cool for 10-15 minutes before you add the essential oils. What you put depends solely on your preferences.
Transfer the blend into a glass container and store it or put it in the fridge to speed the cooling process, so that you can use it sooner.
The balm should have a clear, golden yellow to an off-white color with a solid texture.
You can use the balm anytime you want, but it’s best to apply it in the morning as a moisturizer after you finish your regular skincare routine. This way the benefits of tallow can protect your skin during the day.