Beef Tallow For Your Skin?
Animal fat? For your skin? Won't that clog your pores? What about the smell? What if it goes rancid?
I was also skeptical.
It sounds crazy to put animal fat on your face, but people regularly use beef tallow in their daily skincare routine with great success. Tallow soap goes back to (at least) ancient Mesopotamia, as evidenced by a Sumerian clay tablet listing "fat of a pure cow" as an ingredient (source).
The use of beef tallow in skincare is more than a TikTok trend. It's a natural, beneficial, and common-sense approach to skin health. With a lipid composition similar to human sebum — our skin's natural oil — tallow is an excellent moisturizer and nourisher. It boasts an abundance of triglycerides and fatty acids, including oleic acid - the fatty acid responsible for tallow's easy skin absorption.
The lipid compositions may not be identical, but we can easily bridge the differences. For instance, we can easily address the absence of wax esters in tallow, which our skin possesses, by purposely blending other natural ingredients.
By incorporating beeswax, jojoba oil, castor oil, vitamin E, and more, a tallow-based balm can become even more compatible with our skin, resulting in a nutrient-dense and protective moisturizer.
What is Beef Tallow Exactly?
Beef tallow is rendered beef fat consisting primarily of triglycerides. As a saturated animal fat, it resembles a blend of coconut oil and butter with a dry, waxy texture.
In the kitchen, tallow is an ingredient and a cooking oil. It helps absorb more nutrients from food, is rich in vitamins A, D, E, K, and B1, and reduces inflammation due to conjugated linoleic acid - a natural anti-inflammatory.
Outside the kitchen, tallow is used in leather conditioner, candles, soap, and other nourishing skincare products. If this still sounds ridiculous, let me convince you otherwise.
The Basics Of How Skin Works
Our skin, which constitutes about 16% of our body weight, is a multi-layered organ with an intricate architecture: the epidermis on top, the dermis in the middle, and the hypodermis on the bottom. The epidermis, where new skin cells are born, and older cells create a protective layer, plays a key role in defending our bodies against external threats.
Within the epidermis is a unique 'brick-and-mortar' structure of cells and lipids (ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids). This structure maintains the skin's protective barrier and moisture levels, keeping it healthy.
How does beef fat plug into all of this?
Beef Tallow Skin Benefits
The logic behind tallow's efficacy as a standout ingredient in nutrient-rich moisturizers is rooted in biology. Beef tallow possesses a high concentration of saturated and monounsaturated fats that closely mirror the lipid composition of our skin. This striking similarity allows beef tallow to naturally replenish these crucial components, supporting the maintenance and nourishment of the skin's epidermal barrier. Moreover, beef tallow's lipid profile lends itself to deep skin hydration, contributing to the overall vitality and function of the skin barrier.
But the advantages extend further.
Beef tallow is brimming with essential fatty acids, including inflammation-fighting omega-3s, which can alleviate irritation and promote skin healing. It also boasts a wealth of vitamins A, D, E, and K, potent antioxidants that guard the skin against environmental damage and oxidative stress — encouraging cell renewal and repair.
Beef Tallow Is Better
People gravitate to natural, tallow-based products due to fears about absorbing toxic substances in "conventional" products. This concern is valid to a certain extent. A 2019 study made an alarming discovery that some sunscreen ingredients make their way into the bloodstream — without a clear understanding of the potential harm they can cause.
But it's important to stress that not all ingredients deviating from 'natural' animal fats are inherently bad. In a video titled, 'Do You Absorb Everything You Put On Your Skin,' Ethique's CEO, Brianne West, debunks the myth that our skin absorbs everything we apply to it — making the point that if we were to absorb everything, showering would be life-threatening.
But the video also inadvertently touches on a big win for tallow-based moisturizers over Ethique and commonly found moisturizers like Aveeno — water.
In demystifying absorption concerns, Brianne accurately describes how proficient our skin is at shielding us and preventing the absorption of foreign materials — including water.
Which begs the question: why is water often the first ingredient in non-tallow-based moisturizers?
Water in skincare products acts as a solvent; it's not intended to be absorbed. It carries other active ingredients and allows for a spreadable, smooth, lightweight, and non-greasy product. Tallow performs similar functions but offers more: it is nutrient-rich and promotes the absorption of other ingredients. It also scores low on the pore-clogging scale (with a Comedogenic Rating of 2), making it less likely to block pores than substances like coconut oil (with a Comedogenic Rating of 4).
I'm not saying that tallow is inherently superior to water-based products — but — if you're seeking effective nutrient absorption, moisturization, and comprehensive skin health support, it's hard to beat tallow (unless you are vegetarian or vegan).
Is Tallow Safe?
Yes. A 2021 research paper studying beef tallow lotion bars reported no signs of microbial or heavy metal contamination in their samples, meeting the safety criteria set by the USP (The United States Pharmacopeia).
Does Beef Tallow Turn Rancid?
Without shelf-stable and preservative ingredients, beef tallow has a surprisingly long shelf life. Conservative estimates — blending anecdotal and published research* — suggest this:
- Room Temperature: 1 month if exposed to light and warmer temperatures, 6+ months if stored in a cool, dark place.
- Refrigerated: 6+ months (up to a year), as the cold temperature slows the oxidation process.
- Frozen: 2+ years
*According to a 2014 study, beef tallow has an estimated shelf life of 1 month at room temperature, 6 months in the refrigerator, and more than a year when frozen. However, this identified measurable quality degradation, not when tallow becomes rancid (harmful or inedible). On the other hand, anecdotal evidence from lifestyle blogs suggests that beef tallow can last even longer - up to a year at room temperature, between 12 to 18 months when refrigerated, and more than 2 years when frozen.
Regarding tallow-based skincare products, longevity increases when combined with other ingredients with preserving properties. Beeswax and raw honey have an almost indefinite shelf life. Jojoba oil (technically a wax ester) can stay fresh for 2 years. Castor oil one year. And essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, and sandalwood offer antibacterial properties.
Can Tallow Balm Go On Your Face?
Yes, you can put tallow-based moisturizers on your face — and to nail this point home — this is because tallow is a nutrient-dense fat containing vitamins and fatty acids that closely resemble those found in the outer layer of our skin.
And to further dispel concerns, did you know that tallow aligns with a common face-washing practice, oil cleansing? This method operates on the principle that "like dissolves like."
Applying tallow to your face can effectively dissolve excess sebum (your skin's natural oil), cleanse clogged pores, and remove dead skin cells, pollutants, and makeup. So not only can you put tallow on your face as a moisturizer, but oil cleansing with it may help balance your skin's natural oil production, which in turn may avoid the drying and irritating effects often caused by traditional soap or detergent-based cleansers.
Can Tallow Balm Help With Dermatitis?
Tallow presents a potentially effective treatment for eczema and seborrheic dermatitis. Because of the similar lipid profile of human skin, tallow provides essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins that nourish and hydrate.
The efficacy of tallow-based products, such as those offered by Vintage Tradition, is substantiated by numerous testimonies. Users of these products highlight significant improvements in moisture retention, skin texture, and reduced irritation. For many, tallow balms provided relief when other products failed, improving their skin's health.
The idea is that tallow offers skin nourishment without introducing potential allergens or irritants, a beneficial attribute for eczema-prone individuals with compromised skin barriers.
But dermatological conditions like eczema and seborrheic dermatitis are complex and do not have a one-size-fits-all solution. While some may find relief with tallow-based skincare, others may not see any change or could potentially experience adverse reactions.
Tallow products may alleviate symptoms but do not address the root causes of these skin conditions. Consider it one part of a more comprehensive skin health plan that encompasses dietary adjustments, stress management, and the avoidance of triggers. This holistic approach is consistent with the dietary recommendations for eczema proposed by Dr. Ken Berry, who emphasizes avoiding dietary triggers like salicylates to reduce inflammation.
Tallow Balms & Moisturizer Products
From natural apothecaries to ranchers, a range of tallow-based products are available online. The beauty of these moisturizers is that there are endless blends and formulations to choose from. And if someone doesn't make what you are looking for, you can experiment with your own formulation at home!
I get the occasional flare-up on my hands and face — dry, sensitive skin on my hands and some redness on my cheeks (presumably mild rosacea). The anti-inflammatory, nourishing, and hydrating benefits of tallow balm were compelling enough to attempt my own formulation: tallow, beeswax, castor oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E, honey, lavender, sandalwood, and cedarwood. My goal was something that I could:
- Apply to my hands before and after yard work (doubling as a conditioner for my leather gloves).
- Apply to my arms, knees, face, etc., without concern.
- Store at room temperature with a firm consistency and long shelf life.
While I could have been a little more liberal with the essential oils for a more potent fragrance, my first balm concoction was beyond my expectations. I'm looking forward to finding a perfect blend for a hand balm, lip balm, and softer salve to incorporate into a face cleaning regimen.