What is Tallow?
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
This Hot (and Healthy) Skincare Ingredient Explained
Tallow is back in the common vernacular, popping up everywhere from nose-to-tail adherents to sustainability advocates.
But the beauty industry hasn’t quite caught on to tallow’s incredible skin benefits just yet, despite that animal fats are skin’s best friend when it comes to moisturizing and healing. Tallow is much closer to the natural oils your skin produces than the petroleum products in most beauty formulas today.
At Noaic Balm, we’ve been blending and deploying tallow balms from grass-fed beef in a variety of skincare settings for people all over the world. Through our own experiences, emerging scientific research, and countless customer testimonials, we’ve learned a lot about what gives tallow its healing capabilities – we’ve even learned a little about tallow’s shortcomings!
Top Tallow Takeaways
Tallow is a rendered fat from any ruminant animal and comes from suet, a fatty tissue around the kidneys.
Tallow is similar in makeup to skin’s natural oil, sebum, and its capabilities stem largely from a variety of fatty acids that mimic your skin’s and skin oil’s natural healing and protective qualities.
Our experiences and those of myriad writers over the years suggests as a natural substance, tallow can benefit those with acne, eczema, dry/cracked skin, and other common skin conditions.
What Is Tallow?
Tallow is rendered fat from any ruminant animal, or those animals that naturally graze. Tallow in the U.S. most frequently comes from beef cattle, but you can also find mutton tallow, bison tallow, and goat tallow.
At room temperature, tallow is white, solid, and waxy, though with a little heat (much like coconut oil) it quickly becomes a light yellow liquid.
Where Does Tallow Come From?
Tallow comes from suet, a hard, fatty structure in the animal that surrounds and protects the kidneys. Suet has a white, bumpy, and slightly crumbly appearance - it’s unexpectedly dry to the touch when cold despite its high fat content.
When heated gently, tallow melts away from the other connective tissues that make up suet.
At Noaic Balm, we get our suet from a handful of grass-fed farmers in Lancaster County, PA, where we live and work. We know our farmers by face and name, and sometimes we even know the cow that our tallow comes from!
What Is Tallow Used For?
Today, tallow is most frequently used in balms (like our small-batch tallow balms), lotions, and ointments for skin. It’s been used for centuries in this manner, as a soothing and healing moisturizer that mimics our own skin’s oils. Dig through newspaper archives from the 19th century – and possibly your grandmother’s medicine cabinet – and you’ll find plenty of advertisements for beef and mutton tallow skin remedies.
You may also see tallow used in cooking and frying as an alternative to refined oils like vegetable oils and seed oils. If you’ve been to a trendy farm-to-table restaurant recently there’s a good chance you’ve seen beef tallow fries on the menu.
Years ago, tallow was also used in some commercial lubricants!
How Is Tallow Made?
Tallow is made by slowly and gently heating suet. As suet heats, the fat liquifies and separates from the connective tissue.
At Noaic Balm, these constituents are then strained with a natural fiber cheesecloth, leaving pure but unrefined tallow as the final product.
We don’t deodorize our tallow or tallow balms. When fats or other animal substances are deodorized with chemical solvents – the most common approach to deodorizing – a residual amount of solvent is left behind in the finished product.
We’re sensitive to what goes into our healing balms, which is why we prohibit solvent use in any of our products or ingredients. It’s also why we’re highly attentive to what our animals eat during their lifespan.
What’s the Difference Between Tallow and Lard?
Tallow and lard are not quite the same thing, though they have been used for some of the same purposes over the years.
Tallow comes specifically from ruminant animals.
Lard comes from pigs only.
Lard must be refrigerated, while tallow is generally shelf stable and can keep for 6 months to several years depending on where and how it’s stored.
(Remarkably, McDonalds actually used beef fat in their french fry oils at one time!)
Can you use tallow instead of lard? For cooking, the answer is most often yes, though it doesn’t appear that lard has the same skin-health benefits as tallow from ruminants.
Can Tallow Go Bad?
Tallow can last for years when stored properly in a sealed container. It’s generally shelf-stable for 6-12 months when kept at room temperature (in other words, your cabinet, not a hot windowsill), and it can last even longer when kept refrigerated or in a more intentionally cooled and dark space like a cellar or basement.
What is Tallow Good For?
Tallow has significant healing and protective capabilities when it comes to skin. It can help with rough, dry, and cracked skin, but we’ve also experienced the benefits of tallow in healing tough eczema, and it’s even a compelling salve for protecting and healing cuts, burns, and wounds.
Let’s take a look at tallow’s benefits from two perspectives:
First, our own experiences with tallow and tallow balms.
Noaic Balm was born out of our own desire to find a natural, restorative moisturizer. We began experimenting with tallow and balms from tallow with our own family, which quickly spread to friends and neighbors curious about this new approach to skincare.
We experienced the benefits of gentle, chemical-free tallow formulas early in our experimenting and began using tallow balms regularly with our family. The anecdotes below capture just a few of the settings in which we’ve seen tallow excel.
Tallow for Dry and Cracked Skin
Derrick, a friend and tallow tester (who has since become a Noaic customer) works in sales. For many years, he lamented that he was embarrassed to shake hands with clients because his hands were so rough and cracked.
Within two weeks of applying Noaic Tallow Balm daily, he reported that his skin had improved to the point where he was comfortable and confident giving handshakes once again! A transformative experience for someone who so frequently relies on a handshake in business and personal life.
Tallow for Eczema
Another Noaic Balm user, Dana, reported that all three of her children have dealt with eczema since birth. It generally went away during the summer months, but it always came back during the colder, dry months.
Within days of using Noaic Balm, Dana reported seeing definite improvements, and their skin almost completely cleared up. “They ask for it multiple times a day!" she says.
Tallow for Acne
Beckie became a Noaic Balm customer in 2021, purchasing one of our balms for her teenage daughter’s burgeoning acne. She reported that tallow balm applied to her face produced a visible difference in acne formation rapidly, including both a reduction in existing pimples and fewer developing pimples.
Our experiences and those of our tallow customers mirror many anecdotes online and throughout history.
But don’t just take our word for it, as the science behind tallow’s usefulness suggests the same – that tallow has a myriad of skin health benefits.
Second, what the research says about tallow and tallow’s constituents.
Extensive published medical research on tallow has been slow in coming, largely because, as an animal product, the beauty and pharmaceutical industries have mostly shunned this natural substance. For those of us interested in the many ways the natural world provides, that leaves an unfortunate dearth of deep research, but also an opportunity to examine tallow’s potential health benefits ourselves.
Tallow is fat, but not all fats are created equal. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient analysis for beef tallow (notably not necessarily grass-fed beef), beef tallow is roughly 50% saturated fatty acids, 42% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 4% polyunsaturated fatty acids, with small amounts of cholesterol and choline as its other primary constituents. Other research posits similar numbers.
Why does this matter? The lipid profile of beef tallow is similar to our own cells (which are over 50% saturated fatty acids) and your skin’s natural moisturizing oil, called sebum!
Skin is, of course, your largest organ and absorbs what we put on it. We’re similar to animals in composition, after all, and we tend to absorb natural, animal-derived substances best!
Importantly, compare this to the fossil-fuel-based and petrochemical-based skincare products available today (Vaseline® is literally petroleum jelly 😧).
Simply put, science suggests that tallow gives your skin what it needs to heal itself, all from a natural and plentiful source.
An analysis of grass-fed and grain-fed beef tallow by Christopher Masterjohn and published by The Weston A Price Foundation (done at the Burnsides Laboratory at the University of Illinois) further explores tallow’s fatty acid profile. For the sake of this article, we’ll skip the grain-fed vs grass-fed analysis and focus primarily on tallow’s fatty acid profile, which includes fatty acids like:
Palmitic Acid - The most common fatty acid found in animals (and humans and on your skin!) frequently added to cosmetics for its cleansing and antimicrobial capabilities.
Stearic Acid - A saturated long-chain fatty acid, stearic acid is a common addition to skincare products for its ability to soften skin.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) - Recognized as one of the few animal-derived anticancer substances even at very small concentrations in the diet.
Oleic Acid - Commonly used by the skincare industry to improve formula penetration, present in tallow as its most natural vector.
One thing to note: tallow is NOT necessarily nutrient-rich. While you’ll come across articles expounding on the many vitamins and minerals in tallow, research thus far suggests vitamins and minerals are really not where tallow shines, though we recognize that opinions may vary.
The Benefits Of Tallow
At Noaic Balm, we believe strongly in the use of whole food and non-processed substances from nature, and the growing body of evidence around tallow’s usefulness in human health can no longer be ignored.
We focus on sourcing our suet (and subsequently tallow) from animals that are chemical-free, grass-fed, and pasture-raised. We look for happy, healthy, and cared-for animals where we can have a real relationship with the farmer.
We’ve seen tallow’s effects ourselves, and we’re excited that people like you are considering this compelling “cosmeceutical” alternative. Skip the prepwork (and skip the farming) and check out our natural tallow solutions for your family.
Oil Goes ‘Green,’ With the Help of Some Cows - The New York Times
Fatty Acid Analysis of Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef Tallow - The Weston A. Price Foundation
Traditional Nourishing and Healing Skin Care - The Weston A. Price Foundation
Comprehensive analysis of the major lipid classes in sebum by rapid resolution high-performance liquid chromatography and electrospray mass spectrometry
Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anticarcinogen from animal fat sources
Contribution of Palmitic Acid to Epidermal Morphogenesis and Lipid Barrier Formation in Human Skin Equivalents - PMC
Differential utilization of linoleic and arachidonic acid by cultured human keratinocytes
Oleic acid, a skin penetration enhancer, affects Langerhans cells and corneocytes