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The Science of Beef Tallow in Skin Care

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann

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Time to read 7 min

In the realm of skin care, ancient remedies sometimes surface as modern-day miracles. One such resurrection making waves is the use of beef tallow in skin care as a facial moisturizer. Touted for its "all-natural" appeal, beef tallow is gaining notoriety for its simplicity and perceived benefits. However, not all that glitters is gold, especially in the complex world of dermatology. In this blog, we'll delve into the science and uses of beef tallow in skin care, exploring its components, benefits, and potential pitfalls, particularly for those with acne-prone skin.

What is beef tallow

What is Beef Tallow?

Beef tallow is essentially rendered beef fat, obtained by heating the raw fat from cows until it melts, separating from solids and impurities. This process results in a pure fat that solidifies at room temperature. The fact that it solidifies at room temperature is an indication of its high concentration of saturated fatty acids. Historically used in cooking and candle-making, tallow has also found a niche in the skin care industry, praised for its moisturizing properties.

What is Beef Tallow Made Of?

The primary components of beef tallow are triglycerides—fats made from the combination of glycerol with three fatty acids. These include stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid, each playing a unique role in skin care. Stearic acid helps to repair damaged skin and improve flexibility, palmitic acid offers a barrier against environmental damage, and oleic acid, known for its moisturizing effects, can penetrate the skin deeply.

Benefits of Beef Tallow

The fatty acids in beef tallow align closely with sebum naturally present in our skin, which is why it's considered an effective moisturizer. It replenishes the lipids lost during the cleansing process, reducing dryness and improving skin's overall resilience. Additionally, tallow contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are beneficial for skin health, aiding in cell regeneration and elasticity.

Side-effects of beef tallow

Side Effects of Beef Tallow

Despite its moisturizing benefits, beef tallow scores high on the comedogenic scale, meaning it can clog pores significantly. This attribute makes it comparable to other heavy, fatty ingredients like coconut oil, or lanolin, which are also known for its comedogenic properties. For individuals with oily, or those prone to breakouts, beef tallow can worsen acne issues.

Beef Tallow and Acne

The root of the problem with using beef tallow on acne-prone skin lies in its occlusive nature. While occlusives seal in moisture, they also trap bacteria, dead skin cells, and sebum, creating a perfect breeding ground for acne. The development cycle of acne is around eight weeks, so initial improvements in skin moisture may mask the underlying clogging effects, leading to severe breakouts later. This delayed reaction often misleads users into thinking their skin tolerates or even benefits from tallow, only to face the consequences weeks later.

What to Use Instead of Beef Tallow

If you have acne prone skin, almost any ingredient is better than beef tallow. There are hundreds of moisturizers designed by scientists to actually aid skin health without risks of terrible acne breakouts. If you are dealing with acne as a result of beef tallow, you need non-comedogenic skin care products to undo the damage.

You can find our full collection of non-comedogenic skin care here!

inflammation

Inflammation

While beef tallow does contain beneficial lipids for the skin barrier, its impact on inflammation is double-edged. On one hand, the lipids present can support skin health, potentially repairing the skin barrier. On the other hand, the occlusive and comedogenic properties can severely clog pores, leading to inflammation and/or acne especially in sensitive or reactive skin types.

For Dry Skin

If you genuinely never get acne, beef tallow can act as an effective barrier, locking in moisture due to its occlusive properties. The rich fatty acid content mimics the skin's natural oils, providing deep hydration and protection against environmental stressors. However, a barrier repair moisturizer that demonstrates a maltese cross pattern when viewed under a cross polarized microscope is a much healthier option than beef tallow!


Here are some better moisturizer options than beef tallow (If you took the quiz and know your Baumann Skin Type, look for your skin type octagon to know which moisturizers are best for you):

Why is beef tallow trendy?

Why is beef tallow trendy?

The allure of beef tallow in today’s market stems from a growing consumer interest in natural, single-ingredient products. This trend echoes a broader movement towards minimalistic and 'back-to-basics' beauty routines. However, it's crucial to underscore that natural does not always mean suitable or effective for all skin types. While individuals without acne concerns might benefit from beef tallow, those with acne prone skin should approach with caution.

Conclusion

As with any skin care product, the efficacy of beef tallow depends heavily on one's skin type. While its moisturizing properties and natural composition might appeal to those with dry, resistant skin, the risks it poses to acne-prone individuals are significant. Understanding your Baumann Skin Type can provide crucial insights into whether beef tallow is a wise choice for you. Remember, trends might come and go, but healthy skin is always in style. For a personalized regimen recommendation, take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz for free today

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Why is beef tallow used in soaps?

Beef tallow and other fats have historically been used in soap to give them a smooth texture so it glides across the skin. Today, it is more common for plant based ingredients to make up the foundation of soaps.

Is beef tallow good for your skin?

Beef tallow is not advisable as a skin care product at all. It may have moisturizing properties, but it will cause severe acne on the vast majority of skin types. The consistency of tallow is similar to human sebum, which is one of the main causes of acne in sensitive skin types. 

If you have acne prone skin, beef tallow might be one of the single worst things you can put on your face. Acne is an 8 week cycle, so don't be fooled if you are acne free after a week. If you use beef tallow on your skin, a horrible acne breakout is going to happen (unless you have top .01% skin genetics)

Beef tallow can be a death sentence for healthy skin. Don't use it.

Can I get Mad Cow Disease from beef tallow?

Mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), primarily affects cattle's nervous system. Its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), is linked to consuming infected cattle's nervous tissue. Beef tallow, used in some cosmetics, is rendered fat that doesn’t include nervous tissue and is processed at high temperatures, greatly reducing any risk of BSE transmission. Consequently, the risk of contracting BSE from cosmetic products containing beef tallow is considered extremely low, supported by strict regulations in many countries to prevent BSE transmission through cosmetics.

Why does beef tallow smell bad?

Beef tallow can develop an unpleasant smell due to the breakdown of fatty acids and the presence of aromatic chemical compounds produced during the rendering process. These compounds can include various aldehydes and ketones, which have strong, distinct odors. The smell can be more pronounced if the tallow is not rendered completely or not stored properly, allowing these compounds to become more concentrated.

Shoud II keep beef tallow in the refrigerator?

Yes, beef tallow should be refrigerated, especially if you plan to use it on your face. Refrigeration helps prevent the fats from going rancid and developing a bad smell by slowing down the oxidation process. However, it's important to note that refrigerated beef tallow will be harder to spread due to its solidification at lower temperatures. Before application, you might need to warm it slightly to soften, ensuring it spreads easily on the skin.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Beef tallow in Skin Care:

  1. Baumann, L. Ch. Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  2. Banks, A., & Hilditch, T. P. (1931). The glyceride structure of beef tallows. Biochemical Journal25(4), 1168.
  3. Meng, Z., Liu, Y. F., Jin, Q. Z., Huang, J. H., Song, Z. H., Wang, F. Y., & Wang, X. G. (2011). Comparative analysis of lipid composition and thermal, polymorphic, and crystallization behaviors of granular crystals formed in beef tallow and palm oil. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry59(4), 1432-1441.
  4. Limmatvapirat, C., Limmatvapirat, S., Krongrawa, W., Ponphaiboon, J., Witchuchai, T., Jiranuruxwong, P., ... & Pathomcharoensukchai, P. (2021). Beef tallow: Extraction, physicochemical property, fatty acid composition, antioxidant activity, and formulation of lotion bars. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science11(9), 018-028.
  5. Maotsela, T., Danha, G., & Muzenda, E. (2019). Utilization of Waste Cooking Oil and Tallow for Production of Toilet “Bath” Soap. Procedia Manufacturing35, 541-545.
  6. Park, Y. H., Cho, M. J., & Kim, H. J. (2019). Comparison of physicochemical characteristics of horse fat, lard, and beef-tallow. Korean Journal of food science and technology51(1), 1-6.
  7. Acid, L. (1987). Final report on the safety assessment of oleic acid, laurie acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid, and stearic acid. J. Am. Coll. Toxicol6, 321-401.

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