The cosmetic industry is confusing- and this is no coincidence. With the greedy drive to patent this and brand that, we have somehow wound up with over 10,500 unique chemicals currently being used in personal care products. Nowadays, one trip down the skin care aisle is enough to leave you cross-eyed from trying to read impossibly long ingredient lists. How many times have you just sighed and picked up the most attractive looking bottle on the shelves, in hope that it is somewhat decent? If you’ve been considering changing up your skin care routine, but can’t sort through the jumble of gimmicks, mishmash of health claims and clamor of promises about “wrinkle-reducing,” and “glow-revitalizing,” it might be time to head back to the basics...
The Sad Truths about Organic Skin Care
I know, I know- we’ve talked about skin care before, but the more I look around at the industry, the more I find tidbits of information that I can’t help but share. A lot of skin products out there are just not what they seem. A blend of synthetic, factory-processed ingredients squeezed into a matte-finished bottle decorated with tiny green leaves and labeled with an enchanting name, does NOT mean it is natural. In fact, it turns out that “organic” and “natural” are largely unregulated terms when it comes to personal care products, and they can be liberally slapped onto just about any ole’ container of lotion lying around. According to the research of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), products with the word “organic” on the label often contain no certified organic ingredients at all...zero, zip, nada. Under current labeling laws, even certified organic skin care products can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight volume, with the other 90% comprised of petrochemicals, artificial stabilizers, cheap herbal extracts, unfiltered water and other laboratory-made goodies. What’s more, the American government currently does not require health studies or pre-market testing for chemicals used in personal care. Representatives from the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors themselves have stated “...a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without approval from the FDA.” Wonderful. With the thousands of questionable chemicals out there- many with documented carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting potential- this is none too reassuring
Whole Food for the Skin
Caring for skin shouldn’t be confusing- your skin deserves the basic, deep nourishing care of whole foods, just like the rest of your body. Our ancestors certainly realized this. While many people in tropical climates traditionally used highly beneficial coconut oil to nourish and protect the skin, peoples from other areas of the world where such oils were not readily available often used tallow. Tallow is gently rendered animal fat, generally from cows and sheep. Tallow is extracted by slowly heating the fat tissue or “suet,” causing the pure oil to melt away.
What?! Beef fat for the skin? Initially, this may sound gross to those of us living in a plastic-wrapped world where we are highly disconnected from our food. Yet, in the sustainable and sacred tradition of appreciating all of our resources, tallow is a actually a beautiful golden oil that has many uses. Actually, although you may not have ever noticed, tallow is still used as a base in some commercial cosmetic products. It has become increasing less popular with the reign of big business though, as it is both time consuming to produce and not patentable.
Traditionally, tallow was applied as a soothing and regenerating balm for weathered and irritated skin. Modern science has provided further insight into the specific mechanics of this healing reaction. Tallow is:
- Stable: Like coconut oil, tallow has a very beneficial fatty acid profile, with 50-55% stable saturated fats. This means that it is stable and does not readily go rancid, such that the beneficial nutrients can easily be preserved without refrigeration for extended periods of time.
- Nourishing: Properly treated tallow from grass-fed cows is especially nutrient dense, rich with nutrients that plant-based oils simply do not poses. Tallow contains a harmonious balance of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, in a balanced combination with their activators. It also has an abundance of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which as been shown to have anti-inflammatory effect and palmitoleic acid which has antimicrobial characteristics.
- Easily Absorbed: When you apply tallow you will notice that it leaves your skin feeling smooth without leaving a greasy residue as with some body butters. Some experts hypothesize that this is due to the similarities in the fatty acid profiles of tallow to human cell membranes and sebum (the waxy substance naturally secreted by your sebaceous glands to lubricate,waterproof and protect the skin). In Latin “sebum” actually translates to tallow or lard.
- Safe: Tallow has long been consumed as a cooking oil that is especially useful for high temperature cooking and frying due to a high smoke-point. It is safe to eat, delicious and safe to put on the body. It received the best possible safety ranking in the EWG database. It is important that tallow is derived from pastured, 100% grass-fed cows however, to avoid contamination with pesticides and other nasty chemicals.
- It feels amazing! Not very formal, but it's true.
Homemade Tallow Body Balm
Unlike complex clinical lotions, high quality tallow body balm is not extremely expensive. You can make a tallow body balm at home by either rendering your own tallow or finding tallow from your local farmer. For a great video on how to render your own beef tallow, visit Weston A. Price Chapter Leader Sarah Pope at The Healthy Home Economist. Once you have tallow, mix one part unfiltered olive oil with 8-9 parts pastured tallow. This will help to increase the spreadability of the tallow and also adds an antioxidant benefit. If you want, you can mix in some essential oils of your liking and you will have a brilliantly soothing lotion that lasts for months.
If DIY isn’t your thing, Radiant Life is proud to include Vintage Tradition Body Balm in our collection of pure skin care products. These handmade balms are made from tallow from 100% grass-fed cows, organic olive oil and therapeutic blends of organic essential oils. They are very carefully blended following high standards of purity and never come into contact with plastic or aluminum during creation.
The Skinny on Fats by Mary G. Enig PhD and Sally Fallon