An article by Andrew J. Gardner called Traditional Nourishing and Healing Skin Care caught my eye (winter 2012 issue of Wise Traditions journal). It’s a lovely read and in it, Mr. Gardner shares the traditional use of tallow in skin care for both slight and serious conditions. Mr. Gardner makes and sells high-quality tallow balm through his site Vintage Tradition.
Tallow is the rendered fat of cows, sheep, and other ruminant animals such as deer.
I want to summarize the key points in Mr. Gardner’s article. I encourage you to read it for yourself — in fact, click over and scroll down so you can see pictures of how tallow balm cleared up diaper rash.
1. What makes tallow so wonderful for skin care applications?
You might say that tallow is a match made in Heaven (and I believe this) for skin care.
- Tallow fat is 50 to 55 percent saturated, just like our cell membranes, making it helpful for skin health and compatible with our biology.
- Tallow is similar to our “sebum” — the oily, waxy matter that lubricates and waterproofs our skin.
- Tallow contains the abundant fat-soluble activators — vitamins A, D, E, and K — which are necessary for skin health.
- Tallow contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Tallow contains palmitoleic acid, which has natural anti-microbial properties.
By the way, #3, #4 and #5 especially are qualities of grass-fed tallow, not conventional. Which brings me to the second point.
2. Is being grass-fed really that important?
Mr. Gardner writes:
“Indeed, tallow from cows that are only fed grass has a better mineral and micronutrient profile, including higher levels of vitamins. For example, one study found that grass-fed cows have four times the vitamin E of grain-fed cows. Products from grass-fed animals were also found to have three to five times more CLA that those fed a ‘conventional’ diet.”
3. In what ways can tallow balm be used?
Mr. Gardner shared a remarkable story about a woman with a horrible and painful ingrown toenail. After months of not being able to even wear shoes, tallow balm healed it almost overnight:
“The patient on whom I tried this plan was a young lady who had been unable to put on a shoe for several months, and decidedly the worst I have ever seen. The edge of the nail was deeply undermined, the granulations formed a high ridge, partly covered with skin; and pus constantly oozed from the root of the nail. The whole toe was swollen and extremely painful and tender. . . . I put a very small piece of tallow in a spoon, heated it. . . and poured it on. . . . The effect was almost magical. Pain and tenderness were at once relieved, and in a few days the granulations were all gone, the diseased parts dry. . . and the edge of the nail exposed so as to admit of being pared away without any inconvenience. The cure was complete, and the trouble never returned.” –Dr. A.W. Chase, MD, 1866
Tallow balm is very, very useful — take note!
Tallow balm can be used for all manner of skin conditions, including dry, chapped, calloused, cracked and sun-damaged skin, rashes, burning, itching, wrinkles, and so on, because it gives the skin the nutrients it needs to heal itself. It can even be used as a soothing aftershave. One mother applied it all over her baby’s body for eczema, which had been present for a couple months, and it disappeared. Another mother applied it on her baby for a terrible case of diaper rash that did not respond to other “natural” products, and it was gone after three applications. In addition, a man who had had a split lip for over a year and who had already ‘tried everything,’ including ‘natural oils and shea butter,’ had his lip heal in two weeks using tallow balm, and ‘it’s been healed ever since.’ Finally, numerous others have had success using it for calluses, dry and cracked skin, and sunburns, and for moisturizing, smoothing and softening their skin.”
I perked up at the word rashes, and began to think of how tallow balm might help my ‘kp’. Keratosis pilaris is a rash — and it is caused by Vitamin A deficiency. Tallow balm is a rich source of Vitamin A. Seems like it could work!
Keratosis Pilaris — Vitamin A Rash
As long as I can remember, I’ve had keratosis pilaris, a skin rash caused by a Vitamin A deficiency. I wrote about it two years ago, including real food suggestions for improvement:
“Keratosis Pilaris: ‘Sand paper’ bumps, most frequently on the back of the upper arms, appear when keratin forms hard plugs within hair follicles. This is a classic sign of vitamin A deficiency. In addition to taking cod liver oil orally, mix cod liver oil with evening primrose oil and rub on the affected area. Avoid soaps and shampoos containing sodium lauryl sulfate. –Skin Deep by Sally Fallon Morrell“
Since then, my ‘kp’ has gotten better. Avoiding the icky shampoos made a BIG difference. I use hard lotion bars with coconut oil and shea butter for moisturizer (this gal says coconut oil cured her kp). I use a blend of essential oils good for skin, called Skin Care: lavender, frankincense, carrot seed, neroli, roman chamomile and rose otto. (If you order this, please use code 91353 to tell them I sent you!) Finally, my diet contains Vitamin A rich foods such as grass-fed cream and butter, and fermented cod liver oil.
And my rash is better. It isn’t so inflamed or itchy, and my skin is softer. Definitely not like sandpaper anymore. But the rash is still there, as you can see. This photo was taken yesterday.
(That ugly red mark on the top left of my arm is a scar from getting snagged on a piece of wire. That was painful!)
Though I’m happy about the improvement, I’d really like the rash to go away completely.
Enter tallow balm. (I’m pretty sure.)
I really, really want to see if tallow balm can heal my keratosis pilaris, and we happen to have loads and loads and loads of grass-fed tallow.
So I made myself some tallow balm. And surprisingly, it is not greasy feeling at all. My skin soaks it up right away and just feels nourished and moisturized.
Mr. Gardner’s article contains simple directions. Below you’ll see the recipe I created based on the proportions Mr. Gardner recommended.
Homemade Nourishing Tallow Balm with Essential Oils
Please use grass-fed tallow. If you don’t have a local source, you can get high-quality grass-fed tallow from U.S. Wellness Meats. A little goes a long way, and wouldn’t tallow balm make great gifts?
- 18 ounces grass-fed tallow, by weight (here’s how to render it)
- 2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil, by weight
- *essential oil that’s good for the skin — such as lavender
*About essential oils: They are concentrated, so use sparingly. What I did was add just enough to mask the not-unpleasant-but-distinct tallow smell, as well as add a nice fragrance to the balm. I’d suggest starting at 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of straight essential oils for a batch this size. Scale up or down as needed. Since I used my Skin Care blend of oils, already diluted in a cucumber oil base, I ended up adding 2 teaspoons of it (and I just might remelt and add more).
Makes 20 ounces. Over low heat, melt tallow until just barely melted. Don’t let it get hot. Add olive oil and essential oils. Stir. Pour into containers (that have covers). Will harden fairly quickly. Store in a cool location and keep covered when not in use. Apply as needed.
Now, wasn’t that easy?
I am planning on using my tallow balm at least once daily, if not twice, on my arms. I am documenting its effect on my ‘kp’ and I will report back with my results.
Update 11/21/2013 — My ‘kp’ is significantly better… I’m continuing my use of tallow balm and hopeful for 100% healing. Slowly but surely.
Do you use tallow balm? If so, for what and with what results? Or, do you have a skin condition that might benefit from tallow balm? Please share!