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Beef Tallow as Skincare—Science weighs in.

This trend could wreck your skin.

a brow cow with horns and an ear tag

In the ever-evolving landscape of skincare, a curious trend has emerged: beef tallow, a substance once relegated to the kitchen, has found its way into our skincare routines. With its rich history of use in everything from cooking to candle-making, beef tallow has recently gained traction as a natural moisturizer and emollient in skincare products.

But, as critically-thinking consumers, it's crucial to scrutinize the ingredients we apply to our skin. While beef tallow may boast a range of benefits are we truly aware of the risks associated with incorporating beef tallow into our skincare routines?

Disclaimer: I honor my client's autonomy and ability to make the best decisions for themselves when it comes to their health and well-being. I also see it as my responsibility to educate and inform! If you love beef tallow, then please don't come for me with pitchforks. I respect your decision to use what works for you.

In this blog post, I am going to shed some light on the risks of long-term beef tallow use on the skin.

What is Beef Tallow?

Beef tallow is simply rendered beef fat. What is rendered beef fat? Well, think about when you fry up a burger or make a pot roast—you know that grease that eventually solidifies in the pan? Yep, that’s beef tallow. 

a cheeseburger on a bricohe bun with onions

In skincare, the beef tallow you’re purchasing has (hopefully) been procured from grass-fed beef, put through a fliter of some kind and filled into sterilized containers. 

When I entered, “how to make beef tallow,” into the ol’ Google machine, I received results that included purchasing already rendered beef fat to whip into a skin cream and I also received results like this one, from Hey, Grill Hey, which detail how to cook the beef and reserve the fat: How to make beef tallow

Traditionally, beef tallow has been used primarily for culinary purposes. After all, if you’re a foodie, you know that fat adds flavor. So how did tallow end up on our faces?

The Appeal of Beef Tallow in Skincare

Beef tallow is rich in vitamins and minerals and it is indeed very moisturizing. 

According to Dr. Peter Young, a board-certified Dermatologist, “beef tallow has ingredients that are great for skin health, including vitamins A, D, E, K and B12 which are found in many moisturizers and other skin care products. It also contains fats that are similar in composition to sebum, the skin’s natural oil. That being said, it can have some of the benefits for your skin such as moisturization and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be soothing,” says Young. However, Dr. Young goes on to say that, “beef tallow can have certain oils that will block your pores, irritate your skin and cause acne or breakouts. It’s hard to be certain that these oils won’t be in the product that you’re purchasing because beef tallow hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for skin care use. You really don’t know what you’re getting. Most of the [beef tallow] products that you’re getting are homemade or local.”

I consider myself to be a holistic esthetician and I seek out natural, non-toxic and plant-based products whenever possible. I can understand the desire to use pure ingredients and to purchase from artisans. However, the idea of rubbing beef fat, or bacon grease, or turkey drippings for that matter, on the skin just doesn’t make sense to me. Much like coconut oil or olive oil can clog the pores and disrupt the acid mantle, research into beef tallow has shown that it does more harm than good.

Clinical Research: Beef Tallow for Skin

Proponents of beef tallow as skincare like it because it contains vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

However, a deep dive in to the chemical breakdown of beef tallow has shown, “Beef tallow is high in Oleic Acid which, ‘is toxic to keratinocytes when applied directly to the cells....' Mild visible skin irritation and increased traffic of the inflammatory cells, combined with increased interleukin (IL)-1α and other cytokine production, have been also observed.’” (Moore).  

Keratinocytes are skin cells on the surface of the skin and if they are exposed to beef tallow, they start producing more interleukins. Interleukins are like messengers that signal the immune system. This increase in interleukin production suggests that there is an inflammatory response happening in the skin.

In other words, exposure to beef tallow makes certain skin cells produce more signaling molecules, which suggests that the immune system is reacting in a way that could cause inflammation in the skin—TLDR; beef tallow causes irritation. The high content of oleic acid in beef tallow undermines its beneficial qualities.

diagram of skin structure

These findings were further supported by a study published in 1996, way before Tiktok lol, where it was found that, “oleic acid induce[s] a mild but clearly visible skin irritation and inflammatory cells were present in the upper dermal blood vessels." (Boelsma).

I can appreciate that beef tallow does have some components that are beneficial to the skin, but I have to agree with Dr. Ife Rodney that, “as a [skincare] professional, I cannot recommend or endorse the use of beef tallow for any medical purposes, including skin care. While some people may have positive experiences with it, and it does contain vitamins and minerals typical in skin care, there are other medically approved and proven alternatives to treat your skin issues.” (Sweeney).

Beef Tallow and Skin Conditions

Understanding how beef tallow might affect different skin types is crucial for making informed decisions about skincare. Let's explore how its properties may interact with various skin types and conditions:

1. Dry Skin:

For individuals with dry skin, beef tallow's rich moisturizing properties can be beneficial for short term use. Its high content of palmitic acid helps to hydrate and nourish the skin, potentially improving dryness and reducing flakiness.  However, those with extremely dry or sensitive skin should proceed with caution, as beef tallow may exacerbate irritation and cause further damage to the stratum corneum.

2. Oily Skin:

Contrary to popular belief, using oils on oily skin can actually help balance oil production. That being said, beef tallow's occlusive nature and inflammatory tendency may potentially clog pores, aggravate existing acne and contribute to future breakouts. 

3. Sensitive Skin:

Individuals with sensitive skin may react differently to beef tallow-based products. While some may experience mild irritation or redness due to its fatty acid composition, others may find it soothing and beneficial. It's essential to perform a patch test and to be aware that long-term use has been proven to be inflammatory to the skin.

Specific Considerations for Skin Conditions:

  • Eczema: Beef tallow's moisturizing properties may provide relief for individuals with eczema by helping to repair the skin barrier and reduce inflammation. However, it's essential to consult with a dermatologist before using beef tallow-based products, as certain ingredients may exacerbate eczema symptoms in some individuals.

  • Acne: While beef tallow is not inherently comedogenic, meaning it doesn't always clog pores, individuals with acne-prone skin should approach with caution. Its occlusive nature may exacerbate acne breakouts, especially if used in high concentrations or in products formulated with comedogenic ingredients.

  • Rosacea: Beef tallow's potential to trigger inflammation and increase cytokine production may worsen symptoms of rosacea in some individuals. Those with rosacea-prone skin should opt for gentle, non-irritating skincare products specifically formulated for sensitive skin.

The impact of beef tallow on different skin types varies depending on individual factors such as skin sensitivity, moisture levels, and existing skin conditions. It's essential to assess your skin's needs and consult with an esthetician or dermatologist before incorporating beef tallow-based products into your skincare routine.

Alternatives to Beef Tallow

If you are struggling with dry, dehydrated or sensitized skin, or you're looking for a boost of antioxidants and anti-aging properties, there are plenty of plant-based alternatives to beef tallow that won’t clog your pores or irritate your skin:

Jojoba Oil:

Jojoba oil closely resembles the natural oils produced by our skin, making it an excellent moisturizer for all skin types. It's lightweight, non-comedogenic, and absorbs easily into the skin without leaving a greasy residue. Jojoba oil is also rich in vitamins and antioxidants, helping to nourish and protect the skin.

Safflower Oil:

Safflower oil is a gentle and non-comedogenic oil that moisturizes the skin without clogging pores. It's lightweight and easily absorbed, making it suitable for all skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin. Safflower oil is high in linoleic acid, which helps regulate sebum production and reduce inflammation, making it an ideal choice for acne-prone individuals.

Grapeseed Oil:

Grapeseed oil is a lightweight and non-greasy oil that's rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-6 fatty acids. It absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving it feeling soft and hydrated without clogging pores. Grapeseed oil also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe irritation and redness, making it suitable for sensitive skin types.

Moringa Oil:

Moringa oil is extracted from the seeds of the moringa tree and is known for its lightweight texture and high nutrient content. It's rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids, making it an excellent moisturizer for all skin types. Moringa oil absorbs quickly into the skin without clogging pores, leaving it soft, supple, and hydrated.

Vitamin E Oil:

Vitamin E oil is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals and environmental stressors. It's deeply moisturizing and helps promote skin healing and regeneration. Vitamin E oil is non-comedogenic and can be used on all skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Sunflower Oil:

Sunflower oil is a gentle and non-comedogenic oil that's rich in vitamins A, D, and E, as well as essential fatty acids. It's lightweight and easily absorbed, making it suitable for all skin types, including oily and acne-prone skin. Sunflower oil helps maintain the skin's natural moisture barrier and soothes inflammation, making it an excellent choice for sensitive skin.

Hemp Seed Oil:

Hemp seed oil is a nourishing oil that's rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, making it highly moisturizing and beneficial for dry and sensitive skin. It has a light texture that absorbs quickly into the skin without clogging pores, making it suitable for all skin types. Hemp seed oil also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help calm irritated skin and reduce redness.

Conclusion and References

Navigating the world of skincare can be so overwhelming and it's crucial to approach trends with caution and informed decision-making. While beef tallow may seem like the next big thing, there are plenty of alternative ingredients—such as jojoba oil, safflower oil, and moringa oil—that offer similar benefits without the associated risks. By exploring these alternatives and consulting with skincare professionals, we can make empowered choices that prioritize the health and well-being of our skin.

Moore EM, Wagner C, Komarnytsky S. The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care. Front Pharmacol. 2020 May 29;11:785. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.00785. PMID: 32547393; PMCID: PMC7272663.

Onque, R. (2023, April 29). TikTokers are touting beef tallow treatments for clearer skin, but ‘you don’t know what you’re getting,’ dermatologist warns. CNBC.,acne%20or%20breakouts%2C%20he%20adds.

Priscilla. (2023, July 25). How to make beef tallow. Hey Grill Hey.'ve%20tried%20it,as%20white%20when%20it%20cools.

Sweeney, E. (2023, July 14). Is beef tallow skin care safe? Dermatologists explain the TikTok trend. HuffPost.

Meet the Skincare Professional

Regina Thomas is a licensed Esthetician and Skin Therapist in San Antonio, Texas. Regina has been a practicing skincare professional for 8 years and specializes in treating acneic, sensitive, mature skin using a holistic, Corneotherapy approach.


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