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Beef Tallow For Skin: Benefits, Safety & Other Options

Hannah Frye
Author:
October 17, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
Beef Tallow
Image by canyonos / iStock
October 17, 2023
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Many beauty lovers embark on the path toward natural-leaning cosmetics in the hopes of avoiding potentially harmful ingredients. This pursuit leads some to the vast world of DIY beauty. If it's good enough to eat, it should be good for your skin barrier, right? Well, it depends.

For example, the beauty crowd has experienced a reinvigorated love for an animal-based fat as of late and slathering it on as a moisturizer. We're talking about beef tallow, and you may be wondering: Is it safe? Should I use it? Your most pressing questions, answered below. 

Beef tallow in skin care: Is it safe?

Beef tallow is a rendered beef fat, the same ingredient used to fry foods in many commercial fast-food chains and even in candlemaking. It has a thick, buttery-like consistency. 

To be clear, beef tallow isn't a new beauty "hack." It's actually been used by many cultures for centuries, thanks to its hydrating power. 

Way before beauty products sold on the shelf, people used what moisturizers were available to them—some reached for shea butter, others ghee, some beef tallow, and so on. 

Nevertheless, this ingredient has been popping up on TikTok and Instagram more and more in recent months. One video in particular gained over five million views, the creator showing off their dramatically smoother, clearer complexion after just one week of using beef tallow. 

Other users note it makes their skin noticeably softer and tout the simplicity of a homemade moisturizer utilizing this ingredient. 

The safety verdict is similar to that of many DIY ingredients: So long as you have a pure and organic source (and no allergies), you should be OK. "Beef tallow that is purified and naturally sourced is generally well tolerated on most skin types, though it is important to note that no beef tallow product is FDA regulated," says board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camp, M.D.

But an ingredient used for centuries and adored by so many people must have some kind of benefit, right?

Beef tallow moisturizer benefits

It's true that beef tallow does contain nutrients that may be beneficial to the skin—a few of the most important below: 

  • Fatty acids: "Beef tallow is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can be helpful to soften the skin, strengthen the skin barrier, and serve as an anti-inflammatory," explains board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD. This also may be why people experience softer skin with fewer dry spots. 
  • Linoleic acid: Specifically, beef tallow contains linoleic acid. Interestingly, people with acne-prone skin tend to have less linoleic acid in their skin, board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., says in her recent YouTube video on the topic.
  • Vitamins: "Beef tallow contains omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K," says Camp.
  • Gentle emollients: It's fair to say that beef fat is generally going to be soothing and non-irritating. After all, it doesn't contain many of the common skin irritants like fragrance or potent exfoliants. However, some people may still not tolerate it well, so always patch test before you slather on.

Warnings & side effects

Still, beef tallow is likely not all it's cracked up to be on social media, so let's squash some rumors. 

Some TikTok users claim this product is similar to retinol, and when using it, they don't have to wear sunscreen because they don't get burned anymore. Let's be clear: Neither claim is true. 

See, beef tallow naturally contains vitamin A (the ingredient retinoids are derived from), but that doesn't mean it functions in the same way as a retinoid. Skin care products like retinol are highly complex and can't be oversimplified in that way. 

Beef tallow does contain antioxidants, which have been shown to support UV protection in research1. However, it is certainly no replacement for sunscreen. Rather, the antioxidant support can help mitigate oxidative damage on the skin—the same effect that you can expect from vitamin C serums, for example. 

But here's the thing: Beef tallow is not a stabilized skin care formula, like the retinol and vitamin C serums of the world. This means it can quickly become rancid if it sits on the shelf, especially if it isn't stored properly. That could lead to irritation, breakouts, and more skin concerns. 

The ingredient can also be a bit heavy, potentially too heavy for those with oily skin. Some people may note improvements in acne when using beef tallow, but it could certainly lead to more congestion in others—everyone's skin is different. 

To be fair, acne-prone skin does need ample hydration (and oils, contrary to popular belief), and beef tallow certainly checks that box. The fatty acid content will support a healthy skin barrier, and the vitamins are all great for the skin. So it's not necessarily a bad option for acne-prone folks—but it's not necessarily comparable to retinol, as some users claim. 

Overall, beef tallow is similar to many other natural skin care items with a rich history of use: It's not necessarily unsafe, but it's not a cure-all, either. Considering it is not formulated by a cosmetics company, there's no saying how stable it is or how long it will last, so keep an eye out for funky smells, textures, or signs of irritation. And always be sure to patch test on your arm before lathering up on your face. 

What to use instead

Now, if you see the glowing complexions on those using beef tallow but want to skip the DIY method, you have plenty of other options. 

"Plant-based oils, such as argan, avocado, and grapeseed oil are alternative natural skin care products," Camp says. These offer the benefits of improving moisture in the skin while also delivering minerals and antioxidants, he adds. 

Bowe notes rosehip oil and safflower seed oil as other great, plant-based alternatives, as they're also rich in linoleic acid, making them ideal for those with acne-prone skin.

Yes, those prone to acne can use a face oil. You just need to be particularly careful when selecting which oil to use on the skin, as many forms (like coconut oil) have the potential to clog the pores. Here's a list of natural, noncomedogenic oils to consider

Finally, remember that most complexions will look a whole lot healthier when you combine a rich moisturizer of any kind, plus superb lighting and camera tools (which plenty of beauty influencers use in their videos). Try not to compare your skin to that of content creators online, and you should definitely consult your dermatologist before diving in to a TikTok skin care trend. 

Especially if you struggle with acne, beef tallow is hardly the only, or the best option, available. It may work for some people, and that's great! But don't fret if it's not up your alley; you'll surely be able to find rich, hydrating, and nutrient-rich moisturizers elsewhere. 

The takeaway

Beauty fans have been using beef tallow as a moisturizer for centuries, but it has recently become more popular on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. While it may contain beneficial properties and work for some skin types, it's not going to be ideal for everyone and hasn't been formally researched or FDA regulated. Want to combat dry skin without the beef fat? Follow these tips

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