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The Benefits of Tallow in Soap

Tallow has been used in soap for hundred's of years.  Tallow is the rendered fat of animals.  In soapmaking it usually means beef and lard (pig tallow), but it can mean the rendered fat from any animal.  Tallow makes a super-white bar that has a creamy and stable lather.  It also makes a soap that is very moisturizing and gentle to your skin. 

I proudly choose to make soap with tallow because it makes a soap that is superior to an all vegetable soap.  You just can't duplicate the benefits of tallow in a soap with an all vegetable blend.  But the main reason I choose to use animal oils in my soap is because that is what I like to make and use.  I have made and used both and I have found I prefer a soap that is a blend of both animal and vegetable oils.  I am not a vegetarian, so I have no problem using animal fats which are a by-product of meat production in my soap.  I have heard of some soapmakers who themselves prefer a soap made with tallow, but they have decided to market soaps that are all vegetable instead.  I considered doing this, and decided against it.  I want to make what I like.  I want to make what I feel are the best soaps I can make.  I do not want to make a product that is actually not as good, just so I can market "all vegetable" soaps. 

In recent years, tallow soaps have been unfairly given a negative stigma due to some myths and bad publicity.  Tallow soaps are purported to be harsh, clog pours and even cause acne.  These statements are unfounded and simply untrue. I believe that sometimes these myths are perpetuated as a marketing strategy to boost sales of all vegetable soaps. 


Myths of Tallow Soap

Myth: Tallow soaps are harsh.
This myth came around for two reasons.  First, we have all heard about our great grandmother's old fashioned lye soap.  It has a reputation of being harsh, ugly, and even stinky.  Our great grandmothers used to make soap over a fire outdoors, usually right after butchering a hog.  The only oil she had to use was Lard (pig tallow) and sometimes beef tallow.  She had to make her own lye.  She did this by leaching water through wood ashes.  To test the strength of the lye, she would put some in a jar and float an egg in it.  The egg would float at different levels depending on how strong the lye was.  If she used too little lye, the soap was soft and would go rancid quickly.  This was because not all of the fats were turned into soap and were left as fats.  If she used too much lye then not all the lye would be tuned into soap.  There would be leftover lye in the soap making the soap very harsh. 

Today's soapmaker has access to clean and consistent lye from soapmaking supply companies or chemical companies.  Today's lye is consistently the same strength, so we don't need to test the strength with an egg and a jar.  Soapmakers today also use special lye calculators so we know the exact amount of lye to use to make a perfect bar of soap. This makes it so there is no left over lye, and not too much excess oils to go rancid.  Today's handmade soap cleans gently and is moisturizing to the skin.  Another benefit that today's soapmaker has is access to many different types of oils.  A single oil soap like our great grandmother's used to make was not as good as a soap we can make today with a blend of animal and vegetable oils.  Each oil in a soap recipe adds a different characteristic or quality to the finished bar.  So most of todays tallow soaps are actually a blend of animal and vegetable oils, making it a well balanced and gentle soap. 

The other reason why tallow soaps are given the reputation of being harsh is because many of today's commercial soaps are made using tallow.  While tallow is actually a good thing in soap, these commercial soaps also contain harsh chemicals and detergents.  Plus, the glycerin that forms in the soap is usually removed from these bars.  It is the lack of glycerin and the harsh chemicals and detergents that make commercial soaps harsh, not the tallow.  For more information on this, see my FAQ section. 

 
Myth: Vegetable oils make a better soap than tallow. 
Tallow and Lard (pig tallow) make the best well balanced soap.  It makes a hard white soap that is gentle and conditioning with a rich creamy lather.  The closest oil to tallow in soap is Palm oil.  Palm oil makes a good soap that is hard and has a good texture.  But it just doesn't compare in creaminess and conditioning.  I also know that an animal/vegetable blend is better than an all-vegetable blend in soap because I have tried all-vegetable soaps and tallow soaps side by side.  My skin prefers a bar made with a blend of animal oils and vegetable oils.   Try them for yourself and see how your skin feels.

Myth: Tallow soaps are bad for the environment.
Using tallow in soap is an environmentally friendly choice.  I eat meat, my family eats meat, and most of our country eats meat.  Using tallow in soap puts to good use a by product of the meat industry. So that the whole animal is used.  It is cheaper than all vegetable alternatives, so I can charge less for my soaps than other soapmakers.

I like to use oils that are local to me, making it so I don't have to have as many exotic and expensive oils shipped to me from other countries.   All veggie alternatives would require me to use palm oil.  Palm oil is also known as a "vegetable tallow".   Rather than having to have palm shipped to me from other countries, I choose to use a local product that in my opinion makes better soap.  There have been some serious concerns about palm oil farming.  I admit I am not an expert on this subject. I will not knock other soapmakers who choose to use palm oil.  I know many of them make very good soap.  Most go to great lengths and expense to be sure to use palm oil from a reputable source.  I just feel better not using it especially when you just can't duplicate the rich, creamy, moisturizing qualities of a soap using tallow, with only the more expensive vegetable oils.   

Myth: Tallow soaps will clog pores and is bad for your complexion.
These statements are unfounded and simply not true.  Soaps made with tallow clean gently.  They do not clog pores and are good for your skin.  I have very sensitive skin.  I have been using my soaps on my face and body for a decade.  My skin is in great condition. I save a lot of money not having to buy a lot of fancy creams and cleansers for my face. I am a grandmother of six, but my face won't tell you that. 

Myth: Using Tallow soap is like smearing animal fat all over your body.
Now that is not a pleasant thought, even to me, but once you understand the science behind the soapmaking process you will understand that the fats in the soap are transformed during the chemical reaction between the lye and the fat.  By the time you get to the end product, the lard or tallow has been altered into a new substance.  If you remember your chemistry lessons, when you mix an acid (fats and oils) and a base (lye) a chemical reaction takes place.  In this case, the chemical reaction is called Saponification.  The process breaks the chemical bonds of the fats and releases the glycerin.  The lye molecules combine with the molecules of the fat and change into a new molecule.  They are no longer animal oil molecules and lye molecules.  They have been changed all the way down to the molecular level into a new molecule, a soap molecule.  . 

Most handmade soaps today, including mine, are superfatted at 5%.  This means that 5% of the oils used in the soap recipe remain as oils .  These extra oils are a benefit to your skin.  Most  tallow soap recipes are a blend of animal oils, and vegetable oils.  My recipes contain anywhere from 35-50% of the oils in the recipe from animal oils.  The rest are a blend of different vegetable oils.  So of that 5% of oils left over, very little would be from the animal oils, and the rest is from vegetable oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil.