A Look at Tallow, Mutton Tallow, Lanolin, Emu Oil, and Lard

People have been interested in animal fats for various reasons throughout history and across different cultures. From cooking to skincare, they’ve stood the test of time. Historically, it was important to utilize every part of an animal, so finding use for not just the fur to stay warm and meat for food but also the need to utilize the fat was essential. The fat was and still is used today for cooking, skincare, soaps, candles, and more.

The interest in animal fats can vary among individuals and cultures. Some prioritize the culinary features associated with animal fats, while others focus on their nutritional value or use in skincare. Personal preferences, dietary choices, and ethical considerations influence why people are interested in animal fats.

Here, we’ll compare a variety of fats.

Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat. It’s a thick white fat with a high melting point.

Mutton tallow refers to tallow obtained from sheep fat.

Lanolin is a waxy substance from the glands of sheep. It’s often obtained as a byproduct of the wool industry. Lanolin finds its way into skincare due to its moisturizing and moisture-locking properties.

The animals used for obtaining tallow and lanolin are not necessarily killed only for their fats and oils; for instance, in the case of tallow, it’s usually obtained as a byproduct of the meat industry, where animals are primarily raised for food. Similarly, lanolin is a byproduct of the wool industry, where sheep are raised for their wool. In this way, some look at the obtainment of these fats as ‘ethical’ because its making use of an animal in full or more than would have been used had it been slain for meat-use only.

But, alas, when it comes to ethical contemplations, opinions surely vary. Some may argue that using animal-derived products, including tallow, mutton tallow, and lanolin, is unethical due to concerns about animal welfare and the profound love many of us have for animals in not wanting them to be killed for any purpose. Others may consider the use of byproducts as a way to reduce waste and make use of the entire animal, therefore, in a way, honoring it by using it in-full.

If you are interested in using these products but want to ensure ethical sourcing, consider—

The brand behind the product with the animal ingredients: Look for companies that prioritize ethical practices, such as sustainable sourcing, fair trade, or cruelty-free certifications. (And, yes, brands can use animal products and still be cruelty-free. Cruelty-free does not exclude non-vegan and non-vegetarian brands; rather, it excludes the use of animal testing, from the aw ingredient source to the finished product.).

Look for organic or grass-fed options: If okay with animal ingredients, consider products made from animals raised in organic or grass-fed farming systems, as they’re generally considered to be more environmentally friendly and have higher animal welfare standards. Go as far as asking the companies providing the raw ingredients or the cosmetic company to reach back to the source and ascertain the animals had plenty of space in their experience, too.

Evaluate certifications: Look for products that carry certifications like "Cruelty-Free," "Certified Organic," or "Fair Trade" to ensure that they meet specific ethical standards. Remember that certain terms can get thrown around any which way without regulation or certification, too; such terms include (but aren’t limited to) natural, non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, suitable for sensitive skin, and more. We advise knowing your ingredients and seeing if the ingredient panel—that’s hopefully fully disclosing ingredients without any trade secrets—displays ingredients you regard favorably.

Support local or small-scale: Consider purchasing from local or small-scale producers who are more likely to have a direct relationship with their suppliers and can provide transparency about their sourcing practices. Do hold them accountable for the same standards as larger companies, too, though, ascertaining they follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), do not animal-test, and so forth

Contact the company: If you are unsure about a product's sourcing or ethical practices, reach out to the manufacturer directly and ask for more information. If you regard utilization of as much of the animal as possible, such as making use of fat obtainment atop utilization of the meat, it’s germane that you find out if this was the case in the sourcing of tallow, mutton tallow, lanolin, and so forth

Quickly let’s touch on two more fats/oils that can come up in tandem with the aforementioned: Lard and emu oil. Though different, they have similarities, too:

Regarding lard, it’s similar to tallow, but it’s derived from pig fat. Like tallow, lard can be used for cooking, candle making, and skincare products. The ethical considerations surrounding lard are similar to those for tallow.

Emu oil is derived from the fat of emus, large birds from Australia. The birds are not necessarily killed solely for their oil, as it can be obtained from birds that have already been culled for meat, which makes the practice more ‘ethical’ in some people’s eyes since the capitalization of the bird’s fat comes from a process that was already taking place, and the fat-gathering further makes use of the bird. But practices can vary, and it's important to research specific brands or producers to ensure ethical sourcing if you regard this as such.

Each of these animal-based fats and oils, including tallow, lanolin, lard, and emu oil, is known for its moisturizing properties in skincare to provide hydration and nourishment to the skin.

In a nutshell, if you want to ensure the ethical sourcing of these fats, research the brand, look for certifications, support local or small-scale producers, and contact the manufacturer for more information, especially if placing a premium on what some regard as more ethical in manufacturing these fats: utilizing the entirety of the animal, from harvesting the meat to hide or feathers and fat, leaving next to no part wasted. Personal values and ethical standards vary from person to person or group to group, so it's necessary that you make informed choices based on your own beliefs and ethics after proper research and consideration.