In a typical day, most of us unknowingly begin our mornings with a good helping of beef rubbed vigorously all over our bodies before rinsing off and applying perfumed sheep cellulite, especially to our face and armpits. Finally, once the lard has made us presentable, we venture out in the world where, unbeknownst to us, we encounter even more hygiene-“improving” fats in the form of soaps and various cosmetics as we go about our day.
The secret ingredient to such a lard-tastic routine is sodium tallowate. All jesting aside, the inclusion of this material in the majority of every-day skin care products is distressing. The general public—ignorant of the dangers and ethics involved in its use—are widely and unquestioningly buying and using the products that contain this ingredient, while simultaneously suffering the consequences without even realizing the cause.
What is Sodium Tallowate?
Put simply, sodium tallowate is the sodium salt of tallow acid. This sodium salt is the result of chemically neutralizing the carboxylic acid of tallow, otherwise known as fat.
Derived from the fatty tissue of sheep, cattle, and—though rarely now—deer, this fat-based material is the foundation upon which many household-cleaner and personal hygiene companies develop their commercial soap and cosmetic products.
What Products Contain Sodium Tallowate and Why?
Sodium tallowate is a common ingredient of deodorants, soaps (household detergents and skin care products), lipsticks (lip glosses, too), lotions, shampoos/conditioners, shaving creams, and some topical balms, as well as other cosmetics.
This is due to its capabilities as a foam-boosting surfactant. Surfactants reduce the surface tension between water and other materials, such as oils or dirt. In other words, surfactants make the soap more effective in removing dirt, oil, and general grime from hard surfaces and skin. Another advantage is its very solid and waxy state at room temperature, which allows for an extended shelf life—no refrigeration required.
However, the most compelling reason behind sodium tallowate’s inclusion in most commercial soaps and cosmetics is one of simple economics. Organic, plant-based surfactants, or surfactant-like materials, are more costly than the readily-available and overwhelming supply of animal-derived fats—thanks to the booming commercial meat industry that leaves behind an abundant and incredibly inexpensive stockpile of fat/bone/hide byproducts. Why purchase ethically-managed plant materials when over 39 million cows are conveniently slaughtered each year and the leftovers are copious and cheap?
Popular Commercial Soap Brands that Contain Sodium Tallowate:
- Irish Spring
- Neutrogena (except Neutrogena Naturals)
For a list of more brands that openly use sodium tallowate in their bar soaps and detergents, check out the Household Products Database.
Note: As of yet, there is no comprehensive list of all the brands and products containing sodium tallowate. If, after reading this, you decide to avoid the ingredient, you will have to become familiar with its many labeled names: sodium tallowate, tallow, tallow acid, fatty acids, carboxylic acid, sodium salts, and sodium salt tallow, to name a few.
Some sodium salts are not animal-derived. Their inclusion as “sodium salts” on a label is acceptable as long as the product is categorized as “vegan,” “animal-friendly,” or “cruelty-free.”
Some confuse “vegan” with “organic,” at times. If a soap or cosmetic product claims to be “organic,” it can still contain animal fats if the fats were sourced from animals raised on organic feed.
The Dangers of Sodium Tallowate
Setting aside all injustices based on moral and ethical grounds (that shouldn’t need to be explained), let’s begin with the animals this ingredient is harvested from. Inexpensive and abundant tallow is sourced from inexpensive and abundant meat byproducts. The only inexpensive and abundant byproducts are produced by the antibiotics-loving, hormone-canoodling, and GMO-embracing commercial meat industries. Organic meat animals, and even the fat/bone/hide byproducts of the natural, organics-adhering companies, are raised on a steeper budget with more labor-intense methods and techniques under strict guidelines that are often difficult and costly to meet. Unless a soap or cosmetic brand is willing to sell their own products at steep prices to a public that is generally parsimonious when it comes to personal hygiene products, then they’re left with only one option: antibiotic-fed, hormone-administered, and GMO-“nourished” fats.
The health dangers of antibiotics, hormones, and GMO foods are often downplayed in the media by corporations and public figures rumored to be subsidized by antibiotic/hormone-pushing pharmaceutical agencies and GMO-pushing agriculture companies. The truth of the matter is that, regardless of what the talking heads claim, current scientific research strongly confirms the correlation between:
1. administered antibiotics and the rise in suppressed immune function (as well as the incremental development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria),
2. growth-hormone injections and the subsequent endocrine disruption and possible link to reproductive cancers,
3. genetically-modified, glyphosate-drenched,mycotoxin-enveloped feed and the exponential rate at which both beast and man are experiencing chronic and increasingly prevalent health problems, such as developmental defects, damaged organs, infertility, obesity, weakened immune systems, cancer, and even chronic, unexplained depression.
Despite the clear evidence that antibiotics, hormones, and GMO animal feed (and consumer products) have a direct physiological effect on animal and human consumers, the soap and cosmetic industries are determined to purchase the cheapest fats in order to turn a greater profit.
The Body’s pH and “Friendly Microbes”
The human body is riddled with varying levels of pH. The scalp and hair, for example, is healthiest at a pH ranging between 4.5 and 5.5—slightly acidic. Human blood, in contrast, must maintain an ideal 7.35 to 7.45 range—slightly alkaline. Traditional sodium tallowate-based soaps and cosmetics usually have a pH of 9. Alkalinity of that level damages the acid mantle protecting the skin from cellular harm, bacterial infection, and even premature aging. It also dramatically affects the skin’s flora—beneficial microbes that defend and sustain the health and appearance of skin. (See: Evaluation of pH of Bathing Soaps and Shampoos for Skin and Hair Care.)
The skin becomes dry, itchy, flaky, eczemic, or sometimes excessively oily as the skin’s sebaceous glands attempt to mend the breach. Acne and blackheads can occur or pre-existing cases may worsen. In an effort to remedy these reactions, consumers try lotions or anti-acne products containing even more sodium tallowate, which only compounds the issue further.
In essence, using sodium tallowate soaps and cosmetics on the delicate surface of the human body is akin to removing the protective coating of paint and primer from a ship and then wondering how it rusted in the ocean.
What’s worse is that the damage can be much more than skin deep. Human skin is well-known for exhibiting low permeability. This means that most substances cannot be absorbed through the skin and diffused to the underlying blood and tissues—not even water molecules. However, because tallow is compatible with our skin biology and contains an abundance of natural fat-soluble activators (vitamins A, D, K, and E), it is readily absorbed into the skin, which means every toxic and excessively-alkaline component can and will contaminate the human body, starting with the blood.
When the pH of the blood is raised, the risk for alkalosis is increased. Alkalosis symptoms will present as lightheadedness, confusion, propensive seizures, shock, involuntary muscle spasms (i.e. hand tremors, facial twitching, etc.), numbness or tingling, nausea, vomiting, signs of liver damage, signs of kidney damage, and even death.
The diffusion of sodium tallowate into the blood and tissues will affect all portions of the body, eventually, even if full alkalosis of the blood is not achieved by topical means. Given enough exposure and time, the tallow acid—and every contaminant transferred along with it from the original animal—will accumulate in the filtering organs (kidneys, liver, even lungs) and the glands of the endocrine system. Over time, several disorders and ailments could arise, such as hypothyroidism, sexual dysfunction, and diabetes—to name a few.
The negative effects of sodium tallowate are easily discernible to those who are willing to do their research, yet EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Databaseclaims a low concern of “ecotoxicology.”
What many don’t take into account are the other ingredients sodium tallowate works alongside in soaps and cosmetics. Some combinations, though they slip by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), render the ingredients impotent, counteractive, contradictive, or even downright dangerous (depending on the percentages of ingredient distributions throughout the blend). Some of the more-favored bar soaps, for example, contain ingredients that are registered in chemical databases as “skin irritants” and carriers of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane contaminants, which are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
One has to wonder why a product made for the purpose of washing and protecting a delicate organ of the body is full of chemicals that are widely known as being hazardous and damaging to that organ—even in small quantities. Once again, it is up to the consumer to educate themselves on the harmful ingredients commonly used in soaps and cosmetics and to find or make healthy alternatives.
Alternative Commercial Brands That Do Not Contain Animal Tallowate:
- Burt’s Bees
- Desert Essence
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Kirk’s Castile
- Kiss My Face
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day (sometimes contains ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane ingredients—read the label!)
- Tea Tree Therapy
- Tom’s of Maine
- Zum Bar
Note: Please do not rely solely upon this article for updated ingredients in each product.