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How a Tiny Jar of Moisturizer Can Help Change the World  –– And Your Skincare Routine –– For the Better

Plus: How I Discovered That We’re Doing Skincare All Wrong

It was only meant to be a one-afternoon experiment. Five years later, it’s become a movement.

Up until a couple of years ago, skincare took up a fleeting amount of my time and focus. I never expected it could become something so central to my life, and I certainly never thought that process would start by reading a magazine article.

And yet, that’s what happened…

A couple of years ago, I was leafing through the Weston Price Foundation magazine and stumbled on an article about traditional tallow-based skincare in Mexico.

Not being particularly interested in skincare — but being wildly interested in traditional cultures and the wisdom we can learn from them — I stuck around long enough to get absolutely hooked by the history of how we as humans have cared for our skin and just how much of a connection with the world around us that process used to give us.

The benefits of using tallow on your skin went on for pages. I had tallow as skincare on my radar in a vague, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard about that” type of way, but I was blown away by how something so simple, so natural, could apparently outdo all the other skincare on the modern market.

So when I saw the recipe for making your own tallow moisturizer at the end of the article, almost as an afterthought, I thought to myself, “I’ve got to try this.”

And that’s how I ended up standing in my kitchen staring down a 100 pound pile of beef fat.

(I know. Ew...right?!)

What I thought would be a one-afternoon project turned into a deep dive into the truth about what our skin really needs and how so much of what we put on our skin today is actually really harmful. Best of all, I found out how something as seemingly simple as traditional skincare can help us return to the path our ancestors walked, and reconnect us with the world around us.

(And my skin started looking pretty damn amazing too.)

To understand the story, you have to start here…

The Truth About Skincare

Everyone knows the basics of skincare, right? Your skin gets dirty, greasy, and clogged up with dead skin cells and nasty bacteria, so you wash, exfoliate, tone, and moisturize, then do it all over again.

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But this is actually terrible for your skin.

You see, modern skincare is largely based on treating your skin like any other surface in your life. And if you go by that logic, the modern way kinda sort makes sense, right? Your kitchen counters get dirty, so you wipe them down. If they’re really dirty, then you use an abrasive to get that extra gunk off.

Modern skincare works along similar principles: your skin gets “dirty”, so you wash it down, and if it’s really dirty, you scrub it.

Fantastic, if your skin happens to be a non-porous, hard surface like your kitchen counter.

Not so great for actual living, breathing cells made of delicate tissue membranes.

And that’s what your skin actually is.

It’s not some sort of dead surface, it’s living tissue that plays host to thousands of species of microorganisms, almost all of which work to keep us healthy inside and out. Because the other really cool thing about your skin is that it’s porous — whatever you put on it is absorbed into your body, where it quickly makes it way to your gut and brain.

Kind of makes you rethink those chemical-based cleansers and moisturizers, huh?

What’s more, it’s really good at self-regulating, if you’re not constantly throwing it out of whack with harsh cleansers and synthetic moisturizers. (What, you thought people just walked around with crazy-greasy skin throughout history?)

We’ve forgotten these basic truths about our skin, and fallen into the habit of treating it like any other surface, and it’s destroying our skin and damaging our health.

I’m Matt, by the way. I run a skincare company called Primal Derma that’s actually a front for helping modern humans living in a society that’s scaled way beyond what we can cope with make a return to the connection among ourselves and our world by reviving the ancestral traditions that have linked us together for millennia.

(Don’t tell anyone. Actually, on second thought, tell everyone!)

And that also happens to translate into you getting access to the type of skincare our bodies evolved to need — skincare that’s really hard to find in our modern market.

Who is Matt Stillman?

Matt’s been obsessed with how modern humans fit into an ancient world since, well, forever. That’s played out in everything from his time bringing shows highlighting the connection between food and culture to the Food Network as a programming executive to his work co-producing the Cannes-premiered, acclaimed documentary The End of Poverty? to the way he gets his groceries — always from farmers he has a personal relationship with — and now, Primal Derma; premium, hand rendered, expertly mixed traditional skincare, made on a human to human scale, delivered fresh from his home in Harlem to yours.

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The More I Started Looking Into the History of Skincare, the More I Realized –– We’re Doing It All Wrong!

Let’s get back to that afternoon in my kitchen.

To say that I get intrigued by certain subjects would be an understatement — I have a habit of diving way deep into anything that catches my interest, and this was no exception.

After I read the article that day, I knew I wanted to try out this wonder-moisturizer for myself. The recipe called for grass fed beef fat — not something you can pick up at your local supermarket — but luckily, I knew just where to get some: my friend Keith.

Keith runs a small farm in Salem, New York that looks just like you’d want a farm to look. Cattle graze on lush, green grass, and everything is run using the traditional wisdom farmers have used to responsibly care for their stock for thousands of years.

I met Keith a couple years back when I started buying all my groceries local. As a Paleo foodie, and the son of a macrobiotic chef, high quality, delicious, organic food is incredibly important to me. And as part of my deep commitment to connection in all its forms — with the people, environment, and history you’re surrounded by — it’s equally important that the food I eat comes from local farms and is raised in as respectful and humane a way as possible.

So that day I called Keith up and asked him if he had any beef fat I could buy.

I was in luck, he said — he happened to have some lying around. It was useless to him; nobody wanted it, so he had been planning to just throw it away, but if I wanted some, it was all mine. 10 pounds or 100 pounds, the same price.

So of course I bought 100 pounds, hauled it back to my apartment, and got to work.

A few days of chopping, rendering, and cooling later, I had my first jars of tallow moisturizer ready for use. I scooped up a little on my fingers, and rubbed it into my hands like lotion … and immediately went to go wash it off.

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The first batch was kind of terrible.

The texture was oddly chunky, it felt too soft, and I just couldn’t see myself wanting to put it on my skin on a regular basis.

But I was not to be deterred. In fact, it just got me more interested, because I could see the potential for some truly amazing skincare there, and if people 17,000 years ago could figure this out, then I could too.

I was going to crack this recipe, and I had 90 pounds of beef fat left to do it with.

 

So I immediately started tweaking different parts of the recipe, one by one. A little more fat, a little less fat. A little longer on the boil, or a little shorter. Adding in a bit of this, a bit of that. It took a while — but I finally ended up with a recipe I loved.

It was made of just three simple ingredients, and it was damn near perfect. It was time to field test it.

So I started giving away pots to anyone who wanted any. Friends. Neighbors. Friends of friends who had tried it at someone’s house and just had to have some.

The feedback was unanimous: they absolutely loved it.

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Smooth.

People loved the silky texture that held its own without being oily. It was easy to smooth over lips, skin, and hair, and it felt like one of those ultra-fancy moisturizers that only comes in tiny pots.

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Moisturizing.

It was deeply moisturizing, soaking effortlessly into skin and making it soft and plump, with no greasy residue. It turns out that tallow is nearly bio-identical to our skin’s own fats. While plant oils can be great, they’re just not as close of a match, so eventually, your skin builds up kind of a tolerance to them, and they’ll stop soaking in as well. (That’s why you might find that a plant oil works great for a while, but then you need to switch to something else to get the same effect.) Tallow, on the other hand, is so close to your skin’s own fats that your skin doesn’t really recognize it as an “outsider”, so it’s just as effective the 100th time you use it as it is the 1st.

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Safe.

Sensitive skin? Effortlessly eased. Torn up, angry, damaged skin? Smoothed and soothed. It even worked on the delicate skin of my friends’ babies –– and you know when it’s mom-approved, you’ve got something good.

This was clearly an amazing product. So why was I one of the only people in the world making it? Why hadn’t the skincare industry caught on?

 

I Started Looking Into the Skincare Industry –– And I Didn’t Like What I Saw.

 

Our modern skincare is built around claims like…

  • Your skin will get greasy and dirty if you don’t wash it all the time, and dry and wrinkly if you don’t slather it in expensive moisturizers.
  • Bacteria and germs cause blemishes, and if you want to avoid them, you need to regularly strip your skin of oil and contaminants.
  • The best way to maintain your skin as you age is a complicated routine of products and tools.

The problem is…

It just isn’t true.

But a lot of people think it is because skincare companies have a vested, very large financial interest in making you think it is…

Which Is Where The Snake Oil Comes In.

 

I’m talking literal snake oil, not just advertising. You see, a lot of people don’t realize it, but our modern skincare industry got its start in the old timey medicine shows that used to travel the US.

These touring acts were popular in the states up throughout the early 20th century, and typically looked something like this: a wagon (with promises of good health and entertainment painted on the side) would pull up in town and set up shop for a couple of days.

And hey, it was usually free and it was the 1800s, and entertainment like this was often few and far between in these towns, so why not go?

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Once there, you might see a musical performance from an organ built into the wagon, magic tricks or acrobatics, a stereotyped, supposedly Native American show that played on the worst tropes of the time, or a muscle man performing great feats of strength.

In between the acts, the Doctor or Professor (who was usually neither of those things) would come out and lecture about a miracle cure that was good for what ailed you.

He might tout the benefits of electrical stimulation and sell you “conducting gel” that would attract the electrical rays that would cure your ills, or maybe try to sell you on the benefits of Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp-Root or the famous Stanley’s Snake Oil.

Brands we’re all familiar with today, including Listerine, Bayer, and Vick’s VapoRub all got their start in shows just like this, and these types of shows also pioneered the use of modern advertising, including tricks we see all the time today, like the use of pseudo-scientific terms, celebrity endorsements, and the promise of what exotic ingredients could do for you.

Medicine shows made a killing up until the late 1800s, when too many reports of fraud and some revealing investigative journalism had the tide turn against them. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 brought and end to the era, but not to the advertising, which simply switched industries over into, you guessed it, cosmetics.

Our Modern Approach to Skincare Is Based on the Same Tactics

Once the patent medicine era came to an end, many companies that previously sold patent medicines simply switched their focus to selling skincare –– sometimes not even changing the product involved!

Sound Familiar?

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Pseudo-science

Whole ranges of products are sold based on their supposedly scientifically-proven benefits. You’ve got “cosmoceuticals” based on “gene science”, those that are “clinically proven” to “revitalize” you, and “skin analyses” that supposedly tell you the best chemicals to put on your skin to make it smoother.

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Celebrity Endorsements

You could already name half a dozen skincare and cosmetics companies that have built their reputation on celebrity endorsements. And while we all know that just because a product supposedly works for this or that celebrity it doesn’t mean that it will work for anyone else, it’s still a powerful marketing tool.

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Exotic Ingredients

Stroll down the personal care aisle of a grocery store or pharmacy and you’ll be inundated with skincare options that are packed with exotic ingredients just waiting to give you the skin of a magazine model. From shea butter to snail gel, orchids to eggshell membranes, there’s a product for every ingredient. And while some of those ingredients can be beneficial, it’s really difficult to find products that actually contain a meaningful amount of them. Much more often, the product just has a picture of that ingredient on it and a tiny percentage of it, or worse, some kind of chemically altered derivative of it that might as well be totally artificial.

It Gets Worse…

Sketchy advertising is already bad enough, but what’s even worse are the false premises underlying modern skincare.

The message we get from the skincare industry is that without their products, our skin will be totally out of control, being either way too oily, way too dry, or somehow both at once.

(Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.)

The whole idea behind the modern skincare industry is that your skin can’t self-regulate.

Read that again.

The whole idea behind the modern skincare industry is that your skin is some sort of dead surface that you have to keep clean, otherwise you’ll end up with out-of-control oiliness, over-the-top dryness, or any other problem you can think of, and the answer is constant, aggressive intervention with chemicals.

And sure, your skin’s pretty powerful. It can do a lot to heal itself. And, given time, it might be able to adjust to the current conditions in which we’re living. (After all, we are a constantly evolving species.) But we’re currently at an evolutionary disadvantage: our skin has never been exposed to this many different stressors at this volume, we simply haven’t had time to evolve mechanisms to deal with them.

The skin industry says that the answer is to pile more chemicals on top of the chemicals your skin is already struggling to deal with. Which, again, makes sense if your skin is something dead that you can sterilize, like a countertop.

But since it’s not, and since you don’t actually want your skin to be sterile, all those things they’re selling you to fix the problem just end up perpetuating it.

Your skin doesn’t need to be “fixed”. You just need to give it the tools it needs to do its job, that is, simple, effective moisturization from a natural source that your skin evolved to embrace.

Just compare that to a typical skincare routine: you wash your face, which strips the oils off of it. Your skin, which normally would maintain a pretty even balance of oil, now senses that there’s no oil there (because you just stripped it), and starts producing more, leading to greasiness that you feel you have to deal with by using a cleanser. See how it goes around?

Think about it this way: by putting salt down on roads in the winter, we can make them safer to drive, sure. The salt melts the ice. But it also melts and runs off into the soil underneath and around the road, poisoning it for decades to come. Totally unnecessary –– there are other ways we can de-ice roads that are safer and healthier for the Earth –– but very common.

The same thing goes for most moisturizing routines. If left to its own devices, your skin naturally keeps itself appropriately moist for the environment in which you’re living. (These moisturizers are called natural moisturizing factors, in case you’re curious.) And your skin is really good at adapting its moisturization levels to where you are — if you go to somewhere drier, you’ll produce more; go somewhere damper and you’ll produce less.

But this can only happen if you’re not throwing your skin off with unnatural chemical moisturizers!

If you’re regularly altering your skin’s moisture with substances that aren’t meant to be on there, it’s going to mess with your skin’s ability to maintain appropriate moisture levels if you stop using the moisturizer or dramatically change locations.

It’s kind of like it takes away your skin’s sense of “normal”. Again, your skin is powerful –– stop screwing it up with chemicals, and after a couple of weeks or so of good care, you’ll start seeing a difference.

And That’s Not Even Accounting for the Issues Caused by the Ingredients Themselves!

If you’ve spent any time at all looking into natural skincare, you probably have the sense that many of the things we put on our skin aren’t that great for it. But you might be surprised to learn just how unhealthy some of the most common skincare ingredients are.

 

Conventional Skincare's Worst Offenders:

 

Alcohols

Alcohols are naturally drying, which just makes it all the more confusing when they’re included in moisturizers. While they can make the texture of a product feel lighter, and can also remove oil from the surface of your skin for a cleaner feel, they’re terrible for your skin, drying it out and throwing your natural oil production totally out of whack.

Industrial Lubricants

I’m not the biggest fan of using a substance both in my car and on my face, but then again, I’m a self-professed weirdo. A lot of moisturizers contain ingredients that also have industrial applications, including propylene glycol, which is used in anti-freeze and has terrible effects on your skin; petro-chemical products like mineral oil or paraffin, which are awful for your skin, not to mention the environment. (Not to mention all the negative effects they can have in the rest of the body as they reach your bloodstream!)

Fragrances

Things get really shady really fast when you start looking at fragrances in moisturizers. Because they can be classified as trade secrets, skincare companies don’t have to reveal the chemicals that are used to make up the fragrance, so it could be literally anything. Among the many (terrible) options, you’ve got diethyl phthalate, camphor and ethyl acetate, dichloromethane (used in paint stripper!), which irritate your skin, mess with your upper respiratory system, and put stress on your liver, among causing other health issues.

Preservatives

Parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde — all things you really don’t want soaking into your skin, and all incredibly common in moisturizers. While parabens will keep your lotion from growing yeast or mold and phthalates keep products soft and preserved, both may also mess up your hormones and metabolism put you at greater risk for certain cancers. And of course, formaldehyde. Need I say more?

The more you look into things, the more it becomes shockingly clear that most of the skincare out there isn’t just ineffective –– it can be incredibly dangerous!

So why is it like this? Why is this clearly unhealthy, unneeded, and unhelpful approach still ruling the skincare industry? Three reasons…

Reason #1: We want results fast.

Because while alcohols are bad for your skin, they make it feel different fast, and we want to feel different fast.

Reason #2: We want cheap products.

Because while industrial lubricants soak into your body and cause problems from head to toe, but they’re usually cheaper and easier to make than natural, healthy ones. Because you can make synthetic fragrances by the barrel-load in the time it takes to extract real fragrances from truly natural ingredients. And that, again, makes it cheaper.

Reason #3: We want products that last forever.

And because the inhuman, out-of-scale pace of our society dictates that we have to have a suite of products available at all times, for all times, which means that preservatives are an underpinning of nearly every product.

It All Comes Down to Profits Over People

And I have a problem with that. Several, in fact.

Because having researched firsthand the devastating effects that unfettered capitalism and our constant search for more, more, more have on the world, I know that the scope of this problem ranges all the way from the individual to the world as a whole.

When we buy things we don’t need (and that don’t work anyway) to solve a problem that’s been invented to sell products, we both support and are victimized by a system that’s terrible for all of us.

It’s a problem for your skin, because your skin doesn’t need a bunch of chemicals slathered on it to stay healthy. And it sure as hell doesn’t need a bunch of ingredients that could also soak into it and screw up your health.

It’s a problem for society, because the economies of scale necessitate stepping away from the ancient practices that connected us with each other and with the source of the ingredients that can keep us well.

And it’s a problem for the world, because when we’re disconnected from the people around us, we’re more likely to do terrible things to each other. When we’re disconnected from the sources of our products, we’re much less likely to care about them, which is how you end up with something as seemingly innocent as skincare coming as the result of a process where we make holes in the world and pull finite resources out of them, instead of working with the natural world to create renewable, genuinely useful products that are created with respect for both the user and the source.

We weren’t meant to live like this — and we don’t have to.

Primal Derma isn’t going to magically solve poverty, reconnect a fractured society, or even change the skincare industry overnight. But it is a tiny way that you can step back from a way of living that neither serves you nor the people around you, and make the choice to be that much more healthy in your skincare and human in your sourcing of it.

It Starts By Understanding What Your Skin Actually Needs

Because if you’re not sure what you actually need, then how can you know where to draw the line with your skincare, right?

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So a quick biology lesson: your skin is made up of three main layers, the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. We’re going to focus mostly on the epidermis and dermis, because that’s where most of the things you care about with skincare happen.

The epidermis and dermis are made up of cells that are designed contain moisture and to be both plump and flexible. Saturated fats, collagen, elastin, and a series of vitamins all work together to keep your skin healthy and firm. (Translation: young looking, moisturized, and wrinkle-free.)

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Your age, diet, and how much water you drink have a lot to do with how well your skin retains its structure, but it can also be affected by things like exposure to free radicals from UV radiation and pollutants, as well as chemicals like those found in many skincare products. Even something as seemingly innocuous as regular exposure to hot water (e.g. those long, hot showers we all love) can start to break down these critical structures in your skin, leaving it dry and unhealthy.

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And since our modern living conditions are an historical anomaly, we’re more exposed to the things that can damage our skin than ever. The real solution is to change our living conditions. The real solutions would be living close to the land, in relation to our food sources (both plant and animal), and in a less toxic environment.

But, until those things happen, we need to  to replenish the moisture in your skin. Remember, moisture = firmness = healthy, young looking skin.

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Let’s recap: epidermis and dermis are made up of cells that are designed contain moisture.

But moisture doesn’t just mean ‘water’. In fact, too much time in water could make your skin dry.

Part of the issue is dehydration but an even bigger challenge is delipidation - not enough healthy fats.

Fats = moisturization.

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Can plant oils do the same trick? They can, but there are some issues (more on this in a moment).

While you can do a lot to help with this by avoiding the things that dry your skin out such as overwashing your skin, products that contain drying alcohols and antibiotics, and fragranced lotions; drinking lots of good quality water; and eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, your skin can also benefit from some extra moisturization. But, like we talked about before, it’s super important to make sure that it’s the right kind of moisturization — otherwise you’re going to create more problems than you solve.

1. So-called “natural” moisturizers.

There’s no shortage of moisturizers on the market, including a lot that claim to be “natural”. Just look at things like Aveeno Active Naturals line, Nivea’s Pure and Natural products, or the ubiquitious St Ives apricot exfoliating face wash. They all look pretty and fresh. They say they’re “natural”, and they do include some ingredients you might find at a farmer’s market. But the problem is, a lot of them have been messed with so much that the benefits of the natural ingredients they contain have been either totally destroyed by the alterations they’ve been put through, or are outweighed by the other, damaging ingredients they contain. At best, you can hope to come out even with these types of moisturizers: they might not damage your skin too much, but they’re definitely not your best option.

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2. Plant-based moisturizers.

If industrialized chemicals are out (and they should be), your next option is plant-based moisturizers, like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, shea butter, rosehip oil … the list goes on.

And these oils are a way better option than your typical chemical-laden moisturizer. If you get them pure, they’re typically free of the unwanted ingredients found in so many other skincare products, and they can be effective. But there are a couple of issues with using plant oils.

First, you really have to do your due diligence to make sure that you’re getting oils that are made in a way that both preserves their beneficial properties and doesn’t involve adding something else shady into the end product. For many plant oils to actually work, they need to be either steam-distilled or cold-pressed, which is labor intensive and relatively expensive, so many producers use other production processes that actually destroy the structure of the oils.

Additionally, it can be hard to know how the source ingredients used to make the oils are produced, and whether that’s going to have an impact on their ultimate healthiness and effectiveness. There’s no point in getting a great, cold-pressed jojoba oil if the jojoba seeds the oil is made from are coated in pesticides, for instance.

Finally, a lot of plant-based oils are mixed into mystery compounds, so you can’t really know what you’re putting on your skin. An oil that’s marketed as argan oil, for example, might contain a little bit of argan oil and a whole lot of sunflower oil, or a pricey prickly pear oil might actually be made up mostly of soybean oil. There can be a lot of ‘filler’ in these oils.

And even if you do all the research and find a plant oil that’s pure, manufactured from good, high quality source materials in a way that maintains the integrity of the oil, you still have the issue of biology. We’re mammals, not plants, and the moisturizing components they contain aren't a perfect molecular fit to our bodies (but can be pretty good), so they don't have quite the effect you hope they will. So while plant oils will work just fine for your skin, and may keep you nice and moisturized for a while, they’re just not as good of a fit as tallow. (Not to mention that unless you’re growing and processing your plant oils yourself, they're almost always part of the industrialized food processing system, and so further away from nature than you might think.)

Long story short, plant oils are OK … if you’re up for getting up close and personal with the manufacturers and have the time to research the origins of your oil, and you don’t mind switching to a new one every now and again. But you can do better.

3. A premium animal fat moisturizer.

The grass-fed, organic goodness that is high quality beef tallow that makes up Primal Derma is by far your best option for natural, effective, safe moisturization.

Why?

Because Organic, Grass-Fed Beef Tallow Is One of the Most Nutrient-Dense, Effective, and Versatile Skincare Options On the Planet.

And our ancestors knew it.

OK, they didn’t have the lab results that we do, or the time or energy to put a whole lot of focus on skincare, because survival took precedence.

But what they did have was ungulates. Cows, sheep, camels, bison — you know, mammals with hooves. And as splintered bones at ancient sites like the caves at Lascaux (among many others) show, people have been butchering these animals, breaking them down, and cracking open their bones to get at the marrow for at least 20,000 years.

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Just imagine that process for a second.

You’ve been lucky and skilled enough to either raise this big animal to adulthood, or you’ve been able to hunt one down. You can rest easy knowing that you’re going to be fed for a while. You’ll have the leather you need to make clothing, shelter, and containers. You'll have the rich nutrition of the marrow inside the bones and the deeply satisfying fat to eat, fuel your lamps, and soothe your skin.

You’re going to make sure you use every single part of that animal — not only because it’s useful, but because there’s a very good chance that your religion (which you could really consider synonymous with “way of life”, unlike the relatively minor role religion plays in many of our lives today) has embedded the idea of connection in you. The animal is connected to the earth. You’re connected to the animal. The products you can create from that animal could connect you to others, if you share them or sell them.

And that means that as you’re honoring this animal, taking it all apart, you’re necessarily going to get very up close and personal with the carcass. There’s just no way to take apart a big animal like that, particularly using ancient tools, and not become coated in the fat stored under its skin.

Our ancestors had the connection and common sense to realize that this is great!

Tallow is protective, soothing, and restorative for your skin. And that’s why animal fats have played a key role in salves, ointments, poultices, and eventually, skincare for peoples all around the world, all throughout history, including Babylonians, Egyptians, Australian Aborigines, Inuit, the Himba and Hamer tribes, and Native Americans.

And Now We Have the Science to Back Those Traditions Up

Modern research shows that rendered, grass-fed beef tallow is one of the very best things you could possibly be putting on your skin.

It’s nearly bio-identical to human cells –– meaning that it’s incredibly similar to your cells, right down to a molecular level –– and it’s uniquely compatible with the biology of your skin, containing the saturated fats it needs to maintain its structure over time. The similarity to your skin cells also means that your body accepts tallow in a way it just can’t with other types of moisturizers, which means that you get a light, deeply enriching formula that soaks in quickly, unlike many plant-based oils, which sit on top of the skin for ages, almost like overwatering dry soil –– the water just runs off or sits there, never penetrating into the earth like it should.

What’s more, it’s incredibly nutrient-rich, full of substances that promote skin health and are only all found together in animal products, including:

Vitamin E:

Anti-aging superhero and free radical scavenger.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA):

Strengthens your skin barrier and improves its moisture content for supple, firm skin.

Omega 3:

Moisturizes skin from the inside-out and soothes irritation.

Vitamin A:

Stimulates the production of fibroblasts, which provide structure to your skin and keep it strong as you age.

Vitamin B12:

 Reduces redness and is used as an ingredient in cell reproduction.

Vitamin D & K:

D: Optimizes skin’s immune system and eases eczema and acne.

K: Improves circulation to reduce dark circles, bruises, and redness.

You’ve also got stearic and oleic acids, which increase the suppleness and flexibility of skin while also helping with damage repair as well as reducing inflammation, moisturizing, softening, and conditioning skin as it regenerates itself; as well as palmitoleic and palmitic acid, which are basic building blocks of skin that decline over time.

Take a look at this comparison between tallow and two other very common oils:

CANOLA OIL

  • Some Fatty Acids
  • A little bit of Vitamin E
  • Some Vitamin K
  • No Vitamin B12
  • No Vitamin D
  • No Vitamin A
  • Is grown and harvested in ways that causes massive destruction on an industrial scale.

TALLOW

  • TONS of Fatty Acids
  • LOADS of Vitamin E
  • PILES of Vitamin K
  • A WHOLE TON of Vitamin B12
  • BUNCHES of Vitamin D
  • SO MUCH Vitamin A
  • RAD Omega 3s
  • Is grown and harvested in ways that do not damage the environment

SOY BEAN OIL

  • Some Fatty Acids
  • A little bit of Vitamin E
  • A teensy bit of Vitamin K
  • No Vitamin B12
  • No Vitamin D
  • No Vitamin A
  • Is grown and harvested in ways that causes massive destruction on an industrial scale.
  • More omega 6s than omega 3s, which isn’t what you want.

Other oils have a lot of solid factors, but tallow already has all of those ingredients (and more) naturally included in it.

***One product, all the benefits.***

All that translates into one incredibly effective skincare product that’s good for pretty much anything going on with your skin.

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Seriously. People have used it with great results to moisturize their hair and skin, soothe chapped lips, heal cracked knuckles, smooth scratchy feet, ease diaper rash, calm eczema and rosacea, and even help blisters and cuts heal. You can think of Primal Derma like the Swiss Army Knife of skincare — it’s good for pretty much anything short of a gunshot wound!

Modern culture has a very low opinion of skin. We don’t think skin can fix anything on its own. If our skin has a problem (e.g. anything listed in the paragraph above) we have been told there is a specific cream for that condition, a particular salve for every symptom.

But that assumes the skin is dead. That assumes the skin is like linoleum or a wood floor that can’t fix itself.

And skin can. Skin has an incredible ability to heal itself (think of the first time you saw your skin heal a cut).

So we have to give our skin the tools it needs for its job. We have to give our skin the nutrients it needs. If we do, there’s little our skin can’t heal on its own.

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Primal Derma vs. Crossfit

I’m a Crossfit addict, and while I love what it does for my body, my workouts really take a toll on my hands. Calluses, blisters, and tears used to be things I just had to deal with … until I got wise to the fact that Primal Derma could help me out. Now a little dollop after a workout and my hands are much happier. 

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An Inside Look At the Process of Making Primal Derma, From Grass to Glass

It all starts with grass. Lush, green, and packed full of nutrients that are perfectly suited for a cow’s biological needs. (Unlike the grain, feed, or candy (!) commercial beef is so often fed.) Free roaming, well cared for cows eat this grass, and as they digest it, absorb a whole range of vitamins and nutrients, many of which end up being stored in the fat cells in their tallow. The same nutrients our skin cells need to do their job.

When the cows are two or so years old, they’re humanely slaughtered for their meat. Of course, we don’t eat every part of a cow (at least not any more), so a lot of parts get thrown away, including some of the organs and bones, and of course, the fat.

But this is actually a huge departure from our longstanding relationship with our food and skincare.

Historically, you would use every part of the cow you could, from nose to tail — and that’s the tradition that we and our farmers are harkening back to.

Once I get the fat back to my kitchen, I hand cut it into pieces that are small enough to render on my stove. At this point, the fat is hard and opaque, kind of like suet, or coconut oil in the cold. I heat it gently to cause the tissues to release their fat and separate from any tiny pieces of meat that might be stuck in there. Once the fat is fully released from the tissues, I filter it three times, and have a pot of clear, pure, shelf-stable animal tallow.

This in and of itself is good for your skin — and great for cooking — but I wasn’t content with Primal Derma just being “good”. I wanted it to be the very best possible natural, animal-based moisturizer you can find.

So as part of my experimenting to find the perfect primal skincare recipe, I tried adding in little bits of a bunch of different oils, and eventually hit on moringa oil. Just a bit mixed in with the tallow gives it an extra-smooth, luxe texture, not to mention some extra nutrients for your skin.

Ingredient Spotlight: Moringa Oil

Moringa oil, created from the seeds of Moringa oleifera trees native to the Himalayas, has been used for millennia in skin and hair products. In fact, ancient Egyptians valued it so much they even included it in tombs so people wouldn’t have to go without in the afterlife.

While they couldn’t have known about the nutritional properties of the oil, their instincts were dead on: moringa oil is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and a whole slew of B vitamins. It’s also naturally anti-inflammatory, making it a great healing and protecting oil for your skin.

Once the fat is rendered and mixed with the moringa oil, there’s just one step left: adding the blend of essential oils that neutralizes the scent.

Full disclosure: coming from animals, tallow has a smell. It’s not a bad smell — really the closest way I can describe it is like a “clean barn” — but I also know that a lot of people might feel a little hesitant putting that on their body.

And I also knew from my experience working with food that you can’t just layer one scent on top of another and hope it all turned out ok. (It’s like trying to cover up the flavor of one food by jamming another food on top of it. Just imagine trying to cover up the taste and smell of, say, curry with cotton candy. You end up with two very distinctive foods that, while not bad on their own, are absolutely terrible together.)

I knew that I needed to balance out the scent, not cover it up. And for that, I needed the help of a professional. So I hired a professional scent mixer to create a customized blend of essential oils that would balance out the scent of the tallow, toning down the “clean barn” smell and leaving you with a moisturizer that has a very subtle, very light, herbal fragrance.

After the tallow, moringa oil, and blend of essential oils are all mixed together, all that’s left is to put the ethical icing on the cake.

Tired of Tossing Out Plastic Moisturizer Tubes and Containers?

Your Primal Derma will come to you hand poured into a recyclable glass jar, with a post-recycled cardboard labels on it, and shipped to you in fully recyclable containers, surrounded by compostable ExpandOS, an eco-friendly alternative to packing peanuts.

And there you have it: phenomenal skincare that’s 100% eco-friendly, honors the earth and the animals it comes from, and is created and delivered on a human to human scale.

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What’s in a Scent?

Just like you can cancel out certain frequencies of sound waves to create silence, you can balance out certain scents with other scents to get rid of a smell.

Primal Derma is made with a bespoke blend of essential oils, all created from wildcrafted, responsibly harvested plants — including palmarosa, lavender bulgaris, cypress, lemongrass, and cardamom — all included in proportions that work seamlessly together to create a neutral, slightly herbal scent.

That’s why Primal Derma only comes in one scent, by the way. Because while we could add another layer of fragrance on top of what’s already there to create a geranium or orange flower or ylang ylang scented line of moisturizers, that would throw off the balance of scents that’s already there. So we’re sticking with what works: neutral and soothing.

Because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about: connection.

Connection between us and our ancestors.

Connection between you and the rest of the world.

Connection between me and you.

Connection between me and my suppliers.

Connection between the animal and the earth.

It’s all about relationships, and it always will be.

Primal Derma runs on a very distinct relationship cycle of earth to animal to human to human to earth. The earth produces grass, which feeds the cows, which produce the tallow that I render and then send to you in recyclable containers so you can enjoy eco-friendly, ancestrally informed skincare and care for the future of our planet at the same time. This cycle is built into the very fabric of this company, and it always will be.

I’m never going to scale the process of creation or sub out ingredients to make it cheaper. I’m never going to pack it with preservatives so it lasts forever. I’m never going to get my tallow from farmers who treat their animals like they’re just money on legs. And I’m never going to try to sell you on the idea of something you don’t need. No merch. No special applicator that I upsell you for the low low price of $19.99.

This is skincare, sure. But it’s also a commitment to a different, more sustainable life in which we return to the paths our ancestors walked, even if only in small ways.

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And It Just So Happens to Work Really, Really Well ...

I’ve always considered it a special kind of cultural poverty to pitch yourself –– kind of like trying to give yourself a nickname or telling everyone that you’re cool ... if you have to say it, it doesn’t count.

So that’s why if it was just me, doing my thing with lard in the kitchen all on my lonesome, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today.

But it’s not just me. I had this intuition about this skincare being a really great way to care for yourself while also being a really powerful way to connect with our history as humans from the beginning. But I also know that while intuition is incredibly powerful, one person’s intuition is not the end all and be all. So I ran it by a bunch of other people.

Moms. Dermatologists. Fitness enthusiasts like me. Friends and family. Business associates. Pretty much anyone I could get to try it.

Everyone loved it.

From my friend Summer, who was an invaluable partner in helping me get Primal Derma off the ground, who loves using it on her face and hair as well as that of her baby to Dina, a dermatologist who graciously agreed to try out Primal Derma and give me her honest opinion as a doctor and ... well, I’ll let her tell you.

Dermatologists love it!

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As a dermatologist I get more samples of cream than I have skin to apply them to.

Much of it is "me too" in terms of being like most of the others. Everyone says they are "natural," "green," or "local." When fellow Harlemite Matthew Stillman asked me to try check out his skin care product, however, and described it, I agreed that it was the real deal with respect to all of the above, but I hesitated.  Primal Derma is a moisturizer made from cow tallow (which would have otherwise been thrown away and wasted). As a vegetarian, I sat and tapped my leather shoe (roadkill leather, of course) and considered if I could sample. It certainly was the most unique product I had come across.

As Matthew assured me that this intention was to honor the cow in a seventh generations sort of way, much like my shoes, and as a woman of science, I tried it. I have to say it was cosmetically elegant and kept my hand soft after several washings. I could feel how something derived from an animal felt more bio-identical on the skin...

Primal Derma is a unique and innovative skin care option.”

-Dr. Dina Strachan, Harlem, NY

People Love Primal Derma For:

And everyone else who’s tried out Primal Derma gets just as excited about it. People tell me that they love it for their:

Skin

Dry or oily, old or young, skin needs a moisturizer that it can easily accept and assimilate. Primal Derma is just that, being so close to your own cells that it’s quickly absorbed so it can go to work protecting, feeding, and soothing your skin.

Hair

Your hair needs moisture just like your skin does; that’s why your scalp produces natural oils. Primal Derma is a great option for moisturization that won’t throw your scalp out of balance and will leave your hair nourished, soft, and shiny.

Sensitive Skin and Babies

Skin that flares up at the slightest little change often can’t cope with mainstream skincare options, and knowing what you now know about the ingredients they contain, it makes sense! Primal Derma’s natural ingredients that are nearly bio-identical to your own cells ease even the most sensitive of skin, and are safe to use on the whole family, including kids and infants, who tend to be more affected by the unhealthy ingredients due to their still-developing immune systems.

Small Cuts, Chapped Lips, and Cracked Heels

The nutrients found in the ingredients of Primal Derma are natural healers: moringa oil, lavender, and lemongrass are all part of nature’s medicine cabinet, working against bacteria and fungi to promote healing; while the fats and vitamin E ease inflammation and soothe beat up skin.

Values

We’re all part of a bigger picture, and chances are you’re already on board with that. (After all, you’re checking out natural skincare options.) Primal Derma lets you enjoy the very best in natural moisturization without requiring you to support processes or companies that hurt other people, animals, or the planet.

Another important value we stand behind? Expiration! That’s right, Primal Derma will expire, and it can only be made when my farmers have a slaughter. That’s why it sits in the three freezers in my basement instead of in some giant, Indiana Jones-style warehouse alongside the millions of Unilever products and the Ark of the Covenant. This stuff is living, it’s vital, and we like it that way. You wouldn’t want your strawberries to last for 6 months; you shouldn’t want your skincare to either.

Hand Poured, Expertly Blended, Incredibly Effective Skincare That Connects You to the Whole of Humanity, Delivered Right to Your Door.

If you’d like to moisturize, protect, and nourish your skin with hand-crafted, incredibly effective, ancestrally informed skincare that’s perfect for your skin on a molecular level and gives you a chance to support responsible farmers and a shift to ethical cosmetics, then I’d love for you to try a jar of Primal Derma.

You’ve got three options:

LIP

This little jar is perfect for portable care –– it’s the kind of thing you want to keep around in your gym bag or purse, or maybe even in your desk for some on-the-go moisturization. Our three pack makes it easy!

3 x 0.25 oz / $25.00

HAND

Our most popular size, the medium jar’s got enough Primal Derma to keep you going for a while and gives you maximum flexibility. (In case you happen to get commitment-phobic with skincare. Hey, it happens.)

1 oz / $30.00

BODY

Can’t get enough support for your skin? Already in love with the idea of effective skincare your ancestors would approve of? This one’s for you. Our biggest jar has enough Primal Derma to keep your hair, nails, skin, and loved ones happy and healthy for months at a time.

2 oz / $45.00

Important Note: Please Don’t Buy This If...

If you already have a skincare product that fulfills all your physical, ethical, and ancestral needs, fantastic! Hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the history of tallow, and please don’t buy this. (At least not until what you’ve got runs out.)

Because while I’m 100% in for selling Primal Derma, that’s just one tiny part of a bigger picture. (Much like us.) What I really want you to do is to get curious about what life can look like when you return to some of these ancestral paths that we’ve collectively forgotten as a society.

Buying Primal Derma is one very easy, very enjoyable way to do this, but it’s not the only one. You can learn about some other ones in the Primal Derma blog, if you’re interested.

But what’s most important to me here is that you consider joining me in making the choice to live a little more human-ly and humanely. To really start to understand our connection with the earth, animals, our ancestors, and each other. To support farmers like Keith, who are making choices with their husbandry that are supporting generations that haven’t even been born yet.

And above all, to remember that the paths of our ancestors –– while temporarily forgotten –– are still there, our birthright, history, and potential for the future all in one. I hope you’ll join me in exploring them.

My No-Drama Guarantee

Along those lines ... I don’t want you to have something in your house you don’t like or don’t use –– after all, that’s part of the larger trend Primal Derma stands in opposition to. So if you’re not a fan of Primal Derma after you try it, just send it back for a full refund, no questions asked. No weirdo deadline that you have to meet; this is a lifetime guarantee. No hoops to jump through. Just shoot me an email telling me what’s going on, pop your jar back in the mail, and I’ll send your money back.

What people say about Primal Derma...

I've only had mine a few days and already my feet are in a much better state. I've never seen that much change so quickly with normal lotion (and don't get me wrong, I love the lotion I use for my hands and face). I've used Bag Balm on my feet - but that is just a petroleum product at this point - bleck. Elbows are also now soft. Wow! And yeah - it smells really good. This stuff is gold. It is so much more easily absorbed by my skin AND it DOES seem to work better on tough skin like the heels of my feet.

And I really like the mild herbal scent - I HATE fake smells or strong smells, and am pretty sensitive in that department - I was really impressed with how pleasant and non-intrusive the scent was.

- Molly Morrissey

It smoothed out the unsexy gritty skin on my elbows, knees and heels.

The lemongrass scent is divine and the thickness of it makes it feel a bit more luxurious than thinner lotions.

- Maisie Smith

My feet and hands became softer with using Primal Derma.

I like that Primal Derma is all natural, and I specifically like the quality of the tallow being from grass-fed cows.

The creamy feel makes this like a balm and I loved the way it felt on my skin.

- Jessica Darling

Used Primal Derma on some tears I got from pull ups  about a day after I got them. Some of the fastest healing tears I have had.

When you get a rip it can have a huge effect on you for a good couple of days.

Right after it sucks, and then even once it heals it continues to crack and that is almost even worse! I did not get any cracking!

- Emily Yates

It totally helped with the chapped lips I get in the Northeastern winter, and then it transferred really well to life in the tropics. I even use a little on my finger as non-black mascara and it works so so well!

- Abigail Rose Clarke

FAQs

Is Primal Derma organic, non-GMO, and responsibly sourced?

Yes on all counts. I’m totally committed to this being a product that honors the animal, the earth, and you from start to finish. Primal Derma is only made with tallow from well-cared for, grass-fed cattle who roam freely in the sun and eat only organic food that they evolved to eat. (No corn, grain, feed, or stale candy.) It comes from farmers I know personally, and is hand rendered by me. The jar it comes in is recyclable, the label is printed on post-recycled cardboard, and the essential oils are made from wildcrafted, responsibly harvested plants. Even the packaging is eco-friendly: the shipping containers I use are fully recyclable, and instead of using packing peanuts or bubble wrap, I use these cool little things called ExpandOS, which do the same thing, but are fully compostable.

Can I use Primal Derma on my hands/feet/face/hair/lips/sensitive skin/baby?

Yes. Primal Derma is the Swiss army knife of skincare, it goes everywhere. (And we do mean everywhere. Including –– ahem –– sexy places. Although we haven’t tested its effects on condoms, so bear that in mind.) It’s also gentle and safe enough for even the most sensitive skin, babies’ included.

How long does Primal Derma last? How should I store it?

There are no preservatives in Primal Derma, which means that unlike pretty much any other skincare product on the market, it will eventually go bad. This is a good thing –– just think about it, you wouldn’t want a punnet of strawberries to be able to sit in your fridge in pristine condition for three years. You shouldn’t want your skincare to do that either.

If you store it in a cool, dry place, your Primal Derma should last for more than a year. Then again, if you’re using it regularly, you’re going to use it up before then anyway.

(Just one thing: make sure you don’t get water in it. This will spoil it really fast.)

How can I make sure I never run out of Primal Derma and save some money?

People tend to get addicted to their Primal Derma pretty quickly, so it makes sense that you’d want to keep some on hand. One really easy way to do this is by signing up for a monthly or bi-monthly delivery of Primal Derma. You’ll never have to worry about going without, you’ll be supporting the kind of world we all want to live in, and you’ll save 10%. Win-win-win.

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You might as well just get the big one.

LIP

This little jar is perfect for portable care –– it’s the kind of thing you want to keep around in your gym bag or purse, or maybe even in your desk for some on-the-go moisturization. Our three pack makes it easy!

3 x 0.25 oz / $25.00

HAND

Our most popular size, the medium jar’s got enough Primal Derma to keep you going for a while and gives you maximum flexibility. (In case you happen to get commitment-phobic with skincare. Hey, it happens.)

1 oz / $30.00

BODY

Can’t get enough support for your skin? Already in love with the idea of effective skincare your ancestors would approve of? This one’s for you. Our biggest jar has enough Primal Derma to keep your hair, nails, skin, and loved ones happy and healthy for months at a time.

2 oz / $45.00

But don't take my word for it...

Two thumbs up! I LOVE the scent.

Since my hands get really dry in the winter (to the point of getting cracked and bleeding), I've tried my fair share of moisturizers, and it's clear that a lot of of them simply don't work. I look for two things—natural (sans chemicals and toxins) and effective (I need the moisture to absorb and heal my skin). Primal Derma checks both boxes, and smells amazing. That might be my favorite thing. It's a nice consistency, not too greasy. And very effective.

- Michelle Urbick

I had 2 blisters tear open during my chest to bar pull ups right after receiving my Primal Derma.

I let the torn skin harden up for about a day and then started applying PD to the area at night. I feel like within one day (24 hour period/2 applications) I saw results.

My blisters were healing faster and not dry or cracking, which is rare with the extremely cold temps we have been having lately.

- Jenna Homburg

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