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I’ve suffered from eczema since I was an infant, and as a ranch kid, I grew up using Bag Balm– the odiferous udder ointment touted by everyone from dairymen to debutantes- on my itchy, painfully dry skin. Youthful associations aside, I truly loathe Bag Balm’s gloppy consistency and medicinal aroma. It also contains some ingredients that don’t jive with my grown-up preference for non-prescription skin care products that are as unprocessed (and pleasant-smelling) as possible.
Over the years, I’ve tried countless doctor-ordered, over-the-counter and home remedies on my sensitive skin and while things have calmed down overall, my feet remain a source of pure, unadulterated ugly (a former boyfriend affectionately nicknamed me “Leatherfoot”). My heels are susceptible to cracking year-round, but the dry air of winter is a particular foe that leaves my fingers vulnerable to painful splits.
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Thus, I was understandably excited when I discovered tallow balms handcrafted by Colorado Springs-based Vintage Tradition last summer. Tallow is the rendered fat of ruminants such as cattle. Along with animal by-products like lanolin (a wool-protecting wax derived from the sebaceous glands of sheep), milk, and whey, it’s been used by humans for thousands of years to soothe and heal everything from skin infections to inflammation to allergies.
After testing one of Vintage Tradition’s fragrant, fast-absorbing, ivory-hued balms on my hand, I immediately placed an order. The company only uses tallow sourced from local, family-owned, animal welfare-focused, grass-fed cattle ranches. Additionally, unlike cattle finished on feedlots, grass-fed animals produce tallow higher in micronutrients like vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid, which is a formidable anti-inflammatory.
Vintage Tradition was founded by siblings Andrew and Kenneth Gardner in 2010, following a trip to Mexico. While touring a blue agave farm in Tequila, they noticed that, although the workers didn’t wear gloves to cultivate and harvest the spiny plants, their hands were nonetheless uncalloused and soft due to regular use of a balm made with beef tallow and agave gel.
Inspired, the Gardner’s returned home and began researching traditional skin care remedies, the kind produced “before the advent of unnatural substances such as petroleum products and chemically fractionated plant products,” Andrew says. They also learned that while historically popular, animal fats had largely been replaced by plant and lab-derived ingredients due to what Andrew describes as, “the modern taboo on the use of animal products in skin care.”
When Vintage Tradition launched, there were “virtually no (domestic) skin care products available that were made with animal fats,” Andrew says. Because the Gardner’s live in a ranching region noted for its high-quality, humanely-raised grass-fed beef, they realized there was an ample supply of tallow available (unlike lard or duck fat, which are revered for their use in cooking and baking and coveted by chefs, tallow has never achieved cult status).
Today, Vintage Tradition produces nine different types of skin balms and two deodorant balms, made with tallow from Westcliffe’s Music Meadows Ranch and Corner Post Meats in Colorado Springs. The only other ingredients are extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil from a California ranch and high-grade essential oils.
I keep a couple jars of balm around my apartment—one bedside, the other on my coffee table—for daily use. I use Sensible (clary sage, angelica, myrtle, ginger, tangerine, ravintsara and mountain savory) to soothe chapped lips, nose and windburn, and as a cuticle, foot and hand salve; its subtle floral aroma also had an effect that I find soothing before bed. I prefer the zesty, energizing aroma of Campfire Glow (tea tree, hyssop, rosemary, ginger, tarragon, grapefruit) as an after-shower body moisturizer or on tired, post-activity feet and legs.
While my recalcitrant foot eczema hasn’t magically disappeared, for many Vintage Tradition customers the balms have been the proverbial magic bullet. What I do have are softer heels free of the excruciating fissures brought on by wearing sandals or moisture-wicking wool socks, as well as a sustainable skincare product that I feel good about purchasing. Look out, winter. I’m ready for you.