The skincare industry provides products to us that we use to maintain and better ourselves. Skincare brands take advantage of consumers' desire to take care of themselves and cut corners by including ingredients that range from useless to toxic. As clean and plant-based beauty products are on the rise, a handful of businesses are turning to a surprising (but sensible) alternative to shea, mango, and cocoa butter: lard.
The logic is sound. Animal fats—all-natural, and an excellent pH match for human skin—are largely underutilized. Pig fat naturally rests at a pH of about 5.6, and human skin usually has a pH of about 5.4-5.9. This means that the topical application of lard protects the natural pH of healthy skin with acidity that keeps bacteria out and moisture in. While many skincare products on the market are catching on to the need for pH balancing—adding ingredients like hyaluronic acid—lard-based products require no additives.
The fat of a healthy animal also contains fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K—antioxidants that prevent and slow signs of aging by blocking free radicals and protecting against the breakdown of collagen. These vitamins are typically added to skincare products but come baked into lard. Clean beauty enthusiasts need look no further for clean, additive free products.
Tennessee’s own Charles Mayfield has stumbled upon the benefits of animal fat for skincare not through a laboratory or a fancy degree, but at the source of many of our greatest inventions: the farm. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with him as we discussed his life, regenerative farming practices, and what brought him to create his own skincare brand, Farrow.
THE ROCKY ROAD TO INGENUITY
Get 15% off Farrow products here or use code PAMPHLETEER at checkout.
Born and raised in Athens, Tennessee in the commercial dairy industry, Mayfield was always interested in working with his hands. “I grew up in two places… my mom’s kitchen, and my dad’s workshop,” he remarks. By his teenage years, however, his family’s business had grown and transitioned from dairy farming to milk bottling. While the original Mayfield dairy farm continues to stand—he spent a fair amount of time in the company of the cows there as a child—it became less of a family business and more of a tourist attraction. Lacking an interest in milk bottling, he set out to carve his own path.
Mayfield attended Baylor School in Chattanooga before moving on to Georgia Tech. Before he attended the university, Mayfield Dairy sold to Dean Foods: a major food conglomerate that was, at the time, based in Chicago. Mayfield ended up staying in Atlanta for twenty-seven years in total—moving from the insurance industry directly out of college, to a deep dive into health and eventually farming as he returned home to Athens in 2016.
Mayfield’s journey into health and fitness began after his divorce from his first wife on February 5, 2007 (“the day before my birthday,” he recounts). Endowed with a new drive to get in shape, he attended a three-month outdoor boot camp program and found his new passion in health and fitness. Getting hooked on Crossfit from there, Mayfield began recording his meals for the first time and discovered an obsession with healthy food. He and a number of other people within the program began a meal prep exchange system: each participant would make one large meal, and each week they would trade amongst each other so everyone had one serving of each. When one of the owners of the camp, Jeff Hayes, was diagnosed with cancer, Mayfield—and his soon-to-be second wife, Julie, unbeknownst to him—both began bringing meals to Hayes as well. The two were eventually introduced, and the new couple began operating their own gym under the Hayes umbrella.
Mayfield and Julie found, via Robb Wolf, the paleo diet, and soon began tinkering with their own recipes. One evening in 2010, over dinner with the Wolfs and the Hayes, Wolf insisted that the two write their own cookbook, and they proceeded to write their first, Paleo Comfort Foods. This is when Mayfield left the insurance industry to focus full-time on his gym and a series of paleo cookbooks with his then-wife.
In 2012, the two attended the Paleo f(x) Conference in Austin, Texas and became part of a new community. It was through this community that Mayfield came full circle back to his farming roots, as the conversation turned from diet to sustainable farming practices and where to find healthy food. Charles and Julie were then given the opportunity to cook at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms during an event and Charles was inspired to return to his farming roots—this time with an environmentally conscious twist.
By 2017, Mayfield made the decision to sell the gym, move back to Tennessee, and start his own regenerative family farm. They raised chickens and pigs, servicing friends and neighbors. While regenerative farming is not the most profitable model, the principles were what mattered to Mayfield. To supplement his new hobby, he jumped back into the insurance industry as well. “The best way to make a little bit of money in farming is to start off with a lot of money,” he half-jokes.
It was July 4th, 2019, when Mayfield accidentally made the discovery that would lead to Farrow. It was on this day that he came home after forty-eight consecutive hours of work and no sleep, dealing with water line issues in the blistering heat. Bright red from hard labor in the sun, in pain, and with no aloe, he did what he could: he took a jar of lard he had rendered in his refrigerator, lathered up and went to bed. When he woke the next day, he lathered up again. In two days, his sunburn was gone entirely. Not only that, but the highly anticipated peeling of his skin had never occurred. His skin simply healed. “That was the lightbulb moment,” tells Mayfield.
FARROW WAS BORN
“Here are the three things that converged,” Mayfield expounds. “Regenerative farming is awesome: raising healthy, happy animals means healthy, happy meat and fat… Ancestral nutrition: eat real food with labels that you can pronounce… This cooking, tinkering, workshop piece of me that just loves making shit…” These three interests had his mind heating up, and he got to work in his own kitchen making skin creams.
He began experimenting for six months, attempting to emulsify water and lard, finding that making a shelf-stable product was difficult. While he considered and tried out various all-natural preservatives, it soon dawned on him that he was using one of the most ancient preservatives of all: fat. Fat on its own would not grow bacteria, and would protect and seal any good bacteria it layered onto (namely, on our skin). At the same time, he did his own research into antimicrobial and antibacterial essential oils, which became mainstays of his products alongside some fantastic local honey.
Mayfield’s interests in regenerative farming and healthy food forced him to look deeper into the standard for existing skincare. “We don’t understand that skin is the second stomach,” he explains. Just as products that we eat become part of our bodies, products that we spread on our bodies—especially on a daily basis—become part of them. Despite this, the food industry uses many more safety measures before a product can hit the market than the skincare industry does.
INDUSTRIAL SKINCARE TRENDS
There are a number of common ingredients in mainstream skincare products that should be altogether eradicated. While many brands are catching onto this, “many” is just not enough. Marina Nessler, Bachelor of Science and Licensed Esthetician, shed some light on a small portion of ingredients to look out for. A product without these is often a selling point for high end brands but simply put—there should be no products that have them.
Alcohol is popular, immediately solving the issue of bacterial growth in products for the companies providing them. Unfortunately, it only does harm to our skin. Found in toners, gels, and even moisturizers, alcohol not only kills good bacteria but makes both skin flaky and greasy. It takes away the natural oils of our skin, and “the body creates a natural response to that, which is to make more oil,” explains Nessler. The ingredient dries out your skin, causing redness in the short term, and makes your skin oilier in the long term. It even has a tendency to enlarge pores. This means that oily and acne prone people drawn to alcohol based products will only find their skin getting worse with more use. Avoid anything with alcohol—whether it be denatured, isopropyl, or ethanol. Sulfates behave similarly and must be avoided. These are cheap alternatives to other preservatives. “There're other things that companies can put in to preserve,” states Nessler, “They just might cost them more money.”
The danger is not solely cosmetic. Parabens,—such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben—are far more threatening when they find their way inside us. Added as a preservative in industrial skincare, these ingredients disrupt our bodies’ hormones, harming fertility and reproduction. If that doesn’t unsettle you, know that they cause skin damage over time as well. “Fragrance” is a similar devil. The name indicates almost nothing about it, but most often a “fragrance” is made from a petroleum base. “No one knows what its true identity is,” says Nessler, “the ingredients are mostly unknown and can often be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, even neurotoxins.” Not ideal for regular absorption into your body.
Nessler echoes Mayfield: “[Skin] is the largest organ we have, and what we put on it does get absorbed into our body.” Industrial brands are not motivated by this fact, but rather by cutting their costs. Read your labels, and understand that whatever is listed first will be the most concentrated ingredient in the product. “Alcohol” followed half of a paragraph later by “vitamin C” is not going to cut it. Most don’t know their skin type, she explains, but using a product that can help any of them eliminates that concern. “Using a safer product benefits everybody and it takes out the guesswork,” she declares.
FARROW, US, AND OUR PLANET
In Mayfield’s products, every bit of animal fat used is grass-fed and pastured on a regenerative farm, Mayfield Pastures. “You have to raise a healthy, happy animal because subcutaneous fat is a storage organ,” tells Mayfield.
Regenerative agriculture stands on the premise that farming should be beneficial to our environment as well as ourselves. This is done by rotating crops, no-till planting, and the very limited use of synthetic products like pesticides. Combined, these strategies enrich soil, and therefore, the natural life in a given area. The main strategy that ties into animal care is the practice of adaptive grazing—a farmer will pay attention to the environment, moving herds around a pasture to mimic the natural process of herd migration. This allows plant life to continue, avoiding overgrazing, and allows the animals to benefit from a greater variety of plants to graze on. Animals will gently move soil with their hooves, mixing their manure into topsoil for fertilization. This makes happy animals, happy soil, and happy farmers. Industrial agriculture companies that don’t practice regenerative farming are seeing a degradation of soil that moves them from one farm to another, leaving blighted earth in their wake.
“The absolute beauty of the world that we live in today is that we have technology that our ancestors a hundred years ago would kill to have when it comes to animal management,” declares Mayfield. Portable electric fencing and solar powered batteries mean that regenerative farming is easier now than it ever has been. “75% of the agricultural land in this country is considered marginal land,” says Mayfield, meaning it is too rocky or hilly to run a plow through. “What can you put on marginal land?” he asks rhetorically. “Animals. Four wheel drive animals.”
The combination of earth friendly farming practices and long-cultivated obsession with health in Charles Mayfield brings forth a Tennessee-bred liquid gold: Farrow skincare. Made possible by the oldest practices and the newest technology, whipped up and packaged in Mayfield’s own kitchen with his two hands—and a firm set of ethics.
Get 15% off Farrow products here or use code PAMPHLETEER at checkout.
Listen to Davis Hunt's conversation with Charles Mayfield here.