The Truth About Hide Tanning

August 24, 2019

Cowhides and lambskins are popular today for home decor and comfort. I see lambskins used in cribs and car seats for the comfort and warmth of our little ones, and I love that the long held use of these skins is coming back into vogue. Back in the day, before diapers, lambskins were used under babies when sleeping to catch urine, because they are so absorbent. So, not exactly what they’re used for today, but hey, it’s close.

As we are looking to process and sell our pastured cowhides and lambskins, we are looking for the most natural way to tan them. We have been shocked to find there are very few naturally-processed cowhides and lambskins available to the public, let alone processors who use safe ingredients to process.

You can’t find a naturally-processed lambskin on etsy, I could not find a single one. You can find lambskins that are labeled “natural,” and maybe these lambs were truly raised naturally. But, they were processed with harsh chemicals and heavy metals, though they don’t tell you that. Not exactly what I want to lay my newborn on.

Let’s learn about the conventional tanning process.

There are two sides to the hide or skin: the grain side which contains the natural oils and hair of the animal, and the flesh, which is the interior side of the skin that is thick and soft. The hide can absorb tannic acid and chemicals that can stop them from getting wet and decaying. Tanning is the reaction of collagen in the hide or skin with tannins, alum, chromium, formaldehyde and other chemicals. While tannins can be a natural substance, its well known that in large amounts, they are harmful for human health. Aluminum toxicity can cause stomach and brain issues, and chromium overload can alter balance, thinking, and cause liver issues. When these are used on the skins or hide, and then our natural oils come into contact with them, we can easily absorb them through our skin. Our general heavy metal and toxin load today is way higher than what is safe. The cumulative effect of these heavy metals to our immune and other body systems is devastating, according to a growing number of studies and research. It isn’t worth adding these metals and chemicals to the hides and skins when there is a better way.

Compare that to natural processes that use vegetable ingredients to tan their skins. Natural vegetable tannins, such as found in oak tree bark, can also tan hides and skins without the use of harmful chemicals, though it takes longer and more work. Some tanners use natural tannins plus chromium sulfate or aluminum sulfate under the label “eco” tanning, so be sure that you aren’t fooled into getting a product that’s not really natural. The oak bark tannins are completely safe. Organic vegetable tanning takes months or even a year to complete. Hides first sit in tannin water from the oak bark for up to three months. After the bathing, the hides are laid down with oak bark on each side for up to nine months. Then, the hides are wrung dry for a few days before they’re ready. Compare this to the quick few week tanning process of chemicals and heavy metals.

We are using hide and skin processors that we have researched and totally trust their process. Their processing costs a lot more than conventional processors, but it’s worth it to know we are selling and using a product safe enough for our babies - and yours!

We use and recommend this lambskin tanner for natural lambskin processing.

Isaiah Olson

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