A few months ago I discovered horse fat hand cream while shopping with my friend at a Daiso 100 Yen store. These stores are the equivalent of Japanese dollar stores. I was taken aback when I realized the tube of lotion with a picture of a galloping mare actually contained horse fat. I mean, actual horsey-horse, Hidalgo, Flicka, Black Stallion, Seabiscuit horse fat.
For a minute, standing there, staring at the bottles of hand cream with real-life horse fat in the ingredients, I waded deep into ethnocentric territory. I spent 60 full seconds frowning upon any company that would take the fat from an innocent, beautiful animal and dump it into a moisturizer.
Then, as I felt the comfortable caress of my leather high-heel shoes, and swapped my plastic shopping bag from one hand to the other so I could reach into my snake-skin purse, I had a moment of clarity.
It turns out I’m also an asshole who uses animal products for beauty and convenience. The truth is, many of us, whether we realize it or not, are using products daily that are derived from animals. Our plastic grocery bags, car tires, perfume and even colored crayons probably have animal byproducts in them.
In Asia, eating horse meat is as normal as eating beef in the U.S. In Asia, using the remaining fat is not much different than using rendered beef fat (tallow) or pork fat (lard), which we do here in the United States. When we get down to the matter, it’s easy to see that our love of horses and abject horror of eating them is more about what is normalized within our own culture. Horses are pets; they aren’t dinner, and that’s what makes it so strange for us.
So — I found a way to compartmentalize my disdain and test this hand cream. I should actually say hand creams, because, for the sake of journalism, I purchased two different brands.
The first time I tried the hand creams, I was out of town and in the midst of a snowstorm. Locked away in a lodge next to a warm fire, I lathered one cream on my left hand and the other on my right.
Within 10 seconds, my right hand felt tingly and irritated. I told myself it was the dry air or the altitude and thought nothing more of it. I noticed that my left hand smelled like plain, regular unscented lotion, a smell I often associate with hospital-grade creams.
The ingredients listed on the bottle of lotion I used on my left hand (read: the hand that wasn’t stinging) were: water, stearic acid (which, I just learned is often obtained from animal fat), a long list of things I can’t pronounce, horse fat (12th ingredient) and more ingredients I can’t pronounce. I also noticed that the cream was made in Japan.
My right hand (still stinging and now itching a bit) smelled a littler nicer — like white bar soap and day-old potpourri. I don’t know what the actual scent was, though, because the ingredients were written in a foreign language. There was, however, a warning in clear English that read: Be sure that there are no abnormal conditions on the skin when using this product. Stop using if the product is not suited to your skin.
Important note: I realized while examining the back of the bottle that this hand cream was made in Vietnam. This is remotely concerning because up until now, I have loved just about everything I’ve ever tried from Vietnam. Possibly that’s because it’s always been food related.
Later that night, I started playing Cards Against Humanity and drinking shots of Fireball (not my finest hour) and fell asleep forgetting that I had hands and horse fat hand cream on them.
The next night, back at home, I decided to try the creams again with my son’s girlfriend. I should note that she did not require any extra encouragement when I disclosed that the hand creams had horse fat. I should also mention that she is part Japanese and always eager to make me happy. I really enjoy this part of our relationship.
With clean, dry skin, we tried the Japanese hand cream on our left hands and the Vietnamese hand cream on our right ones.
Unfortunately, my prior experience with the Vietnamese horse fat lotion wasn’t a fluke. Within seconds both of our right hands (and forearms, I accidentally squeezed too much from the bottle) were red, itchy and burning. My son’s girlfriend gave me an accusatory glance before I took the following picture of her mildly rashy arm.
Our left hands, while not burning, felt tight and unmoisturized. I am a chronic hand-cream applier and feel that I know a thing or two when it comes to soft hands. The cream honestly felt like it did nothing to moisten my just-washed skin. There were still visible lines where my skin was thirsting and begging for something to hydrate it.
To top it all off, it came from horses. OK, I know I said I could compartmentalize, but I think I lied. Maybe had the products yielded super soft, supple skin, I would have been able to rationalize it the same way I do a juicy steak or hair products that were probably tested on adorable monkeys, and I love monkeys.
But the thing is, the creams didn’t work, and at the end of the day I had to look at my grossly under-moisturized hands and know that horse fat was on them.
Horse fat hand cream, therefore, does not get my vote. For now, I’ll continue my search for unique, awesome beauty products — and stay far away from ones that have pretty horses in them.