At first, venturing into the world of natural beauty can be a little daunting, but once you get into the swing of things, it becomes second nature to spot the real deal and know your mineral oil from your macadamia oil. But eliminating palm oil? That can be a tough nut to crack.
While neither palm fruit or palm kernel oil are harmful to the body in any way (in fact, they are rich in skin-loving vitamins), the production of palm oil comes at a hefty cost; in order to meet demand, plantations cover vast amounts of land where rainforests once stood–meaning a loss of biodiversity and habitat for thousands of species. The human cost is no less with land being seized from indigenous communities to grow more palm trees, and workers are routinely exploited throughout the industrial process.
These impacts are now well known, but with an estimated half of consumer goods containing palm oil, how can we start to reduce our dependency on this destructive practice?
Start With Sustainability
Organizations like the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil are changing the way the industry works, helping to mold a supply chain from seed to product that encourages sustainability. Made up of more than 500 separate member bodies from palm oil growers to retailers, they all work together to put an end to deforestation, loss of irreplaceable species, and social injustices as a result of palm oil growing.
What perhaps makes the biggest difference is the rise of sustainable palm oil certifications. Just through a symbol, they’re delivering the power to the consumer, helping them make more conscious and informed choices.
Household name for the eco conscious, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, has also made serious headway with its own palm oil supply. Instead of revamping the existing model to make it more sustainable, the company’s famously magic soaps is not only the most ethical, but certified organic too. Sister company Serendipalm is based in Ghana, where it casts a watchful eye over the whole process in its own factory, which sources the palm fruit from 500 local farmers.
The Beauty Industry Is Hooked On Palm Oil
The fact that palm oil has so many useful applications means that six to seven percent of world supply is going into straight into our beauty cabinets.
That has nothing to do with us clean beauty lovers though, right?
Sadly, we are no exception, as palm oil makes itself useful to natural formulators too (and it’s not always sustainable). Although there are many plant-based oils and butters that clean beauty brands champion, palm oil is a popular choice because it’s incredibly stable with a high melting point (especially good for soaps and lipsticks.) It’s also able to be broken down into various components such as surfactants and fatty acids, making it a great alternative to many synthetic ingredients.
Darling of the clean living movement, coconut oil, can be used in a very similar way when it comes to concocting the next best thing in beauty, however the yield of the coconut palm doesn’t compare. We all know what that means, right? Harder to obtain always equates to greater cost.
With all its versatility and availability compared to other alternatives, there are more than 200 ingredients cosmetic ingredients out there (which you can cast your eye over here) derived from palm oil. Some of the ones you’ll see frequently popping up in ingredients lists include:
- Vegetable Oil/Fat
- Retinyl Palmitate
- Stearic Acid
- Palmitic Acid
- Ethyl Palmitate
The ones that include palm in the name are easier to spot, but just to make things even more difficult to navigate, there are some ingredients like glycerin, which can be sourced from various different plants, with the original source usually remaining undefined on labels.
However, just because going palm-free is a challenge doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Luckily, there are a host of passionate and ethical formulators out there making it their job to find alternatives and give you peace of mind. All while being badass, of course.