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palm oil in a bottle

What’s Wrong with Palm Oil?

What is Palm Oil?

An oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree. It is a popular ingredient in many cosmetic and body care products because it is CHEAP and has a long shelf life. 

Palm oil is a common ingredient in many cosmetics, including soaps, lotions, and creams. Other products that may contain palm oil include makeup, shampoo, and conditioner. In addition to being found in a wide range of body care and cosmetic products, palm oil is also used to produce many food items, including baked goods, margarine, and snack foods. 

In fairness, palm oil isn’t all bad. Yes, in skin care products, it is known to clog pores, but many cite it as highly emollient. Palm oil is often used as a surfactant that creates a foamy lather. However, when it comes to palm oil, one must ask themselves if the juice is worth the squeeze? With that, let’s get into it.

What’s so BAD?

The cultivation of oil palms is the single worst contributor to deforestation worldwide. Nowhere is this more notable than in Indonesia, where it is responsible for the destruction of 66% of the rainforest. In addition to the loss of biodiversity, palm oil has been linked to human rights violations ranging from poor working conditions and below-poverty-level pay to slave labor and the abuse of children. If this were not enough, palm oil is the most significant contributor to the release of greenhouse gases around the world.

Although there are organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a certification body that sets standards for sustainable palm oil production, one has to ask why is there a need for an organization like this at all? Does creating such an organization change any of the damage already done? Does this organization make palm oil healthier for people to consume? Does the creation of this organization genuinely serve the people, or is it simply a Band-Aid placed on a gunshot wound by wealthy multinational conglomerates?  

Why is Palm Oil so tricky to spot?

One challenge consumers face is the many aliases for palm oil. When the word “Palm” is present, like “palm fruit oil” or “palmate,” it makes it easy to spot them. It gets tricky when the names give no such hint. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, a surfactant often found in soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste, and Cetyl Alcohol, a common filler likely in your bathroom at his very moment, are two examples of ingredients that most people would never know are actually palm oil.  

Another way marketers mislead is by stating various palm oil by-products are made from Vegetable, Palm or Coconut Oil. Although this is factual, it is not completely honest. The marketing goal is to lead consumers to a more positive assumption. Only those with a knowledge of formulation practices are likely to understand,  

  1. The name Vegetable oil has become interchangeable with palm oil.
  2. Coconut oil is six times the cost of palm oil, meaning that if a company has decided to incur this expense, it will make this decision known to its customers.  

Fatty Acids and Fatty Alcohols used to fill and stabilize products are the most common palm-derived INCI categories. Some of their names are: 

  1. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) 
  2. Sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) 
  3. Glyceryl stearate 
  4. Stearic acid 
  5. Palmitic acid 
  6. Caprylic/capric Triglyceride
  7. Glyceryl stearate
  8. Cetyl alcohol
  9. Cetearyl alcohol
  10. Sodium laureate sulfate
  11. Sodium stearate
  12. Ethylhexyl palmitate
  13. Isopropyl palmitate
  14. Isostearic acid
  15. Laureth-4
  16. Myristic acid
  17. Octyl palmitate
  18. Palmitoyl oligopeptide
  19. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7
  20. PEG-100 stearate
  21. Stealth-2
  22. Stealth-20
  23. Stearyl heptanoate

Do any of these names look familiar?

What can you do?

  1. Research your ingredients.
  2. Look for Whole Plant Ingredients (these are typically ones you recognize).
  3. Support small and local businesses like Sabali Pure who that build their reputations on transparency
  • Like eating Organic, choosing to use products that do not contain palm oil will involve a higher upfront cost. However, when products contain less processed ingredients, they become more concentrated. This means they last longer, making them a better overall value. 
  • The long game involves depriving companies that use ingredients that harm the environment and people of your economic support. Yes, it will take longer, but can you imagine what would happen if one of these large companies saw a 10% reduction in sales? How do you think they would change? What if they lost even more money?

Ultimately the decision not to use palm oil is a question of personal values. It can be hard to visualize how your choice can change the world, but always remember our actions are not ours alone. We are part of a collective, and by sharing what we know about the problem with others and taking action, we can bring about significant change.   

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