Palm oil is a form of vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis Guineensis). It has recently become one of the world’s most widely-produced oils and is a key ingredient in many cosmetic products. Having been asked recently if Essential Care uses palm oil (an emphatic no!) we thought we’d explain why we don’t use it....
The popularity of palm oil has had drastic consequences. To make room for palm tree plantations, tropical rainforests have been cleared on a massive scale. Some sources quote that areas of rainforest the size of 5 football pitches disappear every minute due to palm oil cultivation. Deforestation of course has terrible consequences - increases in greenhouse gas production and habitat destruction. The situation is worst in Indonesia and Malaysia, who between them produce 83% of the world’s palm oil, where peat bogs which store huge amounts of carbon are drained to make way for plantations. It is estimated that in 15 years, 98% of Indonesia and Malaysia’s rainforests will disappear because of deforestation. Inevitably along with the destruction of expansive rainforests comes the destruction of natural habitats. Orang-utans have suffered the most, with their population in the wild declining hugely in recent years.
Numerous campaigns have been launched in order to combat deforestation and the devastating effects of palm oil production – from Rainforest Action Network to Greenpeace. Friends of the Earth launched an award-winning campaign in 2005 and have helped to prevent the creation of a mega-plantation in Borneo.
In skincare, even if palm oil doesn’t appear on the label’s INCI list - as “Elaeis Guineensis Oil” or “sodium palmate” – the form used in soap bars – it might still be hidden in the product. Palm oil is commonly used to make emulsifiers (like stearic acid) and detergents (like sodium laureth sulphate). - We don’t use either of these and make sure none of our other ingredients are derived from palm oil either.
Some may ask, ‘why not use organic palm oil?’Although it is available, much of the organic oil is grown on plantations that are the result of devastating deforestation. It must make more long-term sense to re-plant the rainforest species which provided more benefit for the local economy, even if the short-term economic losses are hard. And in cosmetics, there is no real excuse for using palm oil. Good (and in fact better) alternatives are numerous and include olive oil and coconut oil which produce fantastic, high-quality soaps and cosmetic products.