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Palm Oil in Cosmetics

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

The cosmetics industry has been heavily criticised for the use of palm oil in many products. But is it really that bad? Which products should we avoid? And what are the most sustainable options out there?

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is a common vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm trees.

There are two types of palm oil:

  1. crude oil (which comes from the fleshy fruit)

  2. palm kernel oil (which comes from the stone in the middle of the fruit)

Their use in cosmetics:

Palm oil is an amazing cosmetic ingredient, mainly for these amazing properties;

  1. Resilient to oxidation

  2. Stable at higher temperatures

  3. Mainly odourless and colourless

  4. Good skin conditioning agents (occlusives)

Which cosmetic products use palm oil?

Because palm oil is such a versatile ingredient, it can be used in so many different cosmetics.

Here is just a short list for you to get a taste of just how wide spread palm oil is in the cosmetics industry:

  1. Lipstick

  2. Foundations and concealers

  3. Shampoo

  4. Lotions

  5. Moisturisers

  6. Toothpaste

... and that's not a full list.

Besides, this is only in the cosmetics industry alone.

How to recognise products with palm oil?

The ingredients list at the back of the bottle/package will mention "Elaeis guineensis (Palm) kernel oil" if palm oil is present in the formulation.

Is Palm Oil bad for the environment?

Technically, no.

But let me ask you this: is bread bad for your health?

No, as long as you're eating it in sensible quantities.

The same principle applies to the production of palm oil...

Growing and harvesting palm oil is not an issue, however: the deforestation of natural habitats in order to make space for palm oil production IS an issue.

If we just limit or make our palm oil more sustainable, we can continue to use this amazing ingredient in our daily cosmetic products.

How can we make palm oil production more sustainable?

First of all, do not allow for deforestation.

Overall, palm oil production is very efficient.

The oil yield of crop in tonnes per hectare is 3.3 t/ha, compared to rapeseed which is just 0.7 t/ha or Soy: 0.3 t/ha.

What this means is, that we should still be using the land we currently have available to grow oil efficiently - meaning producing palm oil.

The palm oil dilemma

The general public's opinion of palm oil is negative, they believe that we should reduce palm oil consumption to avoid deforestation and declining numbers of habitats.

So, they opt for 'palm oil free' cosmetics. However, these products still rely on the chemical properties of vegetable oils to work, so they contain ingredients such as jojoba (2.5 t/ha).

This means, that more land is required to produce the same amount of oil - which then leads to further deforestation.

How can we support sustainable palm oil production?

Buy products from brands, such as L'Oreal who support sustainable palm oil production.

See if the brand complies with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and just generally, do your research when it comes to brands.

Make sure you're looking out for certifications such as RSPO and Green Palm Sustainability.

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