Palm oil is made from the fruit of the palm tree, which is native to Africa, but grown in many countries in South-East Asia. This oil has qualities which make it great for a lot of products – everything from pizza and chocolate to lipstick, shampoo, sunscreen, toothpaste, and more.
There has been a lot of noise in recent years about the damage caused by palm oil use, with eco beauty companies opting for palm oil free products, or ones that contain sustainably sourced palm oil. However, what’s this all about, really? Why is palm oil so bad, and why is it so darn difficult to find a product that doesn’t have it?
Why Palm Oil is Used so Widely
One of the reasons for its wide use is the fact that palm oil and its derivatives have a lot of useful properties. Added to blends, they can help hydrate the skin, provide a foaming agent, increase thickness or viscosity, or increase shelf life. All of these are wonderful attributes, often necessary in products.
In addition, palm oil is cheap. It’s grown in South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where labor is cheap, and the entire large fruit can be used to extract oil, which makes it a lot more productive than other oil producing fruits like soybean and rapeseed.
To put it into numbers, the oil yield of soy (in tonnes per hectare) is 0.4, and that of coconut is 0.7. Palm oil? 3.3 tons per hectare. It’s almost five times as efficient as coconut and rapeseed. So if one were to switch to these other options, not only would they need to spend more money, but the production would require a lot more land, so the same set of problems would be moved to a different place.
Why is Palm Oil Problematic?
So if it has all these wonderful qualities and it comes so cheap, why is it a problem if brands use it? Well, that’s because its popularity has led to a surge in demand, due to which forests are being cut down so the land can be turned into plantations. Peasants are evicted from homes to clear land for growing palm, and peatlands are drained for it, which makes the area dry and extremely flammable.
All of this has led to massive deforestation, loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, species extinction, soil degradation, and has set the stage for many more serious problems.
The existence of orangutans has been dangerously threatened by palm oil cultivation. The number of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans dropped by half between 1999 and 2015, and anywhere between one to five thousand orangutans are killed every year due to palm oil.
Over 900,000 Indonesian people suffer from acute respiratory issues due to the smoke caused by fires in 2019 alone, and millions more are at risk due to air pollution. According to Greenpeace, the CO2 emissions from these fires in just 10 months was equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
What Can We Do to Help?
It’s obvious that it isn’t humane to continue to use palm oil, because of the risk to human and animal life. Just because we aren’t directly impacted by it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care – we still share the same planet.
It’s hard to stop using palm oil altogether for two reasons. One is that it’s such a staple that you will find very few products that don’t include it. Lipsticks, for instance – you are very, very unlikely to stumble upon a brand that genuinely does not use palm oil derivatives in their lipstick. Another reason is that palm oil and its derivatives can be hidden behind almost two hundred different names, and remembering and checking for them all simply isn’t possible for the average consumer.
A reasonably easy solution to this dilemma is one eco beauty companies around the world are starting to adopt – sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004, and it has a production standard that sets best practices. Brands can choose to buy RSPO certified palm oil for use in their products, which would make a huge difference.
There is still one problem with RSPO certified palm oil, which is that while RSPO try their best, they aren’t as stringent as they could be about preventing deforestation. The ban imposed on RSPO members against deforestation may still be unenforced in certain places. So, the best route to sustainability is one that bypasses palm oil altogether – which some brands dare to do.
Popular Beauty Brands That Use Unsustainable Palm Oil
Ethical Consumer created a list of brands that you should avoid using due to their use of palm oil. All the brands listed by them scored the worst possible rating for their palm oil policies. Here are some of the beauty brands mentioned by them:
- Earth Friendly Baby
- John Frieda
- Baylis and Harding
- Crystal Spring
- Soap and Glory
Look for an RSPO certification on any products you buy. A ‘palm oil free’ label may not necessarily mean the product is palm oil free, because this ingredient can be hidden under other names and the brand may be misguiding you. We discussed this subject in a past blog post, which you can read here.
When you find that a brand’s greenwashing you or doing things that are bad for the environment, in addition to boycotting their products, you should try and spread the word. Companies exist to make a profit, and consumers have a lot of power – which you can wield by not buying from them. So, make sure you tell your friends and loved ones why they should avoid these brands. The more people who know, the better.
5 eco beauty brands that care about the palm oil crisis
There’s some good news – almost 20% of the palm oil used today is sustainably sourced and RSPO certified. Here are a few companies that we recommend, not just for their sustainable palm oil use, but for their policies in general:
Aether Beauty uses RSPO certified palm oil, which means no land is burned in order to get the oil. Palm oil is a wonderful ingredient that’s very useful in products, and as long as a brand’s getting it from farms that grow sustainably, that’s completely alright. ATHR Beauty is doing a lot of other good things for the planet, some of which we’ve talked about in past blogs.
Pollution wreaks havoc with your skin complexion. However, with Earth Harbor’s gentle, nourishing Anti-Pollution Youth Ampoule, you can restore your skin’s dewy glow. Their products come in recyclable containers, contain Earth-friendly ingredients, and use no palm oil. This blend is great at reducing sun damage and wrinkles, and at soothing stressed skin.
120 ml of deeply cleansing goodness. Housed in a beautiful glass bottle, made with love from fresh ingredients. M.S Skincare is a brand that respects and cares about our Earth, and it shows in their products. You can trust them to never use any ingredients that cause the Earth or humankind any harm.
DewMighty have come up with a wonderful jelly bar that soothes irritated skin and is completely zero waste, water-free, and palm oil free. Nourish and moisturize skin, brighten skin tone, and maintain your skin’s youthful glow with this tiny but mighty bar that can last for up to 120 applications. It comes with a reusable metal container – hooray for reusability!
It is extremely difficult (almost unbelievably so) to find lipstick that’s truly palm oil free, which is what makes the lipsticks by Axiology so wonderful. They’re completely free of palm oil, and they come in a container made with 50% PCR plastic. They also have multi-use award-winning, palm oil free balmies on their website that you can use on your eyes, cheeks and lips.
These are some of our favorite eco beauty brands. We’ve researched them and know they’re completely clean, which is why we feel comfortable spotlighting them here. You’re welcome to do further research on these brands to be doubly sure, but you know that if we recommend them, they meet a standard that few others do!
Fait avec Coeur Cares About Our Planet
We all share this beautiful planet that we call our home, and it’s up to every one of us to take care of it. Fait avec Coeur is doing its part not just by educating and partnering with eco beauty brands, but by making sure that the products we create and put out aren’t harmful in any way – and that includes the use of palm oil.
Our Hyaluronic Acid Intense Soothing Serum, for instance, is completely palm oil free. It hydrates and soothes sensitive skin, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and has healing properties. You just need to use a couple drops daily for beautiful, glowing skin. It contains gentle ingredients such as calendula, vitamin B5, oat meal extract, and glycerin.
The product itself comes in a recyclable glass jar, with a lid made of 100% PCR plastic. The jar comes in a minimalistic cylindrical container. All materials used for shipping are either recyclable or compostable.