From the foods we eat to cosmetics and washing powders, palm oil is everywhere. Extremely versatile, it’s an ingredient in more than half of the things on supermarket shelves, in both food and non-food products.
Palm oil and the beauty industry
Commonly found in everyday beauty products from soap to shampoo, palm oil is considered to be beneficial for the skin, mainly because it’s filled with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant which kills off the free radicals that can cause premature ageing. It’s also rich in vitamin E, which is known to have many health benefits, including helping to maintain healthy skin, eyes, fighting off illness and infection. Palm oil is an excellent moisturizer, too, hydrating dry skin and locking in moisture.
Aside from its nutritional properties, palm oil is used in many beauty and personal care products as it extends their shelf life due to its preservative properties, as well as giving a smooth and creamy texture. In makeup, palm oil is used to make glycerin which gives a smoother consistency and enables easier spreading onto the skin. It’s often used in lipsticks thanks to its ability to hold colour well and withstand high temperatures without melting. Globally it’s estimated that cosmetics account for up to 7-8% of palm oil usage.
Palm oil can be labelled under vegetable oil, vegetable emulsifier, Glyceryl, Stearic Acid, among others.
What makes palm oil controversial?
The multi-billion-pound palm oil industry is highly controversial due to its impact on the environment, and palm oil production is a global issue. To keep up with palm oil demand, tropical forests are cut down to plant palm oil trees, which leads to a lack of biodiversity and jeopardises already endangered species such as orangutans, tigers, and rhinos. Aside from habitat destruction, palm oil cultivation has also been criticized for greenhouse gas emissions, reduced biodiversity and the displacement of indigenous communities.
Is sustainable palm oil the answer?
Palm oil is an efficient crop – no other vegetable oil source can yield as much oil per acre planted, nor require as few pesticides and chemical fertilizers. So could producing palm oil sustainably be an acceptable alternative that allows the industry to meet demand in a socially and environmentally responsible way? With 20% of palm oil products classified as sustainable, it’s possible to make smarter and more conscious choices when purchasing. Products made from using certified sustainable palm oil should feature the green palm tree logo, with the RSPO’s (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) name beneath it.
Does sustainable palm oil go far enough?
While sustainable palm oil is definitely a step in the right direction, questions are still asked about whether the rules and their enforcement are strict enough – and if the conscious consumer’s choice should be to go palm oil-free.