May 25, 2020 – By Anastasia Baklushina
The wide-scale talks about the so-called ‘dark side’ of palm oil first arose from the food sector, as scientists linked it to cardiovascular diseases. However, it’s generally less discussed than the beauty sector, which is another industry that utilizes huge amounts of palm oil. And that, in its turn, directly affects our planet’s wellbeing. How careful should we be with palm oil when choosing our beauty products?
First, let’s clarify where the palm oil comes from. Being a kind of a vegetable oil, it can be harvested from the original oil palm tree in two different techniques. From its seeds we receive palm kernel oil and from its fruits comes palm oil. Although the beauty industry reaches only 2% of global palm oil production, it can be found in as many as 70% of all beauty products. What makes palm oil so attractive is its relative cheapness and versatile qualities. So, with its help our lipsticks remain tasteless, don’t melt and their colour lasts much longer.
WWF warns us that rain forest cutting in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are major contributors of global palm oil, places under extinction such endangered species as orangutans, Sumatran Tigers, Rhinos and Elephants. Indigenous people are being forced to leave their homes.
As always, there is a positive side also (though, certainly, not ideally balanced). Oil palm trees are much more fruitful and less unpretentious in comparison to its soy and coconut companions, demanding less amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizers. The production of palm oil helps to decrease the level of poverty in the countries of production, as well as small businesses to flourish, such as local farmers.
Another positive aspect is that business and civil societies don’t stay indifferent to the issue and are in constant research for better solutions. Their major achievement is that they’ve proven that exists a good chance to produce palm oil sustainably and environmentally friendly.
A non-profit business ‘Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,’ started in 2004, was able to unite companies in the palm oil industry for outlining sustainable criteria to their production. In 2014 another significant project started together by Axfoundation and Kicks called “The Swedish Initiative for Sustainable Palm Oil in Cosmetics and Detergents.” Its aim has been to achieve by 2020 the sustainable sourcing of 90% of all beauty products.
But is there anything that we, as ordinary customers, can do to support sustainable production of beauty care?
Actually, yes, there are a couple of ways. One option is to avoid purchasing beauty products containing palm oil. Although this may be a tricky task: the ingredients may list not the palm oil itself but instead some of its over 200 derivatives (processed forms). Orangutan Alliance compiled alternative names in one long list, which you can check on their website here. We decided to divide some of them in the following categories, so you can faster search for the clue words on the labels:
Vegetable oil, vegetable fat, elaeis guineensis (botanical name of Palm oil).
Words containing the root ‘palm’
Palm kernel, palm kernel oil, palm fruit oil, palmate, palmitate, palmolein, palmitic acid, palm stearine, palmitoyl, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3glyceryl, sodium palm kernelate, hyrated palm glycerides, etyl palmitate, octyl palmitate, palmityl alcohol.18.
Other palm-oil derivatives, with common roots ‘stear’ and ‘laur’
Stearate, stearic acid, oxostearamide, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium kernelate, sodium lauryl lactylate/sulfate.
However, such tactics on a large scale may lead to negative effects on the palm oil industry and also undesirably impact its employees and working conditions. The better option is to buy products that have a certified sustainable palm oil label on them. These two labels are the most common ones (Green Palm, even if you can still find it in some products, will soon disappear since it has now closed for trading):
WWF also encourages us to make use of the provided contact information on the products and ask questions related to sustainable production.
Luckily, NATRUE – the International Natural and Organic Cosmetics Association decided to include sustainable palm oil into its criteria for certification, so we would identify sustainable products even easier.
Real change for sustainable palm oil production starts from the grass-root levels. But our caring and concern may help the beauty industry to evolve in a better way and produce valuable palm oil instead of industrial conventional manner.