Justainable Beauty Blog

Should we ban the use of palm oil?

We’ve all seen the horrific Greenpeace footage, of terrified Borneo Orangutans fighting off the huge diggers destroying their habitat and families, and the disturbing images of dead orangutan bodies piled high, all in the name of palm oil. Over 80% of their habitat has been annihilated in the last 20 years, and if we do not act now, we are looking at seeing their extinction in our lifetime. In equal danger due to palm oil deforestation, are Sumatran elephants, tigers, rhinos, and Malaysian sun bears. Environmental damage due to palm oil plantations is so vast, that we are witnessing the demise of some of the richest biodiversity that we’ll ever see. The UN is calling it a conservation emergency.

What is palm oil, and what products should we be avoiding if we want to help?

Palm oil is used in the production of around 50% of food and household products; processed foods, bread, peanut butter, biscuits, ice cream, margarine, crisps, chocolate, non dairy substitutes, scented candles and beauty products. Why is it so popular? It’s the cheapest vegetable oil to produce, and beauty manufacturers love it as it thickens, emulsifies, holds colour, and does not melt at high temperatures. However, because it is a mass produced crop, the industry does not look at accountability for environmental and social costs, which are huge. It’s estimated that in Malaysia and Indonesia, an area the size of 300 football fields of virgin rainforest is destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Many traditional communities have lost their land to plantations, and the human rights abuses such as child labour and the destruction of indigenous villages are well documented. The demand for palm oil is forecast to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. 

Many companies use sustainable palm oil, but what does that actually mean? Evidence suggests that the decline in orangutang populations are equal, whether or not a plantation has a sustainable certification or not. 

If you want to avoid palm oil, reading an ingredients list is often not enough, as brands will list alternative names for palm oil and it’s derivatives. Some of the ingredients to look out for are those that include in the name, Palm, Steam, Laur, and GLYC. A full list of ingredients to avoid can be found on www.orangutanfoundation.org.au and ethical online magazine, Selva Beat. 

It’s important to be aware of the misleading language some brands use on their  website when explaining their use of palm oil. Some of the classic statements to look out for include:

“The company supports the production of sustainable palm oil and is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)”

Being a member of the RSPO means they’ve made a commitment to EVENTUALLY  purchase or create sustainable palm oil, but it doesn’t mean they are ACTUALLY doing so.  RSPO members like Unilever, Cadbury’s, Nestle, Tesco, and L’Oreal make up 40% of the global palm oil trade. Greenpeace even argues that the “RSPO actually risks creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the palm oil industry.”  

“We don’t use Palm Oil, we only use derivatives

A palm oil derivative is still palm oil.

“We use minimal palm oil ingredients in our products”

Ask how many tonnes of palm oil they use per annum. This will reflect their true usage, otherwise they will give you the overall percentage of world wide use, which purposely sounds small.

So if we want to avoid, or reduce our use of palm oil, what should we buy?

Check out the comprehensive list of palm oil free companies on www.ethicalconsumer.org, who also list companies using certified organic palm oil together with a fully traceable supply chain. You’ll find some palm oil free surprises such as Iceland’s own brand food.

There are beauty brands who are palm oil free, strive to reduce it’s use as much as possible, or offer palm oil free options. 

Axiology lipsticks only use conflict free ingredients, so never palm oil. They put their money where their ethics are, so a percentage of profits go to the Orangutang Foundation International charity.

Bloomtown is a Cornish vegan brand, where you’ll find gorgeous perfumes, bath and body oils, body washes, scrubs and masks. They have a useful guide to palm oil on their website.

PHB Ethical Beauty is a brilliant one stop shop for all your beauty needs. They only use one palm derivative, Stearic Acid, and they are currently working with manufacturers to create a palm free version. 

Lily Lolo only use palm oil in their natural mascara. Green People use certified organic palm oil from Ecuador, where there are no orangutans, and the certification requires more ethical practices. Willowberry skincare guarantee their products are all palm free except their day cream, and Pai skincare have some palm oil free options.

We are running out of time, so buy as many palm free products as possible, and spread the word. I’ve seen appreciation of the cruelty free and vegan movements explode in the last few years, and I want to see this with palm oil awareness. Support organisations like Greenpeace, The Orangutan Project, OFI and Rainforest Action Network. Tell major brands you are refusing to purchase them due to their over use of palm oil, and encourage them to stop using it altogether. I’ve seen over the years with my campaigns for an end to animal testing in the beauty industry, that we can effect change. This is a call to arms, so let’s get to it!