I have decided to make homemade soap without palm oil, or any of its derivatives (such as stearic acid). Why? Because palm oil production has devastated the environment, pushed animals to the edge of extinction, and uprooted indigenous people. Even more troubling is that there are widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor, child labor, and dangerous and abusive work conditions, in oil palm plantations. All these factors contribute to my decision to make homemade soap without palm oil or its derivatives.
In recent decades, there has been a surge in the world’s demand for palm oil. This increased demand has encouraged poor and less developed countries, with tropical climate, to increase their palm oil production. This is often done by first clearing and burning rainforests, and draining and converting peatlands (wetlands). I don’t want to contribute to the disastrous outcomes associated with palm oil production. Because of this, I have decided to make homemade soap without palm oil or its derivatives.
What Products have Palm Oil? And Why Won’t More Soapers Make Homemade Soap Without Palm Oil?
Palm oil comes from fruits of palm trees. Palm oil is used in food and cosmetic production, including soap making. Some researchers estimated that about half of all packaged products available in U.S. supermarkets contain palm oil. Next time you grocery shop, check out the ingredients in packaged bread, cookies, chocolate, ice cream and margarine. Inevitably, you will see palm oil listed as one of the ingredients. According to the World Wildlife Fund, instead of “palm oil,” you might also see the following ingredients, which could be palm oil or palm oil derivatives:
Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.
Why is palm oil present in so many food items? Remember, trans fat? We all know that trans fat is bad for us. Consuming too much trans fat can raise our bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower our good (HDL) cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, trans fat elevates our risk for developing heart diseases, stroke and diabetes. When we became concerned about having trans fat in our diet, food manufacturers began switching to palm oil for food preparation, because it has zero trans fat. This doesn’t mean that eating palm oil is healthier for us. In fact, being on a palm oil heavy diet causes the same types of health problems as consuming too much trans fat. But the “zero trans fat” label is an effective advertising gimmick.
Palm oil is also found in a number of cosmetic products, including lipsticks and shampoo. For me, the most troubling realization is that palm oil or its derivatives (such as palm kernel oil and stearic acid) are found in most homemade and big brand soap. For example, LUSH stopped using palm oil, citing environmental concerns, but continues to use stearic acid (a palm oil derivative) in its products. Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar Soap, the much loved and top selling natural soap, also lists palm oil as an ingredient.
Why is palm oil so popular with soapers? Because for a soaper who doesn’t want to use animal fat, palm oil is a dream oil. It produces an extremely hard and long lasting bar of soap. It helps to stabilize lather, but isn’t as drying as soap that’s made with coconut oil. Because of this, you will find palm oil and/or one of its derivatives as ingredients in most homemade and store-bought soap.
How has Palm Oil Production Devastated the Environment, People and Animals?
The biggest palm oil producing countries are Malaysia and Indonesia, which are responsible for supplying 85% of the world’s palm oil. To increase production, palm oil producers, most of them multinational corporations, have burned and cleared rainforests, and drained and converted peatlands, to make room for oil palm plantations. This rapid deforestation and peatland conversion have led to increased emission of greenhouse gases and contributed to climate changes.
The destruction of rainforests and peatlands has also resulted in the loss of habitat for many animals, including rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. Palm oil production has pushed these animals to the edge of extinction. In some cases, indigenous people who have lived in these areas are deprived of their land and livelihoods, and have reduced access to clean water and fertile soil. The most troubling effect of palm oil production expansion is that widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor, child labor, work without compensation, and dangerous, abusive work conditions, have been reported in oil palm plantations.
What About Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Certified Palm Oil?
A soaper can purchase palm oil that RSPO members produced. RSPO is a non-profit organization that aims to implement a global standard for sustainable palm oil. Palm oil producers who become a RSPO member are required to meet RSPO’s requirements and produce palm oil in ways that are “economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial.”
The problem is, in recent years, RSPO has been ineffective in curbing deforestation and human rights violations. Many believe RSPO does nothing but greenwash palm oil production, because RSPO certified companies have continued to engage in deforestation that destroys biodiversity and shrinks natural habitat. A November 2015 Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report claimed that RSPO auditors have failed to identify violations and some have even colluded with oil palm plantations to intentionally cover up violations. Basically, information from multiple reliable sources, shows that RSPO can’t guarantee that its members are only supplying sustainable palm oil or that the palm oil is produced without human rights violations.
I Now Make Homemade Soap Without Palm Oil
After reading and researching extensively on palm oil production, I have decided to make homemade soap without palm oil. I have also stopped using palm oil in any of my other bath, body and personal care products. I check the ingredients of my packaged food to make sure it doesn’t include palm oil or its derivatives. For me, to continue to buy palm oil products is to turn a blind eye to the harm that its production has caused and continues to cause. It is just not worth it to me. I know not all share my position. Here is one example.
As a soaper, it has been tough for me to give up using palm oil, a dream oil. I have been in a soap funk. I can’t figure out how to achieve the same kind of results without using palm oil. Yes, soap funk is a real thing. All of you soapers out there know what I mean. One Saturday, I made 4 different batches of palm-free soap. The results ranged between total garbage, not useable soap, to minimally acceptable soap that I might be able to rebatch. It has been a rough patch. I am trying different ingredients, such as sea salt, beeswax and hard oil, to tweak my palm-free homemade soap recipes. I am not quite there yet, but I am hopeful that I’ll figure this out soon.
What about you? Will you continue to use palm oil or any of its derivative in your homemade soap? Will you be checking your packaged food items, and avoid purchasing products that contain palm oil? I understand that this is a complex issue and there are no easy answers. I would love to know what you think. So share your thoughts!