What is Palm Oil?
Posted on 1st February 2020 at 19:32
What is Palm Oil & is it good for skin?
Introduction to palm oil
Palm oil is oil that comes from the fruit of the elaeis guineensis tree. This tree is native to west and south west Africa. The trees grow naturally in tropical rainforests and thrive under these conditions.
Palm oil can only be grown commercially in the tropical regions of our planet. The palm oil we consume comes from either the palm fruit or the palm kernel.
The palm fruit is the red fleshy part which is squeezed and compressed to extract the palm oil, which will initially come out red.
Once refined the palm oil will be a yellow-white colour resembling other solid oils such as butter or margarine.
The refining process involves bleaching the palm oil to remove the red pigment, adding phosphoric acid to remove any gum and deodourisation to remove any scent.
Palm kernel oil is the white seed of the fruit which is also edible. The palm kernel oil takes more effort to extract as the oils are locked up in the seeds.
To extract palm kernel oil, the seeds of the palm fruit are heated up and crushed in a compressing machine. This is a process similar to the extraction of almond butter.
It is from compressing and squeezing this paste the oil will come out. Once this is done it will go through a similar refining process to the red fruit palm oil.
Is palm oil good for skin?
Palm oil is commonly used in a lot of skin care products ranging from soaps and shower gels available at the supermarket to high end luxury moisturisers, so is it good for skin?
Palm oil in its raw form, also known as red palm oil is not bad for skin. It is an antioxidant which is good for skin as it can reduce the activities of free radicals and reduce the signs of aging.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil that have been refined are probably not the best for your skin as they have been through a chemical process and bleaching to make them more appealing for food or cosmetics.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil can also be bad for skin if you are prone to blocked pores. This is because these oils are high in oleic fatty acids are believed to block pores which can lead to acne outbreaks.
A soap bar made from majority palm oil will not be good for your skin. Palm kernel oil is a cleanser in soap and will dry the skin out. Palm kernel oil is one of the most common oils used in soap bars you can buy over the counter at supermarkets and pharmacies.
Palm oil is also used to create other ingredients used in skin care. In the process of refining palm oil, fatty ‘oleic’ alcohols are produced as a side product.
These fatty alcohols are then sulfonated to become a crystalline salt. Specifically they are transformed into sodium lauryl sulphate, a common ingredient used in everyday wash products, detergents and laundry powder.
Once this chemical has been produced it can then be further manipulated into sodium laureth sulphate by the process of ethoxylation which produces a cancer causing chemical called 1,4 dioxane.
Sodium laureth sulphate is more commonly used in liquid solutions such as shower gel and hand wash. This is because in liquid solutions a lot more of these chemicals are used and sodium laureth sulphate is slightly gentler on skin than its parent chemical.
These chemicals that are derived from palm oil are not very good for skin. They are harsh chemical surfactants which strip the skin of its natural grease.
This natural grease ties skin cells together and stops moisture loss. These palm oil derivatives easily break down this grease and allow it to be washed away. This can lead to dry skin.
Both of these palm oil based chemicals are used in a large amount of personal care products such as bubble bath, hand wash, shower gel, soap and shampoo. They are also used in common household essentials such as washing up liquid and washing powder for their abilities to break down grease and remove stains.
Is palm oil free soap good or bad for skin?
Truly palm oil free soap bars are good for skin. Soap bars made from palm oil and palm kernel oil can be very drying, especially when palm oil derivatives like sodium lauryl sulphate are used as well.
In general soap made with palm oil is bad for skin, usually because they contain way too much of this cleansing oil. Palm kernel oil is a cleanser in soap making and should only make up at the most 20-30% of a soap bar.
A lot of commercial soap bars are made with majority palm oil, as the oil is the cheapest on the market by quite a margin. The big producers buy in huge bulk and can produce soap bars for consumers for as little as 50p a bar.
These cheap soaps are generally very drying and can leave your skin feeling like rubber. They can also be so cleansing that they create breaks in the skins barrier.
When the skins barriers are broken water can get out and bacteria can get in. This can cause redness, inflammation and even lead to eczema.
Palm oil free soap bars that are free from chemicals used in commercial soap making tend to perform the best and give great results.
Natural soap free from palm oil and containing moisturising ingredients, also known as emollients are really good for skin.
Some emollients like olive oil, hempseed oil and cocoa butter can have great results on the skin as they are naturally moisturising, even in soap.
One of the ingredients in a natural palm oil free soap is glycerin. This ingredient naturally produced in the soap making process is amazing for skin as it naturally draws moisture towards it. You can find out everything you need to know about glycerin here.
Commercially produced palm oil based soaps are in general bad for skin as they are very drying and usually have their moisturising glycerin removed (again see post on glycerin for more information on this.
The soap we produce is purposely palm oil free as it’s not great for skin and it’s also disastrous for our environment. For more on this continue to our next section!
Why is palm oil bad for the environment?
The problem with Palm oil is not that it isn’t an incredibly useful crop. The problem is with the way it is produced and the harmful effect it is having on the environment.
Palm oil is responsible for 2.3% of global deforestation, but it is responsible for 5% of tropical deforestation. In Borneo, an island mainly covered in rainforest, palm oil plantations have caused 47% of the deforestation.
Over 32,000 square miles of land on Borneo are now used for oil palm plantations. With 355,000 hectares (1 hectare= roughly the size of a football pitch) being lost every year.
Deforestation is occurring in all countries producing palm oil, including: Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Kenya, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Brazil, India, Cameroon, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.
Deforestation is a big problem for the environment, as we are losing trees, and peat land swamps which are the most effective ways of removing carbon from our atmosphere.
Also the way that the forests are cleared for plantations involves burning the forest during the dry season, creating harmful gases. In 2015 there were 12,000 premature deaths attributed to burning of forest to clear for plantations. This clearing of land causes huge amounts of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere as well as black soot.
In 2013, children in Singapore were told to stay inside because of the toxic haze over the city. This was caused by burning forests to clear land to produce palm oil.
Palm oil plantations have caused a huge problem for some of the world’s most magnificent creatures including the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger. The extent of planting a single crop has lead to a monoculture in which only one single plant is grown.
Orang-utan’s need a diverse diet of different fruits that the natural rainforest used to provide for them. Now in this singular culture they are struggling to find food and are being pushed into smaller areas of wild forest.
In these areas of forest, competition is fierce and some can simply not find enough food and are starving to death.
Orang-utans do come into plantations looking for food, but they are often chased away by farmers and if they do manage to eat, the shoots of the oil palm are nowhere near as nutritious as their normal diet.
The palm oil from plantations is used in a wide variety of products from foods such as pizza, cookies, vegetable spreads, ice cream, instant noodles, pastry and many other products with vegetable fat.
In 2014, the EU introduced new legislation where food containing palm oil had to be labelled as ‘palm oil’ and not merely vegetable oil. This has helped people who do check the labels on their food, to reduce their use of palm oil.
Palm oil is also widely used in the cosmetics industry in products like soaps, shower gels and moisturisers.
In 2018, 65% of all imports of palm oil into the EU were for biodiesel. The biodiesel is mainly used to run larger vehicles like lorries. The EU has since voted to ban imports of biodiesel by 2020.
Palm oil is bad for the environment, it causes huge amounts of deforestation and damage to biodiversity in some of the most precious habitats on earth. This is the reason we refuse to use palm oil in our products and why we make palm oil free soap!
A word on 'sustainable' palm oil
In 2004 a self governing organisation was set up called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or RSPO for short.
The aim was to provide a more sustainable palm oil and stop cutting down virgin forest for plantations.It has a very low uptake from producers, only 19% of all the palm oil produced is actually ‘sustainable’.
It has taken the RSPO 14 years to tell its members to stop cutting down forest to plant more oil palm trees and according to greenpeace investigations the practice is still in full swing.
The whole premise of sustainable palm oil is a marketing scheme. We’d also call it green-washing, because you buy it thinking it’s sustainable and it clearly isn’t.
The RSPO board is made up of 16 board members, 4 palm oil growers, 2 Palm oil processors or traders, 2 Consumer goods manufacturers, 2 retailers, 2 banks & investors, 2 environmental NGO’s and 2 social/developmental NGO’s.
As you can see from the board, it’s made up of 12 members that are hugely financially invested in the cheap provision of palm oil.
2 of the Non Government Organisation members of the board have a sole focus on social and development which is essentially jobs, community and schools, but also has a vested interest in continued boom of palm oil.
2 of the members of the board are environmental members. Just 2. Versus 14 others that have a huge financial stake. It’s clear to us that palm oil is not sustainable and if self governance continues under the RSPO, it never will be.
To conclude, soap without palm oil is usually better for your skin than soaps that contain palm oil or chemicals created from the by-products of palm oil production.
Ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate are common drying chemical surfactants that are derived from palm oil.
They are common ingredients in a huge range of personal care products that are used every day. Products that use these chemicals are not palm oil free. Palm oil free bar soap, especially those that contain moisturising ingredients also known as emollients are good for skin.
Make sure you read our post on glycerin, its super moisturising in soap and in that post we’ll tell you the one ingredient that shows if it has been removed!
Palm oil is incredibly damaging for the environment and biodiversity. The expansion of plantations are hugely damaging to many species of plants and animals.
Sustainable palm oil is green-washing and allows us to feel good because its ‘sustainable’, even though it’s highly unlikely that the ‘sustainable’ palm oil is truly sustainable.
If you’re here looking for palm oil free soap, you’re in the right place! We never use palm oil in any of our soaps and we never will. They are available to buy in our online shop.
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