Why are people against palm oil?
By Carolyn Bessette, M.D.
The reason we avoid using palm oil is simple. The World Wildlife Fund writes “The palm oil industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuses in the counties where it is produced.” In fact, 300 football fields of rainforest are cleared each hour to make way for palm oil plantations as palm oil and palm kernel oil are used widely in in soaps, food, candles, cosmetics, and fuel sources. This deforestation and voracious appetite for palm oil is pushing many native species to extinction including orangutans and we simply don’t want to contribute to that. We prefer to make our soaps another way and avoid using palm oil altogether.
Soap is made by combining oils with lye water which begins a process known as saponification. Many handmade soap makers use palm oil because it is cheap and makes the finished bar harden quickly. Commercial soap factories like it because it allows the machines to extrude or “triple mill” the soap. At Dr. Bessette Naturals, we choose to use hydrating cocoa butter and a longer curing time to harden our soaps, eliminating the need for palm oil. Palm oil can also be drying to the skin.
Some soap companies are now using the phrase “sustainable palm oil” which is good for the label but questionable. In his book, THE WASTING OF BORNEO, Alex Shoumatoff tells the story of destruction of 90% of Borneo’s lowland forest for logging and palm oil plantations, Dr. Galdikas calls it “one of the greatest conservation tragedies of our time.” No palm oil coming from rainforest destruction should ever be classified as sustainable. Palm oil is not necessary for soap making if you are willing to wait a little longer and spend a little more money by using different ingredients.
At Dr. Bessette Naturals, we believe you have a choice in the products you buy. Be an informed consumer. You have to read the labels. Palm oil products have hundreds of different names including sodium palmate, palmitic acid, palm kernelate, PKO, elaeis guineensis, sodium laurel sulfoacetate, or sometimes just vegetable oil. It can be tricky!
So is palm oil bad? Bad seems a bit strong. Well, let’s just say it’s not necessary for us. We have alternatives and choose to use them even if it costs a little more money and takes a little more time. We feel the rainforest habitat is worth that small compromise.
For more information, please visit the Rainforest Action Network.