Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why You Should Avoid Soap Made with Palm Oil

One of the reasons I decided to try to make my own soap was how increasingly difficult it was trying to find quality bar soap made without palm oil.

I am going to assume that soap makers use palm oil because it's uber cheap. Otherwise I'm not sure why they would use it, since soap can be easily made (as we've demonstrated) without palm oil.

Why "palm oil" (or "vegetable oil" or "palmitate") as an ingredient in your soap (food/cosmetics) is a bad idea:

  • The harvesting of palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia has directly resulted in the deforestation of thousands of hectares of rainforest.
  • These monocultures destroy soil fertility and critical conservation rainforests and wildlife habitat.
  • These rainforests have a high number of species of trees and biodiversity per square hectare.
  • In 2007 the United Nations Environment Programme acknowledged that palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Although not a huge user of pesticides, palm oil plantations rely heavily on rat poison, which pollutes soil and waterways.
  • For every metric tonne of palm oil produced, 2.5 metric tonnes of effluent (polluted runoff) are released into waterways and local soil.
(World Wildlife Foundation, Wikipedia, David Suzuki)

This results in an easy solution: try not to purchase products with palm oil as an ingredient. Before purchasing, read the ingredient labels of soap or cosmetic products. I know it's awkward, but most locally sold handmade soap in Halifax has "palm oil" as an ingredient. If the soapmaker is present, explain why you're trying to avoid palm oil. Some soap makers claim that their palm oil is sustainably sourced. If you trust the soapmaker, go for it.

However, since sustainably sourced palm oil would be more expansive, I'm not sure why it wasn't substituted with a more sustainable oil alternative (such as coconut oil).
(Andrew being all "I am a soap making fool!" and helping me with the lye instead of studying for his final exams...)

Or... make your own soap! :) Today, Andrew and I took 40minutes to make gingersnap cocoa butter soap that will be cured and ready to use in two short weeks! All for about 2$ a bar. Easy!


  1. What exactly *is* palm oil, anyway? I use coconut oil for a variety of things (including personal care and household stuff), but have never bought palm oil, because I wasn't really sure what it is, and it's not as commonly available. It's not the same thing, is it?

    1. Hi Heather: Palm oil is a vegetable oil from the fruit of an oil palm (as opposed to palm kernel which is from the kernel, and coconut which is from the coconut palm). wiki:
      as you can see from this wiki article, the african palm tree doesn't look like a coconut palm at all

      hopefully that helps :)

      it isn't as commonly available pure from a health food store, but it IS in almost every commercial (and MANY handmade soap) soap and cosmetic (and food) stuffs. the important thing is to check the ingredient list for something generic like 'vegetable oil' or 'palm oil' or 'palmitate'.

  2. Rainforest Alliance is finally starting to get certified palm oil out there in the market. no products have the seal yet, but hopefully soon!

    1. very cool!! now THAT would be a fabulous seal to rely on- thanks for sharing!

  3. I love your soap-making adventures. I'm also a big fan of no-palm oil!! I'm super thrilled that my favorite soapmaker, Sellwood Soap (here in Oregon) has phased that oil out. Her soaps are amazing.

    1. haha yay! yes, tonight after we cut our gingersnap cinnamon soap, Andrew just kept going on about 'HOW EASY' soap making was :)
      Also- yay for having fantastic soap handmade sans palm oil near you!


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