Wait.. There is Palm oil in my Face Cream and my Ice Cream?

palm oil sumatra

Yes. Palm oil and its derivatives (ingredients made from palm oil) are widely used throughout the food, beauty and house hold cleaning industries. The palm oil issue affects over 400 species, 193 of which are critically endangered. It’s also an issue that affects climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss of land rights and labour issues. Find out more here.

So, while you are enjoying your evening ice-cream, earlier in the day you likely have already unknowingly spread it on your face and your toast, washed your hair, hands and clothes all with ingredients made from palm oil.

But it doesn’t say ‘palm oil’ on the list of ingredients? – And it doesn’t have to. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of ingredient names palm oil and its derivatives could be hiding under.

Palm oil is a very versatile ingredient that is cheap produce. Land is being cleared at an alarming rate to make way for the crop, destroying vital rainforest and habitats in the process. Palm oil’s composition allows for it to be separated into glycerin and fatty acids, then changed into a multitude of ingredients with different functions in a vast array of products.

Some functional ingredients required to made your face cream and your ice cream that are often made from palm include;

Oils & Fats– In food, palm oil doesn’t need to be identified. You can find it under vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil in products like margarine, chocolate, ice cream. In beauty, ingredients like Stearic acid, hydrogenated palm oil and capric/caprylic triglyceride are some examples in creams and lipsticks.

Emulsifiers – Used to create stable mixtures of oil trapped in water (or vice-versa), essential to produce smooth, glossy moisturising body and face creams, lotions, make-up and hair products. Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Glucoside are some of the many emulsifiers used. Emulsifiers are also used in the food industry to produce creamy ice creams, cakes, bread and more. E471, E472b, E481 are some examples. Any product that is a happy blend of oil and fat in water requires an emulsifier an odds are – palm oil is involved.

Humectants – For these water-loving hydrating molecules, glycerin is the go-to for skin care and food helping draw water into the skin and keep food moist.

Surfactants – This group of ingredients are found in any product that washes off dirt and oil. The structure has both water-loving and oil/dirt-loving sides. This enables the surfactant to ‘grab’ the dirt and wash it away with water. Shampoo, detergents, and hand wash using ingredients like SLS, SLES, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

sumatra palm oil truck
Truck shipping palm oil, Sumatra (Photograph: Amy)

Palm Oil isn’t the only feedstock crop that can be used to make all of these ingredients. Currently it is the cheapest, but when you consider the environmental impact of the deforestation caused by its demand, it is the costliest to the environment. All of the ingredients listed can be made from different feedstock oils

What can I do?

The way forward is to reduce the demand on the palm oil industry by purchasing palm oil-free products. Support brands and innovators searching for a better way to produce personal care, cosmetics, food and household cleaning products. 

Support certified Palm Oil Free brands and products here via the Orangutan Alliance certification.
Follow Orangutan Alliance on social media to keep up with all new products and news around the palm oil issues.
Learn more about palm oil and listen to our latest Eco Impacters podcasts where we chat with inspiring conservationists and change makers.

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