Palm oil is either the skincare industry’s dirty little secret or it’s the poster child of how a sullied ingredient can restore its reputation. Its use is a complex and polarizing issue. For our part, CleanO2 is making great efforts to keep it out of our products.
There’s little doubt that it causes human exploitation, displacement of local communities, reduction in biodiversity and extensive deforestation, according to sources as diverse as the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), BBC and the Wall Street Journal. There’s also a lot of work being done to improve the sustainability of palm. Until we’re confident that these efforts have made major improvements, though, our stance is that CleanO2 will avoid palm.
What is Palm Oil?
What is palm oil, exactly? It’s an oil that is extracted from the fruit of palm oil trees, which are native to Africa. The palm oil tree is now also found in South East Asia, and just a few countries produce most of the world’s supply.
Palm oil is used in a huge variety of processed foods and a broad range of other products. Palm oil is a fat that is hard at room temperature, a huge benefit if you make a product that is oil-based and needs to be solid. It helps products to keep their consistency and extends the shelf-life of packaged foods, too. What’s more, it’s cheap.
So What Does Palm Oil Have to Do with Soap?
Here’s the challenge: palm oil and its derivatives are found in a huge range of beauty products — one estimate suggests over 70% of cosmetics contain palm-oil derivatives in one way or another. These ingredients serve as surfactants (for cleansing, foaming, and thickening) and as moisturizers (providing penetrating moisture and as a layer on the surface that traps moisture). And in soap making, it’s a very popular botanical base oil because it produces hard bars that cure faster.
Frankly, if you make skincare products, it’s hard to avoid palm oil and ingredients created from it.
How CleanO2 Makes a Difference by NOT Using Palm
So what’s a soap company to do? At CleanO2, we’re committed to making soaps without palm oil. In the case of our body bars, we’ve never used palm oil. The botanical base oils in our soaps come from olives, coconut, rice bran, shea nuts, avocados and castor beans. We’re patient enough to wait the weeks necessary to cure a palm-free bar of soap.
Finding ways to avoid palm derivatives is a little trickier. In a world where palm is already cheap and plentiful, there just aren’t a lot of alternatives on the market. But our soap master Michelle does the experimentation and prototyping needed to find the ones that will match or exceed the performance of palm derivatives.
Full disclosure: We did use the palm-derivative cetyl alcohol in one of our soap bars but removed it from the formulation late last year.
How CleanO2 Solves the Case of Invisible Palm Oil
The bigger challenge is finding palm oil where it isn’t expected. The pandemic has caused huge supply-chain bottlenecks. The result is that soap-ingredient suppliers are looking for ways to produce their products when their ingredients aren’t available. And that means palm derivatives could sneak into our products.
Keeping palm oil out of products is a daily effort. We work to establish relationships with vendors and distributors who have been transparent and honest in the past. We question them about their ingredients and their suppliers. Whenever available, we ask to see the raw materials ingredient (RMI) lists to verify that palm oil isn’t present.
Is our approach to keeping palm oil out of our soaps perfect? No. But we believe that it’s better to make the effort now and learn from our mistakes as we go. As the old saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good.
CleanO2 Ecologi Partnership
At CleanO2, we aren’t comfortable supporting anything that may lead to deforestation or harm species. We want to plant trees, not cut them down! That’s why we’ve partnered with Ecologi to ensure that each purchase through our website leads to a tree being planted. We are proud to have planted more than 300 trees in Madagascar.