The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of Palm Oil

The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of Palm Oil

As the story goes, give me the good news first. What is good about palm oil and why is it used?

It is the cheapest of all vegetable oils. So when price wars started and supermarkets and consumers did not want to pay higher for other oils, palm oil started getting used. Cooking oil is probably one of those that uses the most. Palm oil has a very bland taste, so it does not interfere with the taste of food. It also has a very high smoke point, making it ideal for frying foods and quick fry foods like 2 minute noodles.

Palm oil in the cosmetic industry can be processed into many different products. It is versatile and due to its high fatty acid content can be used to make surfactants and emulsifiers.

When the drive for natural products started, consumers demanded natural and petrochemical and animal free products, and palm oil was one of the best options and most cost effective. Where tallow sourced from animal fat used to be used to make soap, now palm oil is used.

How will you know if your product uses palm oil? Truth is you probably won’t. There can be over 200 different names for products that contain palm oil. Unless the brand states: Contains Palm Oil, you won’t know for sure. As far as I know it is not a legal requirement to state if a product contains palm oil.


One article I read stated that every single shampoo on the shelf in a supermarket had some form of palm oil in it. I don’t know enough about every brand and all their ingredients to verify or disagree with that claim. I do know that many cosmetic products do use it.

The best way to check is to look for certification on the label that only sustainable palm oil is used. This way the producer is declaring that there is palm oil in the product and that it is not sourced from the deforestation plantations but rather from plantations that are operated in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Cosmetic usage apparently makes up around 18% of the world palm oil consumption. Feedstock and Biofuel make up around 10% and the biggest usage is in food. 72% of global consumption is in food.

In food it will often be listed as hydrogenated vegetable oil. Check the label on almost any product and it will be there. I just checked the label on the box of Provita’s on my desk – and yes, there is it. They even specify that it is from palm oil. Unfortunately, I don’t see a sustainable certificate on the box. This doesn’t mean it isn’t, maybe they haven’t caught onto the need to declare it. It certainly is worth asking Bakers if they do use sustainable palm.

In the cosmetic industry it has been common practice in the last few years to issue sustainability certificates along with the products when the R&D lab starts to work with it. The chemists know it is sustainable and will work with it. Does that information make it onto the end product label? More often than not, it hasn’t. The main reason being that it wasn’t part of the marketing brief about product features to claim. I think that will suddenly start changing rapidly.

A simple example, I know that all the ingredients that I work with for all the kits that have palm oil in them are sourced sustainably. I have never made it a claim though. I have focused on the more general claims like natural, organic or even vegan. I will now make a point of letting people know which of the kit ingredients contain palm oil and confirm that they are indeed certified as sustainable.

It is time for all cosmetic brands to stand up and share if their palm oil is from a sustainable source. Then you can at least shop with peace of mind. Let’s start urging them to do it.

Onto food. Which food products contain palm oil. I already made the generalization of almost anything, but seriously, a lot of food products contain palm oil. Margarine, ice-cream, mayonnaise, chocolate, cookies, packaged bread, pizza dough, processed cheese or processed most things.


Biodiesel and biofuel also use palm oil. This replaces crude oil.

In my blog (and in the book) natural or not, I speak about the need for a balanced approach. Just going all natural does not necessarily mean it is the best way. This palm oil issue is the perfect example of that. We are destroying the Earth for our own consumption, naturally. Maybe we need to get our head out of (wherever) and be real about things. Natural products can do just as much harm to the Earth. The problem isn’t natural or synthetic. The problem is humans. There are way too many of us. We need almost another whole Earth just to sustain our current population – never mind 2 years from now. (The actual figure if 1.7 Earths needed. If the entire population consumed as much as the average American, we would need 4 Earths!)


Unfortunately, humans will be humans. Greed and making money start taking over and before we know it, a handful are sitting pretty while forests are destroyed to plant ‘money’.

So much of our natural environment is being destroyed merely to sustain us as a species. How many forest have been burnt down to make way for farming land, or timber forests? This whole issue goes way beyond just the palm oil. This has been an issue for decades. Palm oil is the name we now recognize.

The first time I ever saw something about deforestation and the impact of it, was in one of my favourite dancing movies, The Forbidden Dance. That movie was released in 1990. If that was the release date, the production started many years before that. This issue is over 30 years old. The heroine is an Amazonian Princess who flees to the USA to get help to stop her beloved home and forest from being destroyed.

Palm oil is our current deforestation crisis. The videos are going viral on social media and most show the Orangutans being killed. There are horror stories about the way this happens, which I do not need to get into. It is also killing Elephants, Tigers and Rhinos. With the Elephant killings they are making it look like poaching by removing the tusks once the elephants are killed. So the true numbers of how many are dying will never be known.


People and whole villages are also being affected. The quickest way to get rid of a forest is to burn it. Just visualize that for a second. How many other animals, insects, birds, people…..everything gets ravaged by the fire.

Unfortunately, this is a far bigger issue than just boycotting a shampoo or soap brand. All of us need to start thinking clearly and be very mindful of every choice we make. It’s not about getting caught up in the latest trend and demand only natural products, without realizing that there are consequences, and how do we handle the consequences?

I also say natural is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it has to be everything. We need to find sustainable solutions. If that sustainable best solution happens to be synthetically produced in a lab, then that is what we should use. Let’s get less caught up in the one dimensional thinking and start doing a holistic approach to everything. Start demanding sustainable and Earth Friendly products. Safe for us, safe for the planet and safe for everything sharing the planet. That means a balance approach, not a swing to one extreme or the other.

What can we start doing immediately? Look for the RSPO Certification label, or Green Palm label on your products. These can be on food or cosmetic products. If the label is not on there, contact the companies and ask them if they use certified palm. Either contact them via social media or email directly. The contact details are always on the packaging, so let’s urge all producers to use sustainable palm. Let’s all start encouraging sustainable products in everything!


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