Palm Oil in Your Soap?

January 23, 2013

Consider this:

One of the primary ingredients in soap is oil, and soapmakers have lots of different oils to choose from! For example, emu oil, lard, butter, and lanolin are examples of animal oils that may be used in soap; olive oil, palm oil, soybean oil, almond oil, canola oil, jojoba oil, and coconut oil, are just some of the examples of vegetable oils that may be used in soap. Each oil adds different qualities to the finished bar of handcrafted soap. For now, Artisan Soaps are primarily made of three different oils: olive oil, coconut oil, and castor oil. A common oil that I have chosen not to use in Artisan Soaps is palm oil. 

The most commonly used oil in soapmaking is olive oil. In fact, some soap bars--including one of the Artisan Soap bars--is made of pure olive oil. Olive oil is an excellent moisturizer. For this reason, olive oil soap is a terrific soap to use for washing your face in the mornings and evenings. On the other hand, if you want a nice foamy lather, you won't get that from olive oil!

It turns out that the perfect compliment for olive oil is coconut oil. Coconut oil produces a wonderful thick lather! By itself, however, coconut oil soap would dry your skin out in short order. For this reason, soapmakers mix olive and coconut oils to create the perfect blend of moisturization and lather. I also use a small amount of castor oil to boost the lather even further, and to bind the fragrance.

Extensive palm order production destroys the habitat for the orangutan in some parts of the world.Palm oil is also a primary soapmaking oil in both handcrafted and commercial soaps; it adds hardness and body to a bar of soap. Here is why I have chosen not to use palm oil, for now:

Palm oil is produced from the palm fruit of the African oil palm tree. While the tree originated in Africa, the palm tree has flourished for a long time in Indonesia and Malaysia where heat and rainfall were abundant. At the same time, the demand for palm oil has also flourished as an ingredient in foods, soaps, detergents, and much, much more. To keep up with the demand, the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia have been destroyed in order to harvest enough of the palm fruit. The destruction of rainforests has at least two serious ill-effects. First, the destruction of the rainforests contributes to global warming, and the extreme weather occurrences that we have already begun to experience. Second, the destruction of the rainforests destroys the orangutan habitat and is driving them, along with many other native species, into extinction.

Recently, "sustainable palm oil" sources have popped up. It is possible that I may consider sustainable palm oil sources in the future, but for now, there is still quite a bit of disagreement about how effectively sustainable these sources really are.

While palm oil is used in many soaps and detergents, it is not an essential ingredient. Excellent bars of soap are created without the use of palm oil. There are also plenty of other excellent oils, like shea butter for example, that provide terrific qualities that may be even more desirable than those produced from palm oil.

So, as always, I encourage you to take a look at the ingredient list on the products that you purchase, particularly your soap. If there is some variation of the word "palm," ask yourself if you really need that particular product, or whether there is another suitable alternative that you can use without increasing the demand for palm oil. And if you are looking for soaps that palm oil-free, give Artisan Soaps a try!

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