Rebecca Fearn is a freelance beauty journalist living in London. She is a Glamour magazine alumni, and now writes for titles such as Dazed Beauty, Refinery29, ES Magazine, and Bustle. You can find her on Instagram (@beautyandtheb). Here she discusses the issue of palm oil in beauty…
Palm oil is a big beauty buzzword right now, but for all the wrong reasons. I attempted to eliminate it from my beauty routine entirely…
I’m always striving to be more eco-conscious in my beauty routine, and life as a whole. From avoiding plastic packaging like the plague, to shopping vegan and organic formulas – as for many of us – it’s on my mind more than ever. But unfortunately, one thing we can’t seem to avoid is palm oil. It’s everywhere we turn these days; in our food, our cleaning products, and our beauty bits. Avoiding the ingredient in beauty products has become the ultimate challenge, because truthfully, our options are limited. So is it really possible to find a beauty routine sans palm oil? And if not, what does the beauty industry need to do to make things better going forward?
Let’s begin by taking a quick crash course in what palm oil actually is, and how it is used in the beauty products on our shelves. Palm oil is derived from the fruits of African oil palm trees, which grow in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. It has been used as a staple food crop for over 5000 years, but was first largely sought after by British traders after the industrial revolution, who wanted to use it as an industrial lubricant for machinery. Ever since then, palm oil has commonly featured in everyday items across the world, including cosmetics, where it is used as an emulsifier and a surfactant.
However, palm oil is an area of concern for environmentalists, as it has a huge impact on nature and communities in the countries it is produced. In order to grow the large amounts of palm oil required for the demand of it, space is required – and I’m talking a lot of space. Green Peace reveals that shockingly, an area the size of a football pitch is torn down in Indonesia’s rainforest every 25 seconds for palm oil plantations. Malaysia is in a similar position, and this all comes at a huge cost to the environment. Natural habitats are destroyed, and animals such as orangutans are forced out of their homes to make room. According to Green Peace, we now lose 25 orangutans a day because of palm plantations. High street beauty retailer Lush also points out that this land-grabbing affects indigenous peoples as well as animals, and human rights abuses are rife.
All this leaves a bit of a bitter taste when considering how much palm oil goes into our hair, skincare, and make-up products. But unfortunately, as my experiment found, it’s pretty hard to go totally palm oil-free when it comes to your beauty routine. While certain brands such as Axiology, Chantecaille, Neom, and Previse are all pioneering the palm oil-free beauty movement, the large majority of mass beauty brands are still all using it. So when looking for products to replace my current skincare, haircare, body care and make-up, I really struggled.
Don’t get me wrong, there are options; they’re just severely limited. Certain items are easier to find palm oil-free than others, such as body and haircare. Natural brands such as Pure Chimp and The Friendly Soap Company create soap and shampoo bars, and are committed to avoiding palm oil in all of their products. They are also really affordable, and can be bought online or in health food stores such as Planet Organic. All of Lush’s soap bars are also palm oil-free, and are completely accessible since they are sold on the high street. It’s super easy to replace your regular shampoo, conditioner, and body wash with these palm oil-free bars if you want to start somewhere.
In make-up and skincare, there are also brands that are leading the way, but I have to admit they’re in the minority. Axiology, for example, is a brand that makes brilliant lip products without the use of palm oil. Their lipsticks and crayons come in a huge range of shades, and their mantra, ‘bunnies over profits’ speaks volumes. Chantecaille’s impressive skincare is palm oil-free, something it proudly shares at the bottom of each page on its website. Likewise, Antipodes stocks certain products that don’t use the controversial oil, or do use it but ensure it has been sourced sustainably, as do brands like Elemental Herbology and Nude By Nature.
Unfortunately, however, palm oil is still largely used in most of our beauty products, and it’s going to take some major change in order for this to improve. The reason it is so commonly used is due to its inexpensive and widely available nature, but pioneers in the non-palm oil beauty movement argue there are several alternatives brands could use if they were just willing to pay a little more and show awareness of shorter shelf lives. “Palm oil is just another oil,” explains Ericka Rodruguez, founder of Axiology. “There is nothing special about it besides the fact that there is a large supply and it’s inexpensive. Palm oil can be replaced with almost any other oil and beauty products would have the same texture and feel as they would with palm oil.” Alternatives include singular oils or those mixed together, including castor oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and eco-certified babassu nut seed oil.
Until brands are willing to take the major steps to reduce palm oil usage, commit to using more eco-friendly, responsibly-sourced palm oil, or eliminate it entirely, consumers are limited with their beauty choices. From what I have experienced, it would be hard to completely replace everything you use in your beauty routine with palm oil-free alternatives. But there are options, and small changes you can make if you are committed to reducing your palm oil usage. For example, sticking to palm oil free body and hair products can be a great first step until we have more choices elsewhere.
Let the palm oil revolution commence…