Palm oil is a diverse ingredient with many properties and benefits that make it widely used in a variety of products; it can be found in anything from packaged breads, to peanut butter, to lotions, creams, soaps and more. But as you may or may not know, there’s some controversy surrounding this ingredient. So why does it have a bad reputation, even though it seems like palm oil is in just about everything?
Well, it’s not black and white- the grey area here has to do mostly with the different ways the ingredient is sourced. But it’s important to keep in mind that palm oil itself isn’t bad – and actually provides many unique benefits for skin, hair and more. We’ll take a look at the uses, benefits, important facts and the pros and cons of palm oil, so that you can understand the implications of this ingredient on your body and on the environment.
Where Does Palm Oil Come From?
Palm oil originates in Africa, from the fruit of an edible palm tree (Elaeis Guineensis). The palm fruit takes only five to six months to develop from pollination to maturity.
They can produce a lot of oil in a very short period of time and can be harvested a minimum of once every 10 days without causing damage to the tree. All of this makes palm oil a time and cost efficient option that is appealing to manufacturers.
Palm oil has become the most widely used oil in the entire world and is produced in 42 countries across the world. Over 85% of this production occurs in Southeast Asia, the majority of which comes from Malaysia and Indonesia specifically. In the past year, about 58.84 million metric tons of palm oil were produced- and this is actually a smaller number than the previous year, as the controversy surrounding this ingredient has become more prominent.
How Palm Oil is Sourced
The primary issue with palm oil is the way that it’s generally sourced, which is often done unethically and in ways that cause environmental harm.
The Problem: Mass Harvesting
As the demand for this ingredient has increased exponentially over the years, large manufacturers began to replace small farms and needed more land and more supply at faster rates to provide the supply needed.
Palm grows best in tropical environments, so harvesting them in mass results in rainforest deforestation, which results in the destruction of the natural habitats of endangered species like the Orangutan, Pygmy Elephant and the Sumatran Rhino.
This deforestation also causes large amounts of carbon which was previously stored in the soil, to be released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Not All Bad: Sustainable Palm Oil
With all of that said, there are ways to source palm oil sustainably. Certifications like the RSPO organization help companies get on board with the sustainable sourcing movement, providing a verification process and certificates to companies who commit to only using palm oil that is grown, sourced and harvested sustainably. This means using palm oil grown on smaller sustainable farms on existing land, instead of cutting down trees in the rainforest. In turn, this supports the local economies of these rural areas around the world by creating more jobs for workers and smaller farmers.
Dr. Squatch is proud to be part of this initiative. We only use certified sustainably-sourced palm oil in our natural bar soap and shave bar products, to ensure that you get all of the benefits of this ingredient (which we’ll tell you about more next!) without all the negative impacts to our planet.
Why is Palm Oil in Everything?
It’s no wonder that palm oil is in such high demand. Palm oil has many versatile properties that make it a desirable and useful ingredient in a variety of products across different categories.
- Palm oil is flavorless, odorless, and colourless – unlike many other oils, it doesn’t change the look, smell or taste of the products it’s used in.
- As it’s resistant to oxidation, palm oil doesn’t need preservatives to keep it fresh and can give products a longer shelf life.
- Even at high temperatures, palm oil remains stable and does not burn or smoke, so large manufacturers often use high heat methods which don’t retain all the nutrients of the ingredient, but are usually more efficient and less costly than cold process alternatives. The sustainably sourced palm oil that we use is made by the cold process.
- At room temperature, palm oil has a similar texture to butter, which makes it ideal for use in spreadable goods (like peanut butter), in baked goods and in personal care products like lotions, soaps, creams and more.
Palm Oil in Food Products
Palm oil is commonly used in baking breads, cookies and pastries as a more cost efficient alternative to butter, and appeals to vegans or those with dairy allergies. You’ll also see this ingredient in lots of snack foods, like peanut butter to help prevent the natural oils found in peanuts from separating in the jar.
Palm oil is high in saturated fat, which is part of the reason that it gets a bad rap. When consumed in excess, saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels, which, if too high, can lead to clogged arteries and potential heart disease or heart attacks. But for the record, palm oil is about 50% saturated fat, while coconut oil (palm oil’s much less controversial cousin) is far higher, with 85% saturated fat.
What many people don’t know, though, is that we actually do need some saturated fat and cholesterol in our diets. They can help to enhance the immune system, protect the liver, form cell membranes and build healthy bones.
Personal Care Products: Palm Oil Benefits for Skin and Hair
Due to key vitamins like Vitamin E and its high fatty acid and saturated fat content, palm oil provides many benefits for the skin and hair when used topically, making it a popular ingredient in a wide range of personal care products.
- Moisturizing & conditioning: Due to emollient properties, palm oil provides a layer of hydration that holds in moisture and conditions the hair and skin.
- Foaming & cleansing: Some of the fatty acids found in palm oil act as a foaming agent in products and work to purge dirt, sweat and excess oil from the hair and skin
- Antioxidants: Antioxidant properties protect the skin and hair against environmental toxins and combat the free radicals that weaken cells and cause premature aging.
- Emulsifying: Emulsifying agents help to mix liquids together by binding water and oil. This makes it an ideal ingredient for the formulation of soaps and other personal care products.
- Stimulating: Omegas help to stimulate hair follicles for a healthier head of hair
- Absorbs quickly: Saturated fats absorb quickly and completely into the body, allowing products like creams, lotions, soaps and more to be more effective.