Palm Oil in Soap Making What You Need to Know

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The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Palm Oil in Soap Making

When I first started making soap I was fascinated with all the choices of oils, butters, colorants, and fragrances. There was an infinite combination of ingredients to make soaps that were unique.

But I saw that many soap makers had strong views on the use of palm oil in their products. I thought it was finally time to address the controversy about palm oil in soap making. 

Let’s dive in…

What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is used as a raw material in food and non-food products. It comes primarily from the fruit of the following oil palm trees:

  • African Oil Palm- Elaeis Guineensis 
  • American Oil Palm- Elaeis Oleifera
  • Maripa Palm- Attalea Maripa

Palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit and palm kernel oil is taken from the nut or seed of the fruit.

The trees are native to Africa but are also grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and some Latin American countries.

Products That Contain Palm Oil

Traditionally, palm oil was used for cooking in many African and Asian countries. But now you can find it in many of the products you use every day. 

  • Palm Oil Products
  • Soap
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Personal Care Products
  • Cosmetics
  • BioFuel
  • Animal Feed
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Ramen noodles
  • Margarine
  • Ice cream
  • Cookies
  • Chocolate
  • Packaged bread
  • Cereals
  • Doughnuts
  • Potato chips

Palm is found in 50% of consumer goods so it’s pretty hard to avoid unless you make things from scratch.

Different Names for Palm Oil

Even though Palm oil is found in a variety of products you may not be aware that it is there. It can be known by many other names on an ingredients list. 

Below is a list of ingredient names that are made from palm oil or may represent palm oil on an ingredients list:

  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Fat
  • Palm Kernel
  • Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palm Fruit Oil
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmolein
  • Glyceryl
  • Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Palm Stearine
  • Palmitoyl Oxostearamide
  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Kernelate
  • Sodium Palm Kernelate
  • Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Ethyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Palmityl Alcohol

Palm Oil Deforestation

About 10 years, I remember hearing about blood diamonds, sometimes called conflict diamonds. These diamonds were sold to the jewelry industry to support wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, and DR Congo.  

So, I was a bit surprised to see that name attached to palm oil. Environmentalists call it ‘conflict palm oil’ because it is the leading cause of rainforest destruction today.

It is estimated that 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every hour in South East Asia for agriculture. 

Remember there has to be a balance in nature. So, when the rainforest is destroyed, the wildlife that thrives there has no place to go. Animals like the Sumatran Rhino, Elephant, Orangutan, and Tiger are on the brink of extinction.

Now think back to high school biology. Remember that lesson about plants turning carbon dioxide that animals breathe out into oxygen. 

Well just imagine for a moment if we didn’t have plants to complete the cycle. The atmosphere would have too much carbon which then leads to global warming.

The balance of nature is being thrown out of whack.

“The clearing of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands for new plantations is releasing globally significant carbon pollution, making Conflict Palm Oil a major driver of human-induced climate change. (

Palm Oil is Not the Only Problem

To be fair palm oil is not the only reason for deforestation. According to an independent EU report, 55% of worldwide deforestation can be attributed to the conversion of forest land to land for crop production, ruminant livestock production, and industrial Roundwood (logging).

Palm oil gets a bad rap but so should soybeans and rapeseed. They have required more land and have a higher negative environmental impact. 

Between 1990 and 2008 forests were cleared to make 24% livestock and 29% for crops.

Soybeans are actually the main reason for the deforestation of the Amazon. 

Palm Oil in Soap Making

According to The Science of Soapmaking, soap-making oils can be divided into different families. Tallow, lard, and palm oils fall into the palmitic family. 

These oils are solid at room temperature and help produce a hard bar with stable lather. In soap making, palm oil is normally used with coconut oil to help stabilize the lather and produce the ultimate hard but bubble bar of soap.

Palm Oil Alternatives

If you choose to not use palm oil in your soap then you can substitute similar oils or fat.

Palm oil substitutions

  • Cocoa butter
  • Shea butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Babassu oil
  • Adding sodium lactate for hardness

Or add more vegetable oil like olive oil in combination with coconut oil. Olive oil makes an initially soft bar of soap but will harden over time. 

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Sustainable Palm Oil

The challenge is that palm oil is deeply planted into all aspects of our life. It’s very difficult to escape because the big corporations are the ones that continue to bring it to the market.

If you do decide to continue using palm oil then I advise you to buy RSPO certified products because their supply chain can be traced. 

I personally don’t believe that boycotting the entire palm oil industry is a solution. Those that are doing the right thing and using sustainable methods should be rewarded with increased business. 

As a soap maker, I do use palm oil in some of my formulas but others are palm-free. However, the palm oil that I use is sustainably sourced.

Wrap Up: Palm Oil in Soap Making 

As a soap maker, I use palm oil in some of my formulas. But that’s my choice. If you feel the need to avoid palm oil in your soap then that is yours. 

But then you should also think about limiting the amount of meat you consume and soybean products. Since they pose an even greater threat to the environment than just palm oil.

What do you think about palm oil? Please leave your comments below?

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For more information about palm oil or if you want to assist with saving the rainforest please click on any of the links below:

  • Impact of EU consumption on Deforestation Technical Report 2013, commissioned by the EU carried out by three private consultants
  • RSPO-

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