What helps make your lip gloss shiny and colourful, your face cream soft and your foundation smooth? In most cases, it’s palm oil – an ubiquitous produce that hides in an astounding 70% of all beauty products.
Mega-companies and wealthy individuals are building fortunes from cosmetics and skincare lines that are deeply entangled with palm oil, but refuse to do anything about using an ingredient in their products that is decimating rainforest and the animals who live there.
In recent decades particularly, Southeast Asia has seen unsustainable palm oil expansion that has led to massive deforestation, toxic pollution and a severe increase in greenhouse gas emissions that has contributed to climate change. If you think that’s not serious, how about this: in the last 20 years alone, 80% of orangutan habitats have been destroyed due to palm oil production.
While the conversation on cultivating sustainable palm oil has dominated discourse, forcing many cosmetic brands to source the oil sustainably across the world, in India, the glamorous cosmetics industry appears to be still concealing the issue.
So, how does palm oil relate to personal care and cosmetic products you ask?
More than 200 plus ingredients used in skincare and haircare products globally are derived from this oil. From holding together your favorite lipstick to preventing your moisturizer from splitting into a watery mess, and lending that foaming action to your favorite soap and shampoo, derivatives of palm oil literally power most ingredients of the beauty industry.
That, it’s the most inexpensive vegetable oil in the world, and has a long shelf life, make its use even more lucrative for the industry.
The worst part about its usage, perhaps, relates to how difficult it is to actually spot it. Nearly all palm oil derivatives are hidden under names that don’t contain the word ‘palm’, making it almost impossible for consumers to know the difference.
While discussing palm oil derivatives, it’s important to talk about two compounds: emulsifiers and surfactants. All water-based products, including stuff like lotions and creams, require emusifiers, so products don’t separate. And, almost all of them are palm oil-derived.
Most soaps, cleansers, toothpaste, shampoos, and even detergents use surfactants, that often foam in products when used with water, which is derived from palm oil.
If you spot these ingredients in the makeup, soap, shampoo or personal care products that you use, know that it contains palm oil:
The devastating environmental implications of using palm oil is, inevitably, getting worse. But, around the world, the sustainable palm oil movement has been growing.
In India, this interest is currently minimal, which means that the domestic market has little pressure to change the status quo.
The ironic bit? As the largest consumer of palm oil in the world, India has the power to pressure both suppliers and companies into sustainability and demanding deforestation-free products.
It’s only a matter of consumers deciding to exercise this power.