Palm Oil: Should You Be Using It?



What Is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is a type of oil that is used in a variety of skincare and cosmetic products. It is mainly used as a source of vitamin E. It is included in products such as soaps, cleansers, shampoo and some make up. Palm oil is often used to balance out the astringent or drying properties of a product as palm oil helps to hydrate and soften the skin. 

The Oil Palm, from which palm oil is derived has been used for thousands of years. Recently the growth in the palm oil industry has seen a significant increase as its use in skincare and food products has become more popular. This popularity is in part due to the fact that it is a relatively inexpensive ingredient. 

Different from palm kernel oil which is derived from the seed of the fruit, palm oil is a highly fatty oil that remains a semi solid at room temperature. This makes palm oil useful not only for its moisturising abilities but also for its ability to improve the texture of the product. 

With the increase in popularity you may have heard of some controversy over the sustainability of palm oil harvesting.  While the plant can be sustainably harvested and grown there has been a controversy over the environmental impacts of the palm oil industry as it currently operates.

Palm Oil

the good: Palm oil is a great source of vitamin E and helps to make drying products such as soaps, less harsh on the skin.

the not so good: Unfortunately there is some controversy over the environmental impacts and lack of ethical practices used in the harvesting of palm oil.

Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients.

Keep an eye on: Keep an eye out for sustainably sourced palm oil products or for brands who invest in sustainable initiatives.

What Are The Benefits of Palm Oil?

Palm oil, like any plant derived ingredient is not simply one ingredient, it is a combination of a number of fats, vitamins and minerals. While this can present some difficulties as the complex composition can make the ingredient more likely to cause sensitivity and irritation, it also provides the skin with benefits. 

Palm oil consists of palmitic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid and stearic acid. It also contains vitamin E and some species such as the Red Palm are a source of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Palm oil also contains carotenoids which have been linked to having antioxidant properties, phytosterols which may help to improve the appearance of texture and scarring on the skin. As well as capric acid and caprylic acid which may help to improve the appearance of your hair. 

Palm oil, as a fat-rich oil, helps to trap moisture within the skin, reducing moisture loss from your skin to the environment. Palm oils’ fat content is often why it is used in soaps and cleansers, in order to offset the harsh stripping nature of the product. 

What Are The Controversies Around Palm Oil?

As you probably already know, palm oil has a significant impact on the environment. Palm oil harvesting contributes to deforestation, threatening biodiversity and wildlife such as orangutans and perpetuates poverty in areas where locals have lost their land rights. Given the popularity of palm oil, the harvesting of the ingredient does have widespread impacts on the environment and the community in which it is grown.  However, there are groups working with local communities to create sustainable harvesting practices. Make sure to check if your product’s source of palm oil is sustainably harvested.

Is Palm Oil Safe?

The complexity of any plant-derived ingredient can make it difficult to identify which components of the ingredient are safe and non-irritating. However, The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group that is responsible for evaluating the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients, has reviewed the safety of palm oil. This ingredient did not demonstrate any potential for skin/eye irritation or sensitization. Palm oil is known to be compatible with most skin types, particularly when formulated in cleansers or soaps.

CIR, ‘Draft Report of the Plant-Derived Edible Oil Group’, Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel.


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