Should You Buy a Palm Oil-Free Shampoo?

oil palm plantation
Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

Palm Oil and Its Applications

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are the most widely produced vegetable oils globally. The two products are extracted from the fruits of oil palm. A significant proportion of the world’s palm plantations are in areas that were once tropical moist forests with high biodiversity. Research shows that the demand for palm oil will increase substantially, owing to its nutritional value. This crop is crucial for economies Malaysia and Indonesia, which have a large palm plantation. The nutritional value of palm oil and its derivatives is the main factor driving its large-scale production. Palm oil also has a wide range of applications in the cosmetic industry, including personal care and hair care products.

How Intensive Production of Palm Oil Impacts the Environment?

When harvested in an excessive and unsustainable way, palm oil causes environmental devastation.

High demand for palm oil in the global market has led to a massive expansion of agricultural land used to cultivate it. Large areas of tropical forests have been destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations because oil palms mostly grow in humid tropics. Research shows that an average of 270,000 hectares of forests was converted into a plantation of oil palms annually from 2000 to 2011 in the leading palm oil-exporting nations. Also, there is evidence that about 50% of Malaysian and Indonesian palm plantations in 2005 were once tropical forests in the 1990s. These forests have been home to native people and wild animals for thousands of years. This massive deforestation resulted in communities displaced from their ancestral lands and in an increased number of threatened animals like Bornean Orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros. These animals depend on the environment for their survival and they can’t live in a plantation once their rainforest habitat has vanished. Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan populations have halved in size since 1999.

Palm Oil in Hair Shampoos

Most cosmetics products in the market, including shampoo, contain the ingredients of palm oil. Often, manufacturers of beauty and baby care products add more than one derivative of palm oil into their shampoo products. Palm oil is used in the manufacture of cosmetics for its properties and because it is cheap. Also, this product is a conditioning agent, making it ideal for use in hair treatment. The ingredients of palm oil moisturize the hair. More importantly, it helps restore the natural oil in human hair that fades as a result of using other chemicals present in most commercial shampoos. One, therefore, should be a proactive consumer of beauty products to find a shampoo without the ingredients of palm oil. Many cosmetics that contain derivatives of palm oil, nonetheless, are not clearly labeled. Palm oil and its derivatives, often, appears in many names, including Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.

Palm oil in hair shampoos not only act as scalp cleaners, but it also prevents shaft damage. Accordingly, active ingredients of palm oil are added into hair shampoos in different formulations to treat several scalp diseases. Most people like shampoos that contain the components of palm oil, considering that it keeps the hair aesthetically presentable. Also, it makes combing easy and preserves hair softness while treating the scalp. Typically, hair shampoos contain 10-30 active ingredients, although consumers may find some that contain palm oil and only three other derivatives.

Ethical Beauty Companies

There are several shampoo products without palm oil. Ethique Company is widely known for making cosmetic products without palm oil. Besides its products being palm oil-free, the company also does not use plastics for packaging its shampoos. For this reason, Ethique is one of the most sustainable businesses because it recognizes the environmental effects of relying on cheap, readily available palm oil. On its website, Ethique describes itself as an eco-friendly company because it operates a sustainable business. The beauty company has a wide range of shampoos without palm oil. So, the choice of consumers depends on their scalp and hair condition. Also, Ethique is ethical in that the derivatives in its shampoos do not strip away natural oils in the hair. Lavender and Cocoa Dry Shampoo products, for instance, contain four different palm oil-free ingredients that can clean the hair and scalps like other cosmetics with palm oil.

There are other companies in the beauty and cosmetics industry that use sustainable palm oil. Examples of these corporations are Avalon Organics, LUSH, Aveda, Green People, Unilever, and Plaine Products. Other ethical companies are Dr. Bronner’s, Acure Organics, and Intelligent Nutrition. These corporations are committed to palm oil produced from sustainable sources. More importantly, some of these enterprises provide some amazing products that are completely free from palm oil.

Medical Disclaimer


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