One of my resolutions for the New Year is to stop using palm and palm kernel oil in my soaps. I actually gave up using it a few months ago, but New Year's Eve seems the perfect time to mention it. Palm oil production is not a sustainable industry, and I cannot justify wrecking valuable farm land for the sake of a few pence per bar while there are people in the world going hungry. The cost to the environment and humans is too great.
I only began using palm at in February of last year. It was a cheap and easy way to add bulk and hardness to my soaps. But have come back to my original recipe of olive, avocado, and coconut. I’ve never found a recipe I like more than my three-oil workhorse. Hazelnut oil is another favourite, and I’ve been subbing it for the avocado in a few recipes with marvellous results. For soap making, giving up palm is painless.
Giving up palm kernel oil will be even easier, since I’ve never cared for it at all. I know a lot of soap makers believe it’s milder than coconut oil, but aside from opinions, I’ve never seen any evidence of this. Palm kernel is expensive and difficult to work with due to its hardness. Scooping it out of the pail requires a mallet and chisel, and I just don’t have the time or energy. I’ll happily stick with coconut oil because it’s never let me down. Coconut oil’s ‘bad’ reputation seems to be down to a quote in an old soap-making book. Of course, this is the same book that advised soap makers to waste valuable ingredients by not scraping down the sides of their soap pans when pouring raw soap into the mold, so questioning the validity of the coconut oil claim isn’t silly.
Sadly, not every soap maker is willing to give up palm, and for this reason, I will have to continue using it for testing fragrance oils. Palm can be a bit brutal on fragrance, and without using it for testing, I can’t assure my fragrance oil customers that the oils they’re buying will perform well enough in any recipe. Palm also allows me to avoid using tallow or lard and still give accurate results. The good news is that I know of a supplier who sells fairly-traded, sustainable palm oil, and while it’s more than double the price of regular palm, I can use it without guilt pangs.