Any clean beauty connoisseur is no stranger to the vilification of palm kernel oil. As the most heavily used vegetable oil in the food and cosmetics sector, it’s renowned for its affordability and versatility. By next year, the global palm oil market is expected be somewhere in the range of $88 billion with nearly 60 million tons produced annually.
Over the years, palm’s popularity has become synonymous with deforestation, displacing indigenous peoples in Indonesia and Malaysia (where approximately 85% of the world’s palm is sourced), contributing to climate change through extensive carbon emissions from harvesting-related fires, and even driving orangutans toward extinction.
As the personal care industry continues to innovate, conscientious raw materials sourcing is vital. So, when CORPUS began formulating our new bar soaps, we purposefully chose a non-palm oil base that aligns with our mission and vision of principled and trustworthy sourcing. The source? Coconut oil.
Coconut oil is very similar to palm oil in that it is high in lauric, palmitic, and oleic acid. Its composition of nourishing fatty acids makes coconut oil a premium ingredient in soaps. To saponify, coconut oil produces sodium cocoate upon reacting with sodium hydroxide. Coconut oil is known for keeping firmness in a bar soap formulation and provides a notable bubbly lather and cleansing properties.
While palm and coconut oil serve similar functions in a bar soap formula, choosing one over the other requires a nuanced understanding of their farming, supply chain, and impact. Avoiding palm can seem like an almost futile undertaking due to its omnipresence across product categories, but boycotting the crop isn’t always the most straightforward solution.
Advocates for palm oil often plug that it’s four to ten times more productive in terms of yield compared to other oils, like soy or sunflower. But this fact only paints half the picture. Raw materials should also be evaluated comparatively on how they affect biodiversity and carbon stock. For instance, most palm grows in southeast Asia whereas crops, like sunflower, flourish in less biodiverse areas where carbon stock is lower and so is their resulting environmental impact.
CORPUS also considered the whole plant and its life cycle. Coconuts produce many byproducts beyond just the oil. We use its exocarp, milk, cream, and water. With palm, you’re only reaping the oil as we do not upcycle the mesocarp or kernel. And while both coconut and palm are considered mono crops, palm is often grown solely on monoculture farms. Conversely, coconuts are often planted with other crops, like coffee and banana.
After an extensive analysis assessing the most sustainable and transparent suppliers, CORPUS elects to use coconut oil in these bar soap formulations.=
IS PALM-FREE THE SOLUTION?
Due to increased marketing around “free-from” claims, palm-free products are trending. But by whom, where, and how a raw material is grown and how it gets to your bathroom can sometimes be of greater importance than an ingredient’s profile. As is the case with palm oil. Currently, there is no global governing body certifying sustainable coconut oil. Since 2004, palm oil has had the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which monitors compliance with social and environmental criteria to produce sustainable palm oil. While the RSPO has been rightfully criticized in the past for turning a blind eye to egregious members failing to uphold their standards, they are laudably on the right path moving forward. Currently, RSPO members only supply 19 percent of the global supply of palm oil.
It is imperative that brands, like CORPUS, that currently favor coconut oil allow the history of palm oil in personal care to serve as an invaluable lesson. We cannot make the same mistakes that we did with palm oil over twenty years ago. We must avoid shifting the problems with palm onto another crop. After all, if coconuts are grown with child labor, as has been the case in some parts of the world, coconut oil sourced from such a supplier cannot be the moral choice.
At CORPUS, sourcing raw materials for products embodies a continuous improvement model. As knowledge in the space evolves over time, so do we. CORPUS is committed to this ethos and remain flexible as new data become available. Right now, with the knowledge and partners we’ve chosen, coconut oil is the right fit for our desired soap texture and overall brand values.