Food

7 Things You Use Every Day That Contain Palm Oil

The seemingly inescapable ingredient is responsible for deforestation and wildlife endangerment.

KUCHING, MALAYSIA - MAY 16 2015: Deforestation. Photo of tropical rain forest in Borneo being destroyed to make way for oil palm plantation.
Photo Credit: Rich Carey / Shutterstock.com

People don’t usually think about the destruction of rainforests while washing their hands, applying lipstick, or doing laundry. But thanks to high demand for products containing palm oil, which is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, consumers are inadvertently contributing to deforestation.

Companies in countries such as Indonesia burn or chop down forests to make way for palm oil plantations. The result is severe habitat loss for orangutans and other endangered creatures. Land loss to meet the high demand for palm oil also threatens indigenous tribes because of reduced hunting area. How ubiquitous is palm oil? Here are seven everyday items that contain it.

1. Hand soap.

The bubbles and lather produced when you wash your hands with a bar of soap make you feel like you’re getting clean, but the foaming effect is actually a result of palm oil. Palm oil produces sodium lauryl sulfate, which creates the mass of small bubbles often produced by soap.

2. Toothpaste.

Similar to the lather of soap, the foam produced when you brush your teeth with toothpaste is from the palm oil derivative sodium lauryl sulfate. As you brush, the friction causes the chemical’s molecules to rub up against and cleanse your teeth.

3. Cosmetics.

Palm oil acts as a natural emulsifier that prevents the separation of oil and water in moisturizers and cosmetic products such as foundation, lipstick, and mascara. 

4. Laundry detergent.

Manufacturers use palm oil, commonly labeled as sodium sulfate, to create a uniform density in the detergent. Want to know if your detergent contains palm oil? Look for a label marked “palm oil free” to find out.

5. Processed food.

Almost half of all packaged food products—including cookies, instant noodles, and pizza—contain palm oil. Used to add a creamy taste and a consistent texture, palm oil can be found on ingredient lists as vitamin A palmitate and palm kernel oil. In the United States, palm oil is required to be included on food labels regardless of whether it is blended with other oils. Countries such as Australia and China allow “vegetable oil” as a label substitute.

6. Body wash and shampoo.

Palm oil contains tocotrienol, a member of the vitamin E family. Rich in antioxidants, it removes dirt and oil from skin, making it a common ingredient in body wash and shampoo. A majority of shampoos also contain palm oil as a moisturizer. Conscientious shoppers should avoid products containing ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate and palmolein.

7. Margarine.

The debate over whether butter or margarine is worse for your health has raged for decades, but spreading processed imitation butter may not be the smartest decision if you’re trying to avoid palm oil. Palm oil is solid at room temperature and naturally free of trans fats, making it a common ingredient in margarine. Its cheap cost has led to its increased use in developing countries such as India and China.

This article was originally published by TakePart. Reprinted with permission.

Sophia Lepore is an editorial intern at TakePart and a junior at Long Beach State University. She is the public relations chairwoman for her sorority and has written for The Daily49er.

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