Palm Oil in Cosmetics

Do you know which of your toiletries contain palm oil?

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Cosmetics
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Palm oil is present in many everyday cosmetic products and just 3% of people who we asked were able to identify palm oil on a product label.

With much talk of sustainability, climate change, and developing a cleaner and more efficient way of living, consumers are increasingly looking to make small changes that could affect the way that we consume not only food, energy, and plastics, but also cosmetics. We surveyed our exclusive consumer panel OpinionHive to ask them what they thought.

Palm oil in everyday products

The panel was asked to choose from a list of everyday products and tell us which ones contained palm oil.

Surprisingly, 74% of people did not know that toothpaste contained palm oil but identified lipstick (46%), hair wax (45%), and moisturiser (44%) as products that did. Just 20% of people thought deodorant, nail varnish (21%), and blush (25%) were likely to contain palm oil.

95% of people also told us that they had bought at least one product from this list in the past 12 months.

Products that contain palm oil
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Bearing in mind palm oil is hard to spot in some products, are people turning to palm oil free cosmetics?

We asked if knowing that lipsticks, shampoos, or toothpaste contained palm oil, would affect their purchase decisions. Just 18% of people who buy cosmetic and health products have tried palm oil free.

11% of people had made an effort to source a shampoo that did not contain palm oil, but only 2% of those who buy lipstick had opted to go palm oil-free.

Labelling of Palm Oil

Clear labelling is a problem across the cosmetics and health care sectors and big brands are not helping the consumer to easily identify which products do and do not contain palm oil. It is not easy to spot on labels if beauty and personal care products contain palm oil nor ingredients that people may be allergic to.

We showed our panel a cosmetic product label and asked them if it contained palm oil or palm oil derivatives.

84% of respondents were unable to tell if the product contained palm oil.
16% said that the product contained palm oil.
Just 3% could identify the palm oil derivative (sodium lauryl sulphate).

Is palm oil clearly labelled?
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In a previous survey about Sustainable Palm Oil, 15% of people surveyed said that they recognized the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo, yet this is a considerable increase from only 5% in March 2016. Even among the most engaged members of the public, the logo is not well known, with 64% of people who say they always avoid unsustainable palm oil not recognizing the RSPO logo.

We also asked how they would check if a product contained sustainable palm oil. Only 0.8% of responders named the RSPO eco-label pointing to low adoption of the sustainable palm oil logo by brands and manufacturers.

So are people choosing not to buy products that contain palm oil?

Only 16% of people had stopped buying a cosmetic product because it contains palm oil, with shampoo and moisturiser being first to go.

However, 30% of people have stopped buying non-cosmetic products containing palm oil and, in some cases, opted for palm oil-free alternatives. Alternatives such as peanut butter, chocolate spread, and biscuits were by far the most popular shopping switches, followed by bread, cake, and margarine.

If people are boycotting products with palm oil, what is a possible alternative?

Is coconut bad for the environment?
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Coconut appears to be the vegetable oil of the moment, with consumers perceiving it as healthier (43%), better for the skin (40%), and better for the environment (47%) than palm oil.

Although 56% of people would prefer to buy products containing coconut oil instead of palm oil, 41% are not sure if it is bad for the environment and just one in four say coconut oil is environmentally friendly.

However, it is uncertain whether coconut oil is an effective alternative to palm oil as palm is the higher yielding vegetable oil and both lead to the deforestation of tropical rainforest.

Find out more:
You can download the Palm oil in cosmetics Fact Sheet here.

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