The Palm Oil Dilemma November 22 2014

I had a question via the facebook page asking why, given all the environmental controversy, I use palm oil in my soap.  Here is why:

(If you can’t be bothered to read why, just go to see my Palm Free soaps)

Different oils contain different fatty acids which, when saponified, (the chemical reaction with sodium hydroxide that turns fat into soap) impart different characteristics to the finished bar. For example Olive oil is high in Oleic acid which is moisturising, but makes for a slippery soap that lathers poorly.  Castor oil is almost totally ricinoleic acid, which contributes to a stable lather. Palm oil is high in palmitic acid which gives hardness to the soap.

The secret to a good soap recipe is one which balances the characteristics of the different oils to produce soap with the best of each.  This is why I use 6 or more different oils in my recipe: Olive for moisturising, coconut for bubble, castor for a stable lather, sweet almond and shea butter for nourishment and then the dreaded palm for a hard, long lasting bar.

I won’t lie to you and say there is no alternative to palm. Traditionally lard or beef tallow was used in soap for hardness.  I used to make lard based soap and it was wonderful, but many customers are squeamish about animal products in their soap so I choose to go vegetarian. Other vegetable oils can contribute to hardness such as cocoa butter but they are expensive.

Here is the grubby truth. It comes down to money. I am a start up business and have yet to be big enough to buy in bulk quantities.  My base oils are pricey as it is.  I already spend a lot of time explaining to people why my soap is worth 95Kr when they can pay 20-30 for a bar of Dove or Lano, the most commonly found supermarket brands in Norway. Swapping the palm for cocoa butter would double the cost price of each bar. I just don’t believe you would pay that for soap, at least not until I have built significant brand recognition. 

In addition I am dedicated to making a high quality product. An overpriced soap that squelches to goo in your hand after 2 uses is not my idea of quality. I won't do it.

So that is my dilemma.  Make an expensive palm free soap that no-one will pay for and go out of business before I've even started, or compromise for now and build up the business to the point where I can change over.  I would like nothing more than to change the entire world over to a proper natural soap and I can only do that if my soap company exists viably.  Believe me, I’ve thought a lot about it, and I am always experimenting with alternative recipes. To minimise my impact I only buy Columbian Organically certified, RSPO sustainable certified palm oil. Contact me if you want more details about my supplier.

Having said all of that I DO have some palm free soap!  These recipes are 80% olive oil, with coconut oil and goats milk or buttermilk. The trade off is that they may be softer, and will feel slightly different.  The other palm free soap I have is a cocoa butter recipe and frankly the other products subsidise this one.

I hope this answers your questions. I ask that you go and look at the ingredient list on the back of the product you last used to wash your hands. Was it sodium laurel sulphate based or sodium palmitate based? Now come back and look at the ingredients in my soap.

Hilsen, Rachel x