We all like an ingredient that will help our skin, but we also like to know where that ingredient comes from and what kind of damage has been done to get it into our cosmetics and onto our faces. Case in point: Palm oil (elaeis guineensis), an oil obtained from the palm tree that has people abuzz because it’s origins are far from green. TIA readers are a step ahead of the game; one concerned reader asked of the ingredient’s source early last year, and now it is our turn to dig deeper, this month of Earth Day.

In cosmetics and personal care products, derivatives of palm oil are used as an emollient and have antioxidant properties. But, as a high-in-demand product (the world market for palm oil is projected to exceed 100 million tons by the year 2015, according to a 2010 report), the product is causing a staggering amount of deforestation in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which together almost entirely meet the global demand for palm oil. As a result of the destruction and burning of forest, 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are released, according to Greenpeace. As the cleared land is planted with palm oil trees, there is added plundering in the form of eviction, as indigenous people are forced from their homes and orangutan’s further teeter on the brink of extinction.

Green cosmetic line Lush has recently said they’ll take it no more. The brand washed its hands of palm oil in a 2009 initiative to rid soaps containing the product. According to Lush, the cosmetics industry uses approximately 6-7% of the world’s palm oil, and it’s a main ingredient in many soaps. Since 2007, the company has been reformulating it’s soaps to find a better palm-free alternative. The company even permanently sold out of a line of Jungle soap, a green tree-shaped soap made with a palm-free soap base, of which 100 percent of proceeds were donated to the Rainforest Foundation. 

While Lush jumped off the palm oil ship entirely, the Body Shop was the first cosmetics company to convert to using sustainable palm oil from a plantation in Colombia in 2007. The company argues that it isn’t the ingredient but the manufacturing that must be scrutinized, so they joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which focuses on making palm production less environmentally destructive.

Given the devastating effects, we’ll be asking several companies such as HTY Gold and REN where they source their palm oil. We’ll keep you posted!