Pin It
palm oil deforestation palmless sustainable skincare
Photo by ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images

Could this lab-grown palm oil alternative transform skincare?

Palm oil is one of the most destructive ingredients on the planet, but also one of the most commonly used in cosmetics – Pangaia and Haeckels think they have found a solution

If you are someone who tries to be sustainable when it comes to your beauty routine, it is likely that you have made steps to cut out palm oil from the products on your bathroom shelf. Palm oil is one of the most destructive ingredients on the planet, with its production believed to be responsible for eight per cent of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008. However, with an estimated 70 per cent of cosmetics and skincare products containing a palm oil derivative, it can be a hard ingredient to avoid.  

Pangaia is hoping that it can help you with this. This week, the sustainable brand launched the first-ever soap to contain ‘Palmless’ Torula oil, a new natural, bio-designed replacement for palm oil. The Rewild Body Block, which was created in collaboration with Haeckels and C16 Biosciences, the climate-tech startup that developed the oil, is scented with natural oils to recreate the smell of the rainforest burning down – highlighting the main way in which biodiversity is cleared to make way for the palm oil plantations. Limited edition, with a stock of only 200, the bar itself is housed in treeless packaging made from cotton and bamboo.

“What we’ve been able to achieve with Rewild is very special,” says Charlie Vickery, managing director at Haeckels. “We very firmly believe that Lab-grown ingredients are the next frontier for sustainability. The resource intensity of farming natural ingredients is staggering; what C16 Biosciences has done through their efforts is replicate something made by nature but in a much less resource intensive – and destructive – manner.”

Palm oil is not only widely used in cosmetics and skincare but also food, cleaning products and fuel. Its production brings destruction to biodiversity, wildlife ecosystems and human life since large areas of rainforest are burned down in order to clear the land for palm oil plantations. These fires not only release high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but also destroy the habitats of endangered species such as the orangutan and Borneo elephant. From the rainforests in Costa Rica to Indonesia, the devastation is wide-ranging and significant. The palm oil industry has also been linked to worker exploitation and human rights abuses.

“The issues with palm oil have been widely publicised however the ubiquity of palm-oil is perhaps less known,” says Craig Smith, R&D director at Pangaia.  “To effectively tackle issues of this magnitude, collaboration is essential. By working with the incredible teams at C16 Biosciences and Haeckels, we've been able to showcase a truly innovative and forest-friendly solution to highlight the impact conventional palm oil has on our planet.“

Margaret Margaret Rimsky Richards, global head of marketing at C16 Biosciences, continues: “Palmless was born of dissatisfaction. Our founders witnessed firsthand the devastation created by the palm oil industry and wondered why we are still making products linked to such destruction. They wanted to do better as we face the urgent mandate of climate change.”

Palmless leverages naturally occurring microorganisms and fermentation to create an alternative to palm oil that is rich in antioxidants and sterols and more sustainable. The process of creating this replacement oil through fermentation takes seven days, says Richards, significantly less time than the seven years it takes an agricultural palm tree to yield oil. To create the soap, Haeckels blended the oil with their signature seaweed extract foraged from the shores of Kent, along with organic materials including aloe vera, mandarin peel and vetiver root. All of the manufacturing was done in-house at their production facility on the cliff tops in Margate. 

“We’re certainly betting on Palmless playing a significant role – not only in helping satisfy the explosive global demand for palm oil without having to further rely on deforestation, but also in helping ensure greater stability of supply,” says Richards on whether this oil could be the future of sustainability when it comes to the cosmetics industry. “We set out to create a sustainable alternative to palm oil and in the process developed a novel oil that functions like palm oil but is also bursting with other great stuff – carotenoids such as beta carotene, torulene and sterols such as ergosterol, a powerful provitamin D.”

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.