Spreading Clean Beauty

The value of sustainable plant-based oils and how to spot them

Plant-based oils have become a widespread component with countless applications. Derived from the seeds, fruits, nuts, or other parts of plants, they are now a common and essential part of a variety of applications, including cooking, skincare, haircare, and cosmetics.

Forecasts indicate that global demand for vegetable oils is projected to increase by 46% by 2050. In such a context, the importance of companies employing sustainable plant-based oils is inescapable to guarantee as little as possible harm to the environment is performed while meeting global demand for these oils.

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But how can companies ensure they are employing sustainable plant-based oils and pass the final clients’ verdict on ‘green brands’? The much vilified palm oil and the good practices pushed forward by the RSPO might hold an answer.

Why have plant-based oils become a star ingredient in cosmetics

In the context of the cosmetic industry, plant-based oils are valued for their many beneficial properties in the field of natural cosmetics. Often containing beneficial bioactive compounds (such as essential fatty acids, vitamins or antioxidants), they are used in a wide range of formulations aimed at nourishing, moisturizing, and improving the overall health of the skin and hair. 

At the same time, the cosmetic industry sees the value of plant-based oils in some of their intrinsic characteristics: 

  • They’re cost-effective in production: for instance, part of the widespread use of palm oil is due to its high productivity and yields. While palm oil accounts for ~40% of the current global annual demand for vegetable oil, planted oil palm covers less than 5–5.5% of the total global oil crop area due to oil palm’s relatively high yields. 

    In fact, this efficiency in the production of plant oil when compared to most vegetable oils (which require more hectares for the same amount of harvest) has made many to consider palm oil as an ally for sustainability.
  • They allow for the creation of numerous derivatives, serving as versatile raw materials that can be transformed to meet specific cosmetic needs. 
  • They present a high stability and are easy to formulate, as they typically present a chemical composition that is compatible with a wide range of cosmetic ingredients. Also, because they have diverse textures (from lightweight to heavier oils), formulators are able to select oils with specific textures that suit the desired consistency of the cosmetic product.

Frequently asked questions about plant-based oils

What are considered plant-based oils?

Plant-based oils are oils derived from the seeds, fruits, nuts, or other parts of plants, and extracted oils through various methods such as cold pressing or solvent extraction. 

What are examples of plant oils?

  1. Olive oil: extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, olive oil is widely used in cooking. Olive oil for skincare products is also a growing trend.
  2. Coconut oil: derived from the kernel or meat of coconuts, coconut oil is also used in skincare and haircare due to its moisturizing properties.
  3. Sunflower oil: extracted from sunflower seeds, this oil is often used in cooking. Its antioxidant properties have made sunflower oil a trending choice in haircare
  4. Palm oil: derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, palm oil is widely used in the food industry and is also found in many cosmetic and household products.

What are the benefits of plant-based oils?

Plant-based oils offer a range of benefits, and their applications extend beyond just culinary uses, where they present a high nutritional value and flavor-enhancement possibilities. 

Generally speaking, plant-based oils are renowned for being a natural and often more sustainable option compared to some animal-derived choices. They’re also highly versatile in their applications, and related to cultural and traditional uses.

In cosmetics, plant-based oils are often used in skincare products for their moisturizing properties, helping to hydrate and soften the skin. Additionally, many plant oils contain antioxidants that can help protect the skin from free radicals, linked to premature aging. Products like argan oil for haircare provide an outstanding nourishment profile, being rich in nutrients that nourish and revitalize. On top of that, some plant oils, such as chamomile oil and calendula oil, have anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe irritated or inflamed skin.

The importance of choosing sustainable plant-based oils

While the benefits of plant-based oils are many, it’s necessary to mention that unsustainable plant oil production can have several detrimental effects on the environment, biodiversity, and local communities. 

One of the most significant concerns is the clearing of large areas of forests to make way for oil palm plantations, especially in tropical regions. This generates a cascading effect as a factor leading to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitats for species, as well as contributing to climate change, air and water pollution and significant social and human rights issues. 

This is precisely the reason why more and more companies are committed to using sustainable plant-based oils which guarantee environmental, social and economic harm reduction throughout all stages of oil production.

As such, sustainable plant oil production can commit to avoid deforestation and habitat destruction, as well as minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

These efforts are mirrored by increasing consumer awareness on the issue. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they seek products that align with their values. This results in a growing demand for eco-friendly and socially responsible products, which brands are adhering to. Today, adopting sustainable practices allows companies to differentiate their brands in a crowded market, attracting environmentally conscious consumers and gaining a competitive edge.

The case of palm oil provides a success story for where the future of sustainable plant-based oils is heading.

The rise of sustainable plant-based oils and where to find them

In recent times, the use of palm oil has become synonymous with bad environmental and socioeconomic practices in the public imagination. 

A fundamental part of a wide range of food products, cosmetics, detergents, animal feed, and pet food, it can be found nearly in 50% of the packaged products consumers find in supermarkets. 

Its extreme versatility and stability as well as its resistance to oxidation and odorless and colorless features have largely led to this oil’s massive global demand. Additionally, as we’ve mentioned above, palm oil is produced from a very efficient crop, which produces high quantities of oil over small areas of land and almost all year round.

While the issue of unsustainable palm oil has been raised for decades, it’s agreed that switching to other vegetable oils would create a greater environmental problem, as backed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). After all, getting the same amount of alternative oils (such as soybean, coconut or sunflower oil) would just shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats, species and communities. All in all, it’s been made clear that boycotting campaigns against palm oil are not the answer.

This is precisely where sustainable palm oil comes in. Initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have worked to develop a series of best practices for producing and sourcing palm oil. These involve ensuring palm trees are grown sustainably avoiding deforestation, there’s no new planting on peat-rich soil, fire isn’t used and labor and human rights are guaranteed.

Once again, international certifications provide a framework to guide companies towards sustainable ingredients so that they can align with consumer preferences and be increasingly transparent about their environmentally-friendly practices.

Established in 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), Unilever, Migros, and AAK as founding members, and includes a wide array of stakeholders from key sectors of the palm oil production.

This effort has meant the development and implementation of the most ambitious standard for sustainability in the industry for the production and procurement of sustainable palm oil. With their aim being to “transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm”, today 19.3% of palm oil is certified by the RSPO.

This organization offers different steps and levels of contribution for companies to take in order to crucially shift the palm oil paradigm towards sustainability, as sustainable practices have an impact on numerous points of the supply chain. 

At Provital, we’re committed to contributing to the use of sustainable palm oil. As such, we’ve adhered to the Mass Balance model, where part of the palm oil production is RSPO-certified. All in all, we’ve made sure we’ve done our bit in the advancement and incremental production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

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