Marla Bosworth is the founder and owner of Back Porch Soap Company. She teaches classes, corporate events and experiences including candle making, soap making, organic skincare and perfumery.

March 21, 2012

Palm Oil in Cosmetics Series: Part Two

This is a multi-part series on the usage of palm oil in soaps, beauty products and cosmetics. First we discussed the environmental effects of palm oil harvesting. This post will give suggestions on how to formulate palm-free, cold process soaps. Future posts will include substituting palm-based waxes in creams and lotions and a few guest posts from some of my new friends in the world of saving orangutans.

Photo credit: Liz Vagg
Tips for Creating Palm-Free Soap
Palm oil contains palmitic fatty acids, which brings hard bar and stable lather attributes to cold process soap. By giving up palm in your soap recipes, you’re going to have to allow for a longer cure time or “outsmart” your recipes. One way to do this is to substitute other oils or butters that are high in palmitic fatty acids. Some options are shea butter and cocoa butter. When you consider how brittle cocoa butter is, it is easy to see how it would add a hardness to cold process soap. Typically I create recipes with 15% or less of shea or cocoa butters.

Another way to compensate and create a harder and longer lasting bar without using palm oil is to use beeswax. Use at a rate of about 1 oz. per lb. of oils and melt with the base oils.

Salt will help add hardness to your soap. Simply add one teaspoon of salt per pound of oils to the lye water and mix well to dissolve. Sodium lactate is also widely known to effectively create a harder bar. Use it at a rate of 1-3%.

Water Discounts
Another tip to creating palm-free bars is to water discount (to reduce water in soap recipes) to create a harder bar with less shrinkage. Safety note: water discounting is not for beginner soapmakers. By using less water but same amount of lye, you are increase the strength of the lye water. This means your lye water is much more concentrated. A simply splash is more dangerous. (Wear gloves, goggles and protective wear at all times when working with lye.)

Aside from being dangerous, the bonus with water discounting is a faster cure time.  Start with a 40% water discount and see how your recipe handles the reduced water content. It’s important to remember that the physical limit to combining lye and water is 50% ( 1 part lye to 1 part water) although I don’t recommend going that extreme with the discount. (Math tip: the percentage is the reduction of the water being used, not an increase in water.) With less water, your lye water is going to be extra concentrated so use extreme caution when handling and test your recipes in small batches. I will write a blogpost on the details of water discounting as it can be confusing.

So is dropping palm oil out of your soapmaking repertoire going to be completely seemless? Probably not. Are you going to have to test your recipes and reformulate them? Most definitely. But consider the flipside: your  money spent on palm oil and palm-related products supports the killing of orangutans and the deforestation.

Palm-Free Soap Recipes

“This One’s for the Orangutans” Soap
49% Olive
26% Coconut
15% Cocoa Butter
10% Rice Bran Oil

“Wonderfully Nutty Palm-Free Soap”
42% Olive
33% Coconut
15% Shea Butter
10% Sweet Almond Oil

As of May 2012 our company will be completely palm-free. Our soapmaking and cosmetic courses will no longer use palm oil either.

I'd love to hear your tips for making cold process soaps without palm oil. If you create palm-free soaps please post below.


Jennifer Young said...

Great Post!! Glad to see someone else palm free and helping others to be palm free as well!! I use Olive, Coconut, Shea Butter and Castor Oil in all of my soaps... sometimes adding other oils as well. I also discount water and continue to experiment with discount limits. Look forward to your post about water discounts. xo Jen

backporchsoap said...

Glad you liked it, Jennifer. And thrilled that you are also palm-free in your soapmaking! cheers, Marla

Unknown said...

Thanks for this. I'm a relative beginner at soapmaking, and just when I thought I had the perfect formula (which included Palm and Palm Kernel), I have decided to start formulating Palm Free. For some reason even the use Certified Organic palm oils doesn't sit right with me. i have been considering some Sodium Lactate in my soaps. My only concern is that I rarely see this being used, even though it seems like the perfect solution. Are there any drawbacks to sodium lactate that I am not aware of?
Thanks again,

backporchsoap said...

Congrats for going palm-free, Elizabeth! No drawbacks to sodium lactate - enjoy!

Le gars qui tricote said...

I have a made a batch of soap last weekend using olive, avocado, coconut, coco butter and castor oil. I'm very satistified with the result. Going palm-fee makes me feel better!
Thanks for the tips.

backporchsoap said...

Congrats, Guy! Sounds like you're onto a fabulous, palm-free soap recipe!

SUZ said...

Hi Marla, I have been using an olive, coconut, cocoa butter, shea butter, and castor with good results, also a very small water discount. Initially I tried using more olive, but wasn't pleased with the drying time and the slippery feel of the it's about 45 olive, 30 coconut 15 shea, and 10 cocoa butter, and an added ounce of castor added in (also figured in with the lye calc). Also figured out to use deodorized cocoa butter in some fruit scented soaps (yuck, enough said), but the natural cocoa in some like strawberry, or nag champa is dandy! Best to you and yours, Susan

the ladybug said...

Hi Marla, I have been palm-free for more than 3 yrs. I had a customer request for a palm-free bar because she was allergic to it. I formulated a bar she loves. I was skeptic in the beginning but the result was and is awesome. I read about the rainforests being decimated and ruining the habitats of the creatures that live there. I swore off palm oil from that point on. Thank you for the recipe suggestions I look forward to creating some of them.

backporchsoap said...

Suz and The Ladybug,
Thrilled that you both have gone palm-free.
And Ladybuy - three years? Awesome!

the ladybug said...

Hi Marla. I've been creating palm-free soap for about 3 yrs. After a customer request for it due to her allergies and reading about the rain forest devastation I stopped buying it. I look forward to creating new palm-free recipes and educating others. Thank you for all you do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marla,
I use Olive, Coconut, Palm and Castor oils in my soap. I discount the water and add Sodium Lactate. Could I just drop the Palm oil, increase the others and call it a day? Thank you, Bryan

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