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Substitution of renewable oils and fats in skin care products?


Cosmetic oils and fats are gained from different sources:

  • Fossil raw materials - crude oil, shale oil, ceresin wax, natural gas and coal. They predominantly result from residues of dead microorganisms (crude oil, natural gas) and extinct forests (coal). Their resources are limited though.
  • Animal oils and fats
  • Vegetable oils and fats
  • Synthetic oils and fats gained after chemical processing of fossil, animal and vegetable raw materials.

In the last decades, the focus has moved though. Fossil paraffins, mineral oils and waxes have largely been replaced by renewable vegetable oils and fats. Animal oils and fats actually are no longer used. Synthetic oils and fats still are gained from fossil (petrochemistry) or vegetable raw materials.

Destruction of ecosystems

The current focus on vegetable oils, or in other words renewable oils and fats involves a global expansion of arable land, destruction of valuable ecosystems and hence the extinction of animal and plant species due to the fact that existing areas of cultivation are insufficient or not suitable for plantations.

Above all the oil palm cultivation is blamed for the destruction of biodiverse ecosystems in Asia and South America. A good deal is due to the increased consumption of palm oils (palm oil and palm kernel oil) per person in highly developed Western industrial nations and parts of Asia.

Substitution of palm oils

Consequently, the search is on for alternative oils that can substitute palm oils and thereby stop the destruction of ecosystems. In this context it should also be mentioned that review sites on cosmetic products currently denigrate palm oil containing products - even in the case of suspected palm oil content or in other words when they contain ingredients that can be processed from palm oils but also from other oils such as for instance coconut oil. An example is caprylic/capric triglyceride (INCI) alias neutral oil.

An interesting fact is overlooked in this context: with their 3.3 tons of oil on average, oil palms have the highest yield by acre of the oils currently used for industrial production. According to a recent study of the WWF (ISBN 978-3-946211-05-1) compiled in 2016, soybeans yield about 0.4 t/hectare of oil, coconuts and sunflower seeds about 0.7 t/hectare and canola slightly over 0.7 t/hectare. In other words: alternative oils require about 4 to 5 times the size of palm oil plantations. Hence they are not the key to solving environmental problems.

Due to the physical and chemical properties, palm oils, in most of the cases, can only be substituted by coconut oil. A significant aspect for their use in food is that there is no need for hydrogenating, a fact which saves energy and avoids the formation of trans-unsaturated fatty acids that are harmful for the human health.

What are the alternatives?

The only realistic approach to spare ecosystems is to reduce the oil consumption in industrial countries. Since palm oils are not only used for skin care purposes but also in many other areas of our daily life, there is an enormous potential for savings:

  • Food: reducing the consumption of ready-to-use-foods - an aspect that would be beneficial for our own health and facilitate weight loss; focusing on natural foods and minimizing food processing stages; reducing meat consumption - the industrial meat production depends on considerable imports of oily animal feed.
  • Lubricants and fuels: reducing biodegradable lubricants and biodiesel - German biodiesel contains canola oil and international biodiesel is made with soy and palm oil. Vehicles with high fuel consumption in general are counterproductive.
  • Cleansing material: tensides in laundry detergents, household cleansers and liquid soaps frequently are based on palm oil components. This segment has a particularly high potential for savings.
  • Skin care: avoiding the frequent overuse of skin care products. Using emulsifier free products is an additional significant aspect. Emulsifiers induce the loss of skin care oils and barrier substances every time the skin is cleansed.
  • Everyday articles: candles with stearic acid from palm oils are on the increase as they give off less soot than paraffin candles.


According to WWF information, the estimated saving potentials in the different sectors are more than 50% - without any disadvantages. Just like so often, ecology and economy are closely related. Less is more! It is in the hands of everyone!

Dr. Hans Lautenschläger

Please note: The contribution is based on the state of the art at the revision date.

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Revision: 27.05.2021