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Why should I avoid tallow and palm oil?

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Today tallow (sodium tallowate) and palm oil are used in a myriad of personal care products. If you want to life a more vegan, chemical-free and planet-friendly lifestyle, you should consider avoiding such products. Why?

Tallow (or sodium tallowate)

Tallow is rendered animal fat ( ). All types of soap are salts made from a chemical reaction between fat and an alkali substance. Many throughout history have used animal fat, also called tallow, to make soap. When animal fat is mixed with an alkali substance, it can produce sodium, magnesium, or potassium tallowate. All three types of salt are used as soaps.

Nowadays, many soaps you buy in stores are made with synthetic chemicals. However, you can still find soaps made from animal fat, called tallow soaps. They often contain fewer chemicals and are often marketed as hypoallergenic.

At Wild4men we never use any animal derived products or synthetic chemicals. For example, our soaps exclusively use organic plant oils (shea butter, coconut, olive and sunflower - no palm oils) which are mild, moisturising and produce a rich lather.

“Sustainable” Palm Oil

Palm oil is used in everything from cosmetics to food to soap. There is enormous demand for it. But it is hugely controversial because it involves the clearing of tropical rainforests to grow palm oil plantations. This has led to the loss of biodiversity and habitat for under-threat animals such as the orang-utan.

Some companies are signing up to comply with a standard known as "sustainable" palm oil. There is a generally-agreed global standard set by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is made up of oil palm growers, retailers, NGOs and manufacturers.

To become officially "sustainable", a company pledges not to clear any primary forest, to have transparent supply chains, to check how much carbon they are emitting, to limit planting on peatlands, to treat workers fairly, and create wildlife zones.

In 2016 75% of the total palm oil imports to the UK were “sustainable”. Many large retailers and leading brands use it.

However, sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable. There has been a significant loss of forest and ecosystem degradation caused by palm oil which has attracted attention worldwide.

Although some of the palm oil production has been certified as sustainable, many concerns have emerged. From 2001 to 2016 in about 40% of the area located in certified palm oil concessions there is evidence of forest loss and significant tree loss has been detected before and after the start of certification schemes. Certified concessions do not differ much from non-certified ones in terms of forest degradation. See the following publication:

Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, Jingjing Liang, Alena Velichevskaya, Mo Zhou, Sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 652, 2019, Pages 48-51, ISSN 0048-9697, .

Greenpeace argues that palm oil is really not sustainable:

Greenpeace released research on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the certification system touted as the responsible option for the commodity that has been shown to be linked to deforestation, endangered wildlife deaths and massive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenpeace’s “Certifying Destruction” report shows that the RSPO is not producing anything near to truly sustainable palm oil. Unless of course you think allowing deforestation and peatland destruction is sustainable. They go on to say that the RSPO is in the business of certifying and selling destruction in its palm oil, not sustainability.

The only answer is to carefully read the labels on the products you buy. Just because a product claims to be “natural” or use “organics” does not mean it is vegan or completely organic. Many products will additionally add synthetic chemicals to produce the effects they believe consumers desire. Love your skin - you really can make a difference, support your vegan lifestyle and help preserve our planet.

These are the top selling soap bar brands in the UK and their list of ingredients. You can judge for yourself whether these are the ingredients you want to use on your skin each day:

  1. Dove Beauty Cream Bar - Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Fragrance, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891)

  2. Imperial Leather Bar Soap - Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Palmate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water, Glycerin, Etidronic Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Talc, CI 71140, Linalool, Citronellol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, CI 11680, CI 74260, Benzyl Benzoate, CI 77266, Eugenol, Geraniol, Coumarin, Fragrance, CI 77491, CI 12120

  3. Simple - Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Aqua, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Tetrasodium EDTA, Etidronic Acid

An example “Natural” soap brand:

  1. Faith In Nature Natural Coconut Hand Soap Bar - Sodium palmate, Sodium cocoate and/ or Sodium palm kernelate, Aqua (Water) Glycerin, Parfum, Cocos nucifera oil, Sodium chloride, Sodium citrate, Benzyl alcohol.

Compare this to our Naked soap – water, sodium hydroxide, coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil and sunflower oil (all oils are organic).


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