Ask Mr. Green: Palm Oil:
Hey Mr. Green,
Since I live in a desert, I need lots of moisturizer to prevent dry-skin eczema. But all the affordable lotions seem to use palm oil derivatives--and harvesting palm oil destroys tropical rainforests, threatening to annihilate our orangutan brethren. What to do?
--Lynda in Las Cruces, New Mexico
Palm oil is in so many products, from cookies to detergents, that it's difficult to avoid unless you carefully read the ingredients of every product you're considering. And even then, palm oil masquerades under many chemical names, such as stearic acid and sodium stearoyl lactylate; the Rainforest Action Network (RAN; ran.org) lists palm oil's other names on its website.
The total global output of palm oil is 53 million tons per year, more than 85 percent of which comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. While the oil's defenders trumpet its land-use efficiency (palms yield 10 times more oil per acre than soybeans do), critics point out that slashing ancient forests to make room for palm plantations destroys vital habitat for endangered species. And while some tout palm oil's value as a renewable fuel, opponents respond that felling and burning rainforests is one of the biggest sources of climate-altering gases--and also robs the planet of a natural method of sequestering carbon.
Activists have persuaded some palm oil producers to implement more sustainable methods, and RAN is petitioning Cargill to adopt environmental safeguards in its huge palm oil business (to sign the petition, go to http://bit.ly/cargillpetition).
Meantime, keep your skin soft and healthy by looking up DIY recipes for homemade lotions--and avoid harsh soaps and long baths, which can dehydrate your epidermis as much as the desert air does.
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