I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about my soap recipes, formulating what I hope will be a good bar of soap with a smooth feel and great lather, but will also leave your skin feeling soft and clean without being tight and dry.
In addition to considering the qualities of the fully cured bar, I also think about which oils will be good to work with in soaping. Which ones will speed up trace or slow it down? Which ones will produce a lighter bar?
I made a decision very early on that I would not use animal fats in my soap making. Tallow and lard make nice, hard bars of soap, and you will find tallow in just about every kind of commercial soap you can buy because it is cheap and makes a great bar of soap. I just didn’t want to use it. I am not vegan or even vegetarian. I use other animal products such as milk, honey, and silk in my soap.
Because I don’t use animal fats, I rely quite a bit on palm oil to add the same kinds of qualities, such as hardness and a stable and creamy lather. Palm oil is controversial because of the practices of some palm oil farmers, who cut down rainforests indiscriminately, threatening the habitat of the orangutan. However, it is possible to use sustainable palm oil. If a seller does not indicate that the palm oil I am purchasing is from a sustainable source, then I do not buy palm oil from that seller.
For a while, I did buy palm oil that I did not know to be sustainable, but I felt wrong about it. I don’t feel wrong about buying sustainable palm oil. Some soap makers will say there is not really such a thing and are moving toward palm-free recipes, which is fine. I think purchasing sustainable palm oil is a good faith, moderate position to take. Think about it like this: What will the palm oil farmers do if the demand for their crop suddenly disappears? I am supporting those palm oil farmers who practice sensible and sustainable farming when I buy sustainable palm oil.
I do have some palm-free recipes, and they are quite nice, too. Dr. Bronner’s website actually has an interesting article about its use of palm oil in bar soaps. Anne-Marie Faiola (the Soap Queen) also has a post about palm oil at Bramble Berry. If you are a soap maker and are looking to purchase sustainable palm oil, Bramble Berry is one of two sources of which I’m aware, the other being Soaper’s Choice.