The Great Lush Hoax

I’ll just come right out and say it: Lush Cosmetics is not a palm-oil free company, and they never have been. 

Some time before the advent of this magazine, I began compiling my own personal list of palm-oil free companies; off to the side, with a big question mark, was Lush Cosmetics. A loyal customer for years, I had always been told by the lovely people who worked at my local store that Lush was proudly palm-oil free. It wasn't until I began to probe further about their synthetics did the truth become clear.

In 2009, Lush did craft the “world’s first commercially available palm-free soap base”, quickly capturing the hearts of animal rights activists everywhere. Tree Hugger wrote an article about the accomplishment shortly thereafter, including this small aside: 

Traces of palm oil still remain, however, because the ingredient is also used to make common soap additives like sodium stearate and sodium lauryl sulfate, which Lush obtains from third-party suppliers. The company says it's working with its vendors to find out how much palm oil is in these ingredients and what surrogates exist.

But that was six years ago. All the while, Lush has been riding a constant wave of granola adoration, yours truly included. And sadly, for six years Lush has continued to use palm-oil in their sodium lauryl sulfate, glyceryl stearate, *, stearic acid, and so on. Is this palm-oil, at the very least, certified? Is it sustainable, regulated by anyone? Shockingly, Lush has no idea. When I asked which supply chain these derivatives might fall under, the response I received each time was the same: 

Our [palm-oil] base does have RSPO Palm, mostly from Malaysia and sometimes from Indonesia. This is all the information we can provide for you at this time, again I apologize if this is not exactly what you were looking for.

In so many words, they don’t have a clue regarding the traceability of the palm-oil they use. Note that their palm base “does have” RSPO palm, some careful wording that should indicate to you that they don’t even know if 100% of their palm-oil is RSPO-certified or not. It might be from Malaysia, it might be from Indonesia. How can they know that the palm-oil they purchase is not born of conflict, displacing endangered animals or clearing carbon-rich peatland? 

* Correction: Lush now uses cetearyl alcohol derived from coconut. 

Image Source: We Heart Fashion. 

Image Source: We Heart Fashion

Well, they can’t. This admission unfortunately makes Lush no better than any other cosmetics company on the market today, buying cheaper derivatives from third party wholesalers. Of the 300+ products that Lush carries, well over half likely contain untraceable palm-oil. To add insult to injury, though their soap base is palm-free, over 60% of their soaps contain palm-oil in the form of added sodium stearate and sodium lauryl sulfate. With Lush operating in over 820+ shops in 50 countries across the globe, it’s safe to say that this level of unregulated palm-oil usage is cause for great concern.

Possibly more shocking than the above disappointment is the amount of people who are blissfully unaware of the issue. For example, a friend posted about Lush's palm-oil problem on her social media and an employee extended this comfort in the comment’s section, “I work for Lush and many years ago we used to use palm oil in our soap but since [sic] 2008 we have worked with SOS an [orangutan] society we no longer use palm oil in our soap or any of our products as we’re aware of the devastating effects it has on these precious animals and the environment.”

But as you now know, that’s a lie. Perhaps not an intentional one, but a falsehood no less. This is the type of reassurance I was also given, however, by countless Lush employees regarding palm-oil over the years. That comment is representative of the thousands of eco-conscious people out there who believe that Lush is a completely green company. The blame, of which, lies squarely on Lush's shoulders, for the training of their staff and the tone of their literature promotes that they are palm-oil free.

Ultimately, this bravado is too misleading, especially when a customer may not understand that Lush is only referring to whole palm kernel oil when they say palm-free, and not synthetic derivatives like SLS:

Unfortunately, there is a still possibility that palm oil could be found in some of the surfactants and emulsifiers we currently use such as Stearic Acid** and Glyceryl Stearate. Regarding Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, it might also have traces of palm oil. Our SLS is naturally derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.

This is what an insecure supply chain looks like.

** Update as of 11/13 - Lush confirms that their stearic acid is wholly palm derived.

I want to champion Lush, I do. I've loved nearly every product I have ever tried and I recognize that they're doing great things with waste and energy management across the board. The problem isn't even entirely that Lush uses palm-oil. Quite simply, a company of their caliber should not be so profoundly disconnected with its supply chain and sourcing in 2015, especially with so many resources at its finger tips. Remember that while their stores are meant to feel cozy and inviting, they are certainly no mom & pop shop. Last year alone the global brand made over 23 million dollars in revenue and it's unacceptable that they continue to market themselves as palm-oil free when they are failing so strongly in sourcing conflict-free materials.

Basically, the world is ready for your next big announcement, Lush. When are you going to deliver? 

Cover image source: Crazy Style Love.

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