Why your beauty products need to be palm oil free

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Palm oil is a so-called miracle ingredient – used in everything from food, cosmetics, cleaning products and even biofuel – that sadly, has led to devastating environmental consequences.

Palm oil grows in tropical rainforests, which have to be cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, leading to widespread loss of these irreplaceable and biodiverse-rich forests.

It’s not just the millions of hectares of virgin rainforest that is lost to these plantations that is the problem.

Fires set to clear these forests release greenhouse gas emissions, and endangered animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers lose their natural habitat in the process of deforestation. Inhumane labor conditions are also widespread within the palm oil industry.

Choosing personal care products that are palm oil free is thus paramount if you care about the environment.

Given there are over 200 alternate names for palm oil, avoiding it can be tricky, although apps like Chemical Maze can help you decipher whether a product contains palm oil or not.

An even better alternative is to choose a beauty brand that is committed to being palm oil free.

Urthly Organics is one such company.

Julie Andrews founded Urthly Organics over 20 years ago in order to provide consumers with palm oil free alternatives to mainstream beauty products.

Urthly Organics’s product range includes soaps, skincare, body care and home products. The brand has received palm oil free certification from Orangutan Alliance and has been endorsed by Palm Oil Investigations.

Today, Julie tells us why she avoids using the ingredients most other beauty brands use, what led her to become a soaper, and her top tips for leading a sustainable lifestyle.

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Julie, tell us about how Urthly Organics first started.

I was at the Yarra Glen Market back in late 1997 and came across a book ‘How to make your own aromatherapy soaps’ by Elizabeth Wright for $7.

I couldn’t get my purse out fast enough, and low and behold all I had in my purse was $7 exactly. It was to be my bible, my church, my everything, as I had always wondered how people made soap from scratch (this was before the internet).

As a child I used to grate up my mum’s soap and mix it with water and create balls. I used to make rose water by boiling up rose petals. I also had a soap collection that would grow every birthday and Christmas.

I finally gathered up the courage to make my first batch of soap after buying Wright’s book and I haven’t stopped. Today the passion is as strong as it was back in the 90s.

How are Urthly Organics’ products different from mainstream beauty brands?

Well for one, you can read and understand each product’s ingredients and know what it is!

I have a background in pastry cooking so all the skills have transferred over. As I am food trained, I like working with ingredients that can be used in the food industry as well as the soap industry.

I like to keep it as natural as possible so that people are less likely to have skin complaints from using my products.

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Why is it so important to choose beauty products that are free from palm oil?

Palm oil is the evil of the Earth. The amount of deforestation, displaced humans and animals, slave labour, and emissions from the machinery and factories it causes is mind-blowing. All for the sake of money.

Palm oil is a cheap oil. The majority of soap makers use it because it keeps their costs down so they make more money. Yes, it produces a hard bar of soap but so do other more skin-friendly oils.

Palm oil comes in over 200 different forms and the whole palm oil debacle makes me angry. I get angry at companies that greenwash their customers. I get angry at seeing palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see when I go to Asia. I get angry because of other people’s bad decisions, the power and the greed.

If a product contains palm oil or palm derivatives then it is NOT vegan.

Tell us about Urthly Organics’ packaging. Was it important to you to have zero waste packaging?

Back when I started Urthly Organics I admit, it wasn’t something I really thought about, as the awareness just wasn’t there like it is now.

My customers though steered me in the direction that I needed to go. Having zero waste packaging is very important. There is no planet B.

We do still use a small amount of plastic packaging, however we offer refills so a plastic container becomes a keep item.

We also use Ant Packaging, which produces our hand and body wash pump bottles. These are manufactured from recycled plastics not new resources, and I feel very comfortable with that.

Plastic isn’t going to go away unfortunately, but we need to reduce our consumption of it.

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It’s your mother who paints the beautiful flowers on your labels, right? How did she get involved?

My 79-year-old mother took up painting in October 2018. She texted me a photo of a painting she had just completed and it was amazing; I knew it would look awesome on our packaging.

I was going through a packaging change at the time but wasn’t really happy with the look, and when my mother sent this photo through a light bulb moment occurred.

My mother is really chuffed to see her paintings on all the packaging and especially when she frequents stockists and sees it there on the shelf.

I am proud of what my mother has produced and she has some real talent, I can only imagine the work she would be capable of if she took it up a lot earlier.

As well as being sold via online store like Biome, you also sell your wares at local markets. Do you enjoy having that contact with customers who are buying directly from you?

I started out doing markets. My first endeavour was at St Andrews Community Market and I made $180. To this day I still go to the St Andrews Market and still some days I only make $180, but those days really ground me.

I love to have customer contact, as people are purchasing a part of me and I get to chat to them. It still makes me feel good knowing that people want to purchase something I have made.

The feel-good comments from customers make me feel awesome, be it online or in person.

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What are some of your tips for living an eco-friendly lifestyle?

Here are some of the best tips I have…

  • Use Fowlers jars, use the good plates, use the good perfume… Otherwise it becomes “stuff”.

  • Declutter your living space at least once a year and donate to op shops.

  • Purchase from someone that has made it themselves, know where your purchases come from and the story behind it.

  • Throw a spoon and fork from your kitchen drawer into your bag when you’re on the go.

  • Don’t throw out the old pillowcases, use them as produce bags.

  • Learn to crochet/knit and sew, learn basic life skills, seek out those who will teach you, there is always someone out there who will do it for a swap of something.

  • Think of how our ancestors used to live and take some lessons from those times.

  • Take a walk and smell the roses, hug a tree, feed the birds and plant trees.

  • The less we have the happier we are and the happier our surroundings are.

  • Pick up rubbish, even if it isn’t yours, help the less fortunate and be humble.

Thank you for your time, Julie!