Coconut oil is touted as a healthy alternative to toxic lotions and skincare products. But is it healthy for the environment, too?
The good news is that in general, the environmental impact of coconut oil is very low. Growing coconuts doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides, and coconuts are harvested by hand, instead of by a giant tractor. So far, so good.
But, it’s not perfect. As demand for coconut oil and coconut water has skyrocketed, coastal mangroves, which are essential ecosystems for animals and provide natural storm protection, are being cleared for coconut monocrops, which are low in biodiversity, deplete the soil, and require intensive input of fertilizer. (Not as much as palm oil, but still.) Normally, conventional coconut farming would be more expensive than the alternative, organic, traditional process. But the Sri Lankan government, for one, subsidizes chemical fertilizers, which makes it cheaper to farm in-organically.
And there is also processing to think about. Many conventional coconut oil brands are refined using industrialized equipment. The coconuts are dried (cooked) into coconut pieces called copra, which are then shipped again to a plant to make the oil. The resulting oil is brown and contaminated, so they refine it, bleach it and deodorize it, often using chemicals like hexane, which is classified as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That doesn’t sound sustainable at all, does it?
4 Eco-Friendly Coconut Oil Beauty Products
Knowing how much you love coconut oil for beauty purposes, we’ve researched brands that talk about how and where from they get their coconut oil. Here they are, for your eco enjoyment:
Conscious Coconut works directly with farmers in the southern Philippines and packaging factories in China, supporting fair trade practices every step of the way. Conscious Coconut tubes are then packaged by adults with mental and developmental disabilities at the MacDonald Training Center located in Tampa, Florida. For every product sold, they donate a meal to a child in need through Feeding America food banks.
Kopari makes a variety of coconut oil skincare products, including deodorant, lip gloss, toner, toothpaste, and more. All of Kopari’s coconut oil is sustainably sourced from the Philippines as part of a movement launched by Cargill, GIZ and BASF in 2013 to improve the livelihoods of Philippine farmers. The project not only improves the livelihoods of the farmers, but also introduces the Sustainable Agricultural Network (SAN) standard, which is the basis for certification by the Rainforest Alliance. After participating in agricultural training programs, over 2,500 small farmers have seen an improvement in their living conditions because of their work.
Cocovit makes coconut oil masks, mists, salts, and balms to leave your skin nourished and fresh. Their products use 100% certified organic, raw coconut oil harvested from a South Indian coconut farm that provides employment to over 30 locals. The oil is extracted from hand-picked, high-quality, fresh organic coconuts.
Hurraw makes coconut oil lip balms that come in lots of different fun (or generic, if you prefer) flavors. Their coconut oil is directly sourced from Mexico and is certified organic and vegan. It is produced in a dedicated NOP and EcoCert certified facility and is extracted using a centrifuged method, which gently separates fresh coconuts and allows a pure raw oil to be obtained.
The coconuts used in Kapaluan products are picked from biodiverse, organic, rural coconut farms and shipped a short way to the processing facility to save on carbon emissions. They are processed in a facility that is healthy and safe, where workers are treated with respect. The coconuts are hand-processed (husked, chopped with a machete, and pressed) in small batches without the use of large, industrialized equipment and kept raw instead of cooked, so that the oil does not need to be bleached or deodorized after pressing. Any processes that use electricity, like electric graters for shredding, get their energy from solar panels. For every product purchased, they plant a palm tree.