How to spot palm oil - and how to avoid it

Palm oil is in around half of all products found in British supermarkets, but in many cases this is not clear from the label. In the UK, the sources of all animal and vegetable derived fats in food products must now be listed on packaging. This means that palm oil can no longer be listed just as 'vegetable oil', it must state that it contains palm oil.


Sadly, the labelling of palm oil derivatives is not so simple. Many ingredients contain palm oil derivatives and it is incredibly difficult to spot them. There is no foolproof way to make sure you avoid them in your day to day life, but there are a few simple tricks that make it easier to spot them in ingredients lists.

Ingredients that definitely contain, or are derived from, palm oil

There is a huge list here, which can be simplified as follows:

Anything containing the word 'palm' such as palm kernel, palm stearine, palm fruit oil or more technical name such as palmitate, palmate, and palmitoyl. There are a lot of other technical names containing the word 'palm'. If you see this forming part of a word, you can assume the product contains a derivative of palm oil.

Additional terms to look out for that are definitely derivatives of palm oil are:

Elaeis Guineensis, Saponified Elaeis Guineensis and Sodium Kernelate.

Ingredients that could be either palm or coconut oil

In most instances, these are likely to contain palm oil. So unless you are aware that the company is ethical and manages without palm oil, it is a good idea to either contact them and ask what they use, or avoid the product. Again, this is complicated but can be slightly simplified:

SLS - present in most soaps, foam washes, shower gels, bubble baths and anything else that foams when you use it. This may also be listed as Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate.

Ingredients containing the words 'sodium' or 'sulphate', such as Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (also known as SDS or NADS), Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye and Fatty alcohol sulphate.

Anything containing the words 'cetyl' or 'isopropyl'.

Ingredients derived from palm or other vegetable oils

These are usually derived from palm oil, so the same advice would apply as in the category above in terms of checking the source. To simplify this category:

Ingredients containing the wordS 'Steareth', Stearate or Lactylate

'Cocoa butter equivalent' or 'cocoa butter substitute' (CBE or CBS)

Ingredients containing 'glycerol' or 'glyceryl'


I do appreciate that even with my attempts at simplifying it, this is still an absolute minefield. That is the main reason why I started this website. There are some amazing companies out there making products that are genuinely ethical and free from palm oil. Do check out the directory for more information.


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