The response from the Australian brands has been mixed. Some have wiped claims to being palm oil free from all their marketing and websites, while two others state the chemical process still means there is “0 per cent” palm oil in their nail polishes.
Environmentalists have led palm oil boycotts because aggressive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia to cultivate the palm trees has critically endangered orangutans. The Orangutan Project, which works to save orangutan habitat, said consumers needed transparency.
“Misleading people through false claims and greenwashing not only prevents the individual from expressing their freewill in this particular area, but ultimately creates a sense of helplessness that … reduces future action,” said Leif Cocks, president and founder of the Orangutan Project.
Two Australian brands, Limedrop and Julisa, were still marketing themselves as palm-oil-free this week, saying the manufacturing process meant the actual level of it in their polishes was zero.
Limedrop provided a statement from the manufacturer which confirmed palm oil was used but that it came from a supplier accredited by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil. Founder Clea Garrick said this still supported the assertion that Limedrop is free of palm oil.
“In summary, palm oil is not present as an ingredient in the nail polish we supply. A derivative of palm oil is used in producing one of the raw materials,” the statement from the manufacturer said.
“Due to the manufacturing processes involved the actual level of palm oil in the colours we supply is 0 per cent and therefore does not need to be declared as an ingredient.”
Julisa founder Juliet Siu provided a similar statement, adding she was not aware of the derivative until this week and removed claims of being palm oil free from product listings.
She also updated the brand’s certification webpage to be more transparent about the connection to palm oil.
The Orangutan Project asked for its logo to be taken off Julisa websites after questions from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Julisa replaced it with the logo from ‘Supporting Dugong and Seagrass Conservation’, which Julisa donates a portion of sales to.
Melbourne’s Kester Black, by Anna Ross, deleted all mentions of palm oil from its website earlier this year. Hanami did the same after finding out its products contained palm oil.
The claim is still repeated by a handful of both their stockists although Ms Ross said she had gone to all sellers to correct Kester Black listings.
Ms Ross said even Kester Black manufacturers had been unaware a derivative of palm oil was used.
She said she “made every attempt to inform parties that had published the palm oil free claim and continue to actively raise this” and would continue looking for viable alternatives, as was Hanami.
Biome in August removed all nail polishes from its stores and told the brands they stocked about the derivatives.
“Where I really take issue is the brands that are presenting themselves to the world as being ethical and environmentally friendly, they are not doing the hard work to trace back the ingredients in their products to make sure there’s no palm oil. They’re just sort of putting their head in the sand,” Ms Bailey said.
“Of course, I very readily admit that we were selling these nail polishes ourselves for two years saying we were a palm oil free store.”
Until Biome’s investigation, she said no organisation had ever linked the ingredients to palm oil.
“Both stearalkonium bentonite and stearalkonium hectorite are chemical compositions mixed with bentonite clay or hectorite, which is a principal part of bentonite clay.
In both cases, these clays are then combined with stearalkonium chloride, which contains ammonium salt and stearic acid. The palm oil content is in the stearic acid,” Biome explains on its website.
Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.