Palm Oil Substitutes for Cold Process Soap Making

Due to a rapid rise in environmental concern amongst a lot of our customers, it is important that we as suppliers offer the best advice and support we can when choosing the right ingredients for certain products.

A question we have been asked most recently is ‘What is the best alternative to Palm Oil in cold process soap?’

It is important here to mention the difference between Palm oil and Palm kernel oil. Both come from the palm oil tree, palm oil is pressed from the fruit and palm kernel oil is extracted from the seed. Both can be used in soap making and offer different qualities in a finished product.

Palm kernel oil is used to make a white-coloured, harder bar of soap that provides a fluffy, bubbly lather. This oil is in a solid state at room temperature, which contributes to the hardness of a soap bar.

Palm Kernel alternatives:

Coconut oil:

Palm kernel oil is actually chemically more similar to coconut oil than palm oil, which is why we use both palm and coconut oils in our soaps, as both give different properties.

*For more information about coconut oil and it’s properties in skincare, refer to our recent article from Stephensons.

Babassu Oil:

Indigenous to Brazil, Babassu oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the seeds of the Babassu palm.

  • Oil type – Brittle
  • Cold pressed
  • High in Lauric acid for a good ‘fluffy’ lather and wonderful cleansing
  • High in Palmitic to add hardness to soap
  • Excellent natural emollient
  • SAP Value – 175

*Please note, this oil is slightly more expensive than your usual base oil, so would be good for more luxurious soaps.


Palm oil

Palm oil is used to create a hard bar with a stable lather, and is often used to make something more long-lasting and resistant to melting. Using palm oil in your soap will give you a bar that has a moderate amount of cleansing and conditioning properties. This oil is solid only at cooler temperatures, and is sometimes used as a formula stabilizer in cosmetics. Palm oil is also used in candle making.

Palm oil for most people is a key ingredient in soap making because of its excellent lathering and hardening properties. However, in recent years palm oil has gained a bad reputation due to its questionable sustainability. It is important to know that all Palm Oil sold here at the Soap Kitchen is responsibly sourced and fully complies with the ‘RSPO’ criteria.  To learn more about this, please see the end of this blog article.

Palm Oil alternatives:

Some say there is no ‘perfect’ alternative to Palm oil in soap making because of its exceptional results but as always, it is down to product development and personal preferences.

We have already established in this article that Palm oil is used to create a good, hard, and therefore long lasting bar of soap that produces a wonderful, creamy lather.  When searching for a replacement, we need to take these properties in to account as well as cost and of course, sustainability.

Below are some of the most widely used and acceptable substitutes to palm and why:

Shea Butter:

Possibly the best alternative we can suggest here at TSK HQ: A favourite amongst the manufacturing team for sure! Also known as Karite butter, Shea Butter is made from the nuts of Karite nut trees that grow in the Savannah regions of West and Central Africa.

About Shea Butter for soap making:

  • Oil type – Hard (same category as Palm)
  • High in oleic acid – conditioning and lathering properties similar to that of palm
  • Excellent moisturising properties
  • Softens skin
  • Palmitic acid present to contribute towards soap ‘hardness’
  • Organic variation available
  • SAP Value – 128

Here’s a quick and simple recipe to try with Shea Butter as your alternative in CP soap:


Cocoa Butter:

This is a vegetable fat which has a fantastic chocolate-y aroma. It is extracted from the cocoa bean and is also very popular in cooking as well as soap making.

  • Oil type – Hard
  • Provides moisture- good for eczema, dermatitis, stretch marks
  • High in antioxidants
  • Speeds up trace
  • Stable even levels of palmitic, stearic & oleic acids- gives hardness, a creamy lather & good conditioning.

All these factors mean it is a close 2nd to palm oil in soap making.

Animal Tallow or Lard:

Let’s take it back to traditional roots. Before Palm oil, fatty oils such as Tallow or Lard were used, mainly due to their large availability being an animal by-product. Most historic soap recipes would usually call for tallow or lard because of their properties, which are listed below.

This may not be a great alternative for everybody, because Vegan products are now also talking over in popularity from animal products. Again, we are just highlighting all the possibilities out there, leaving you with the biggest range of choices to pick from.

  • Oil type – Tallow and Lard are both hard oils (same category as Palm)
  • Not vegetarian/vegan friendly…
  • However, it’s making good use of animal by-product
  • Inexpensive
  • Excellent creamy lathering qualities
  • Traditionally used to create a hard bar of soap (Similar to reasons for using palm)
  • Similar or close in SAP value to Palm oil – May not need to re-formulate recipe
  • SAP Values – Beef 1405, Pork – 0.138,  Sheep 0.1383,  Goat 0.1383, Deer 0.1379, Lard 0.138


If you want to discover more about all of the different types of oils that can be used in cold processed soap, their properties and fatty acid %’s check out the link below:

About Palm oil and ‘RSPO’

“If it’s grown sustainably, palm oil production can benefit local communities, and help to protect valuable species and forests. By using sustainable practices, farmers can increase their income by making more palm oil from less land” – RSPO

Why is this important?

The palm oil supply chain, from the tropics to its use as an ingredient in retail products all over the world, is complex. It can be hard to know exactly where the palm oil in the final product has come from.

To ensure the credibility of the sustainability claim at the end of the supply chain, all organisations that take legal ownership and physically handle RSPO certified sustainable oil palm products need to be supply chain certified. Transparency and credibility are assured through RSPO Supply Chain Certification and RSPO Principles and Criteria Certification.

It is also worth noting, as this is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment, that as humans in general we are using the earth’s resources to the point of destruction, if it’s not Palm oil plantations, then it’s soya or Shea. By boycotting one product, this will naturally put more pressure to produce larger amounts of another, so we should really be looking at how we can use highly renewable and sustainable products as we move into the future and start caring for our planet so the next generation (humans and animals alike) will still have a home.



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