There's a fellow organic company that has published an article that talks about the "dangers of oleochemicals." While this company has my utmost respect, I wanted to respond to some of the claims and implications in this particular article because I feel that they may not be fully accurate.
What is an "oleochemical?"
Oleochemical is an industry term for "any chemical compound derived from animal or plant fats or oils." Source The term's counterpart, petrochemicals, are, of course, derived from petroleum oil. The main point of their article is that, while oleochemicals are being marketed as natural because they're derived from natural oils, the chemical processing these compounds endure are not all that natural and can sometimes leave impurities in the finished product, and are not very environmentally friendly. While I do agree with them on this point, and love their enthusiasm for truly organic products, there are a number of things that I disagree with them on.
First of all, they make a few claims that have no apparent backing. They say: "New evidence shows that oleochemical trans fats used in virtually all "natural" and "organic" body care products, when topically applied to the skin, can inhibit prostaglandins." They cite no sources for this claim, or any at all for the entire article. A search through the National Library of Medicine for "trans fats and prostaglandins" or "topical trans fats prostaglandins" or "prostaglandins skin trans fats" "skin and trans fats" or any other related search yields no results that would back up this assertion.
Second, the article implies that all oleochemicals contain trans fats. It repeatedly uses the phrase "oleochemical trans fats" as if they were completely interchangeable terms. Trans fats equals oleochemicals and oleochemicals equals trans fats, it seems. Hydrogenated oils, because they are substances derived from vegetable oils, by definition, are oleochemicals. But not all oleochemicals contain trans fats. This is a baseless claim that has no proof or backing. Perhaps some isolated fatty acids would contain trace amounts of trans fats, but it's highly unlikely. The distillation process is highly selective, and since a trans fat molecule would have a completely different molecular weight than the isolated fatty acid, they would be separated easily during this process.
Third, they state "body care products aren´t currently covered by the National Organic Program." That's simply not true. According to the Code of Federal Regulations:
§ 205.100 What has to be certified
(a) Except for operations exempt or excluded in §205.101, each production or handling operation or specified portion of a production or handling operation that produces or handles crops, livestock, livestock products, or other agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” must be certified according to the provisions of subpart E of this part and must meet all other applicable requirements of this part."
There are no exemptions included in §205.101 relating to personal care products (it mainly describes the exemption for operations running under $5000 in annual sales.) Thus, ANY product claiming to be organic falls under the National Organic Program.
Finally, the term "oleochemical" seems to be guilty just by its scary-sounding name alone. By definition, cold-processed soap is an oleochemical. It's a substance that has been created from vegetable oils. So, technically, the company who wrote this article, uses "oleochemicals" in their own products!
Not all oleochemicals are dangerous or processed with toxic chemicals. The article has a link to a diagram that implies that vegetable glycerin is harmful because it's an oleochemical. Yes, it is true that vegetable glycerin is considered an "oleochemical" but it also naturally occurs in all soaps. So, because vegetable glycerin is an "oleochemical" should it be removed from the soap? If it were, the soap would be quite harsh on the skin. That's because the vegetable glycerin and the free fatty acids (yes, the same isolated fatty acids that the article warns against) is what gives cold-processed soaps their great moisturizing properties. Soy lecithin (which the company who wrote the article uses) can be considered an oleochemical, as it is a substance derived from vegetable oils. Natural tocopherol can be considered an oleochemical, and yet it carries numerous health benefits. Astaxanthin, curcumin, quercitin, and resveratrol all carry incredible promise as antioxidants as well as other health benefits, and they all could be considered "oleocemicals" as, again, they are separated from plant sources. Just because it can be called an oleochemical, doesn't mean that it's bad.
Again, I want to reiterate that I agree with the spirit of this article. There are too many companies trying to pass of synthetic chemicals as "organic" and "natural," and there definitely are hundreds of dangerous oleochemicals. But just because a substance falls under the term "oleochemical" does it mean that it's dangerous, scary, or harmful.