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Ingredient Watch List: Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, a Mild Synthetic Cleanser

Sometimes, trying to read the ingredients on the back of your product label can get super overwhelming. You may know that sulfates and parabens are best avoided, but then you get into those nine-mile long chemical ingredients like this one: cocomidopropyl hydroxysultaine.


I would say in general, if you come across ingredients like these, you’re not buying from a conscientious, natural or organic manufacturer that cares about your well being. Those manufacturers are more likely to use ingredients that you can actually pronounce. But, in case you’re wanting to give your favorite brand the benefit of the doubt, let’s look at this ingredient in more detail.

What exactly is cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, and is it something you should avoid?

It may not hurt you, but this sudsy body wash is probably doing nothing to help your skin.

What is Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine?

Also called coco hydroxysulfaine, and CAHS, this ingredient is a surfactant or cleanser. If you have a label that says, “derived from coconut,” don’t be fooled. Yes, the raw materials (fatty acids) come from coconut, but then they are processed in the laboratory to come up with the end chemical. In other words, the original source material may come from coconut, but then it’s chemically processed and converted into unnatural materials. Typically harsh chemicals like sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide are added to the coconut oil molecule to make them effective as cleansers. This doesn’t necessarily make them unsafe, but they are definitely not “natural.”

Manufacturers like to use cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine as a synthetic detergent, foam booster, thickener, and anti-static agent. You’re likely to find it in shampoos, soaps, lotions, body washes, moisturizers, children’s shampoos, baby shampoos and soaps, and hair coloring agents. It is considered to be a superior and milder version of cocamidopropyl betaine, another cheap ingredient used for these purposes.

What are the Concerns?

Like most synthetic ingredients, the main concern with this one is that it can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and it may be overly drying, particularly for mature skin. It may also create allergic reactions like contact dermatitis in people with sensitive skin, particularly around the eyes.

Fortunately, unlike some other synthetic surfactants, CAHS is not as severe or drying as other chemicals like, say, sodium lauryl sulfate. It hasn’t been detected in human tissues or urine like some other prevalent chemicals, and it doesn’t have any recognized health effects. The Environment Canada Domestic Substance List has it classified as a low health priority, and it is not suspected to be potentially toxic or harmful, or to harm the environment.

Bottom Line

So what’s the bottom line on this ingredient? It’s one you probably don’t have to worry about too much, as far as being concerned about its long-term health effects. Please note, however, that it’s doing nothing that’s nourishing or good for your skin or your hair. Particularly as you get into your 30s and 40s and beyond, your skin needs more moisture and more nutrients and less stripping of its natural oils. These synthetic cleansers, even if they are mild, can lead to dull, drying, and old-looking skin and hair.

You deserve better! Look for formulas with natural cleansers that work with your skin to clean and get rid of germs and bacteria, but that won’t contribute to premature aging. My Citrus Mint Facial Cleanser, for instance, cleans with a blend of organic herbs and aloe, along with witch hazel for an antiseptic effect. You emerge with clean skin, but instead of the dryness and dullness, you’ll enjoy a youthful glow.

That sounds a lot better than cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, doesn’t it?

Have you noticed a difference in your skin since using natural cleansers? Please share your story.

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Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Guin JD, “Reaction to cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, an amphoteric surfactant and conditioner,” Contact Dermatitis, 2000 May ;42(5): 284,

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COMMENTS ( 7 and counting )
  1. Amber says:

    Good info! I joined Ava Anderson Nontoxic to help others decode their labels and to make better choices for themselves & their families. It’s nice to find these articles online to help with that! Thank you!

  2. Patti says:

    Thanks, I usually buy natural clensers but I saw a commercial for Mr clean and was curious as to what’s in it. This is the main ingredient. I’ll stick to my clensers that I’m not afraid of the fumes. Good explanation and article

  3. Torker says:

    Nice and pretty informative.

  4. Kayed says:

    Good information, but at the end it was all ruined with you wanting to market your own product. I would have liked it more if you were giving out this good information because you care about people, not because you want to sell something. ..which didn’t work with me because I recently started making my very own organic facial items, I know exactly what goes into my stuff and my skin is perfect.

    • admin says:

      Hi Kayed, thank you for reading! Educating people about health is a huge part of our mission. We also sell organic skin care, which pays the bills and also makes feel great because we’re able to provide people with a truly pure, natural product that works well. We also provide tons of DIY recipes and encourage people to make their own products.

      Excited to hear that you’re making your own products and loving the results. :)

  5. Manny fresh says:

    misleading! harsh ingredients like “sodium hydroxide” pshhhhh. dont you add this to all of your cleansers???

  6. Anonymous says:

    The citrus mint facial cleanser has the same “coconut soap” as what you are raving about is so bad. Thumbs down on this review