This is part of our ongoing series to help consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!
Ingredient: Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS)
What it is: A surfactant derived from coconut oil.
What it does: SCS is a mild cleanser and conditioner that also boosts foam and bubbles.
Why we use it: Compared to commonly used alternatives (like sodium lauryl sulfate), sodium coco sulfate is very mild, non-irritating, and not suspected to be potentially toxic or harmful to the environment.
Why we’re featuring it today: Many products these days tout “sulfate-free” formulas leading consumers to believe sulfates are bad. But sulfates encompass a wide range of very different chemicals with very different chemical properties. For example, iron sulfate is a common form of iron used in supplements for people and soil for plants. Magnesium sulfate (aka “Epsom salts”) are used in therapeutic baths. And there are even organisms found near deep-sea thermal vents that use naturally occurring sulfates for energy in place of sunlight. Clearly, not all sulfates are bad.
Typically, the sulfates people should be concerned about in everyday products are the aforementioned sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). SLS was the star surfactant used in care products for many years, but it irritated people’s skin (among other things), so companies looked for ways to make it gentler. They found that by putting SLS through a process called ethoxylation, they could create the milder surfactant SLES. This success was short-lived, though, as they quickly learned that ethoxylation left behind two toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, ethylene oxide and 1, 4-dioxane.
Thus was born the market for “SLS-free” and “SLES-free” products, which somehow evolved into the marketing claim “sulfate-free.” Anyway, long story short — sodium coco sulfate (SCS) is NOT the same as SLS or SLES. It’s milder, safer, doesn’t have any toxic contaminants, and is made from coconut oil and not petroleum.
They all function as surfactants, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Have any other questions about SCS? Let us know in the comments — we’re happy to answer!
- Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate and Related Alkyl Sulfates as Used in Cosmetics, International Journal of Toxicology