Sodium Coco Sulfate

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!

Reference:

  • http://olithee.blogspot.com/ Olithée

    I am loving and really enjoying this ongoing series. I am just trying to figure out how to remember all the information … you should write a dictonnary, small size, that we could carry in our shopping bags !

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Thanks for the great idea! We’ll share this with the product development team. Are there any other ingredients you’d like to learn more about?

      • http://olithee.blogspot.com/ Olithée

        Yes actually also components that we need to be beware of in cosmetics and cleaning products.

        I ll stay tune !

  • Hair1123

    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has the same CAS number as Sodium Coco Sulfate. Technically they are one and the same. Please use more than one reference so not to confuse people.

  • David K

    But you use Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate in your toothpaste!

    Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate to be a moderate hazard ingredient,
    primarily because of its potential to be contaminated with nitrosamine
    (a known carcinogen).

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  • Elizabeth

    So, sodium coco sulfate actually is a blend of sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium caprylic sulfate, sodium capric sulfate, sodium oleic sulfate, sodium stearyl sulfate etc, and instead of naming them all out with all of the fatty acids from the coconut oil, they just call it sodium coco sulfate.” It would carry the same risks of skin irritation, eye irritation, stripping hair of natural oils and forming nitrosamines in the presence of triethanolamine as SLS does.

  • http://www.thebeautybrains.com Randy Schueller

    Can you please clarify how sodium coco sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are different in terms of safety as it pertains to hair and skin care products?

    As Elizabeth and Hair123 pointed out below these ingredients are VERY similar. (Both can be derived from coconut oil.) And the safety report you linked to above says that they both “are safe in the practices of use and concentration described in the safety assessment.”

    Can you please share the data which makes you believe that SCS is safer/better than SLS? Thanks!

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Hi Randy,
      SCS and SLS might be “similar” as a final ingredient, but SCS is gentler (comparing toxicological information from their respective Material Safety Data Sheets) and it’s also environmentally preferable (taking into consideration not only the origin of the raw material, but also manufacturing processes, by-products, biodegradability, and more).

      You can easily find their MSDS information online and here are two other resources addressing environmental attributes:
      - Sustainability: How the Cosmetics Industry is Greening Up: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119945542.html
      - Biosurfactants, New Ingredients and Formulations, Sustainability, Forum for Innovations: http://www.hanser-elibrary.com/doi/pdf/10.3139/113.110168

      Please let us know if you have additional questions. Thanks!

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  • katy

    If someone is allergic to coconuts should they avoid cleaners with sodium coco sulfates as well? Does sodium coco sulfate keep the coconut proteins in tact?

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Hi Katy,

      If you’re allergic to coconuts, it’s prudent to avoid coconut-derived ingredients, as well. Still, whether or not cleaning with products containing coconut-derived ingredients would trigger any reactions would totally depend on the severity of your allergies. We recommend you discuss your concerns with your health care provider.

      Thanks for your question! Let us know if you have any others!

  • Lor

    I use a keritin straightener for my hair and am suppose to only use “sulfate free” shampoo. Would one with SCS still be okay?

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Hi Lor,

      The term “sulfate free” typically refers to sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, so using a shampoo with SCS should be fine (it is gentler). We’ve seen some comments online that people using keratin treatments have also used shampoos with SCS without issue, but we’d still recommend you consult your hair care professional. They’d know your hair best!

  • Tracy Lynn Russell

    I was diagnosed with perioral dermatitis and it specifically says stay away from SLS, fluoride, and cinnamon. I was told that scs and lss were the same as they both are foaming agents. I haven’t read anything about staying away from SCS with my skin, but just want to be clear on this as the dessert essence toothpaste I just bought says SLS free but does have the sodium Coco sulfate in it.

    Thank you

    Tracy

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Hi Tracy,

      SLS and SCS are indeed similar, but they are two unique compounds and SCS is gentler. Still, with such a specific condition, we’d recommend you consult your healthcare provider to confirm if our product is safe for you.

      Thanks for asking!

  • Sarah

    Thank you SO much for this! I just bought Yes to Carrots shampoo and conditioner and I am so happy to hear that it gets the thumbs up. I have spent way too much (unsuccessful) time looking for the gentle ingredients, so I hope you know how much I appreciate finding your article.

  • Jonathan

    Hi, I’m wondering about the concentration to use sodium coco-sulfate cold pressed bars of soap. What is a safe level to use this product at?

  • Jeramy

    Hi, I’m a soap chemist, and I thought I would help clear up what is otherwise being misrepresented as a completely safe alternative.

    Sodium Coco Sulphate (SCS) is the same class of product as SLS, SLES, SMS, SPS, SDS, or any other S_S product. Depending on the purity of the coconut oil starting material, and if any ethoxy compounds are added determines what kind of sodium sulphate product you get. They all have similar surfactant and bubbling properties but range in toxicity and potential for skin irritation. SCS happens to be the lesser of the evils in the sense that it is not quite as toxic and not as irritating. Please don’t buy into clever marketing schemes and do your own research. Here is some links for general toxicity rating of SCS as well as the MSDS of SDS (nearly identical to SCS but the starting material is slightly more purified. In its pure form it has the same toxicity and environmental concerns as SCS). If your looking for a completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly coconut compound to use as a surfactant and/or bubbling agent, use good old fashioned sodium or potassium cocoate. It’s an awesome cleaner, but the downfall is that it is a little less bubbly than regular S_S products.

    http://www.ewg.org/guides/substances/5530

    http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/MSDS/MSDS/DisplayMSDSPage.do?country=CA&language=en&productNumber=74255&brand=SIGMA&PageToGoToURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sigmaaldrich.com%2Fcatalog%2Fsearch%3Finterface%3DAll%26term%3Dsodium%2Bsulphate%26N%3D0%26mode%3Dmatch%2520partialmax%26focus%3Dproduct%26lang%3Den%26region%3DCA

    Hope that brings some clarity to the issue.

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Hello Jeramy,

      Thanks for sharing your expert perspective! We really do appreciate every thoughtful voice in the conversation! Just to clarify, we do not say anywhere in this post that SCS is not in the same class of product as SLS, SLES, etc. Nor do we say it’s a “completely safe alternative” (we actually try to emphasize in our educational content that the fact of the matter is nothing’s “completely safe” and everything we use has to be weighed on a complex scale of attributes – read more about that here:http://blog.honest.com/the-honest-balancing-act-long-term-vision/#.U4YNTq1dWWc). You’ll see we say “It’s milder, safer, doesn’t have any toxic contaminants, and is made from coconut oil and not petroleum.” A pretty straightforward, honest description. We’ll definitely look into sodium or potassium cocoate, but we’ve already learned from our customers that they like bubbles and want bubbles and feel like if the product isn’t bubbling, it’s not working.

      Also, in regards to the MSDS, these are for high concentration occupational exposures, so they can be just as misleading to laypeople as anything else. And, the EWG ranking clearly states it’s dependent on concentration and usage. We’re confident in the safety of our specific formula.

      Thanks again for sharing your expertise! I hope that both your comment and ours, helps add clarity to the issue. Together, we can make it better!

  • Kenny

    Sodium Coco Sulfate is less mild than both SLS and SLES.

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