Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine

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: Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (CAHS)

What it is: A surfactant derived from the fatty acids of coconut oil.

What it does: CAHS is a mild cleanser and conditioner that also boosts foam and reduces static. It’s a real multitasker!

Why we use it: Compared to many other surfactants used in shampoos and body washes (like the commonly used sodium lauryl sulfate – SLS), CAHS is very mild, not so severe or drying, and is not suspected to be potentially toxic or harmful, or to harm the environment.

What’s more, it’s included in the Handbook of Green Chemicals, it’s on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program, and is also Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved. If these credible sources give it a thumbs-up, we do too.

Why we’re featuring it today: Oftentimes when people see an ingredient on a label that they’re not familiar with, a little mental red flag is raised and you stop and think, “What the heck is that?”  Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is one of those little flag raisers (and rightly so — it’s quite a mouthful of a name!).

Part of our company’s mission is to educate consumers and writing these blog posts about different chemicals helps fulfill that commitment and empower you to make informed choices. If you still have any questions about CAHS, please let us know!

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  • Sara

    I read this article today and was wondering if someone could explain the difference between Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (used in Honest Co. products) and cocamide diethanolamine (the ingredient that’s being talked about in the article).
    I’ve tried doing a little research but haven’t been able to find anything that explains it very well. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Honest

      Hi Sara,

      While these two ingredients both come from coconuts and perform similar duties, they have very different molecular structures — as you can see by comparing their respective formulas:

      cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine: C20H42N2O5S

      cocamide DEA: CH3(CH2)nC(=O)N(CH2CH2OH)2

      We find it helpful to think of chemistry like you think of cooking (which is actually chemistry, too!) You may start two recipes with similar ingredients, but if you add unique ingredients to each one and put them through different processes of mixing and cooking (like baking vs. boiling), you’ll end up with vastly different final products.

      We hope that helps a little! Please let us know if you have further questions.

      • Sara

        So, is one of them worse than the other one?

        • Honest

          It appears cocamide DEA has safety issues that cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine does not – the most concerning of which is that it’s typically contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines. That’s why it’s being targeted by the Center for Environmental Health as mentioned in the Rodale article.

          • Sara

            Great to know! Thank you for all the information!

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  • Nurullah

    I would like to supply this chemical (cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine) for the company I am working. But I couldn’t find any supplier. Do you have any recommendation about how to find this chemical?

  • Kat
    • Honest

      Hi Kat,

      We can assure you that it is no small feat for a chemical to be approved by either Whole Foods Premium Body Care or by the U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment program. Teams of experts pore over heaps of data to assess safety and environmental attributes and to receive their collective thumbs up is a pretty big deal.

      Thank you for voicing your concern. We take everyone’s opinions to heart!

  • Lily

    Since adding this the Shampoo and Body Wash is unusable for my family. Totally strips all natural oils and leaves my hair feeling like straw and my body is extremely dry and itchy. Very disappointed in the sneaky move to switch from natural to synthetic ingredients without warning subscribers. Now what I thought was a back-up supply is actually just expensive bottles of stuff I don’t feel comfortable using. If it left me (and my husband) feeling so uncomfortable, what would it do to my poor babies’ skin?! Just because it isn’t suspected of doing long term damage, doesn’t mean it’s good to use! How about short term damage? It definitely damaged my hair and skin. :-(

    • Sarah Cho

      When did they switch from natural to synthetic? This is very disappointing.

    • Honest

      Hi Lily,

      We’re sorry to hear about your hair and skin issues, but it couldn’t be due to the cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine — we’ve used this coconut-based ingredient in our Shampoo & Body Wash since we launched. Also, whenever we make changes to our products, we announce it to our community and the public — we’re always trying to do better, so we want everyone to know when we’ve made updates.

      In regards to your skin and hair issues, they could be due to a wide variety of things — changes in other personal care products, changes in your diet, changes in your environment, changes in your water, hormonal/biological changes, etc. As you continue in your search for the cause, we’d recommend some deep conditioning and moisturizing. You can use our Conditioner for a deep treatment by applying to dry hair, letting it soak in for about 20 minutes, and then rinsing. After towel-drying, seal in the moisture by rubbing just a touch of our Body Oil into your hair. For your skin, apply our Body Oil all over and if you have any patches that are especially dry or itchy, try the Healing Balm. We hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.

  • Really?

    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.”

    • Honest


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We agree that the “natural” claim is not always what it seems and it means different things to different people. (Read our blog post on the topic of “natural” vs “synthetic”: We can’t deny that sometimes in chemistry you have to create chemical reactions using compounds that may be harsh in and of themselves. That’s chemistry. But, we’re hyper-vigilant to the safety and purity of our final formulations. And to provide transparency to consumers, we also always list the actual, final ingredients and we’re working on a comprehensive ingredient glossary to help people understand all of our choices.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • OhPlease!

    C’mon, anyone who knows better, or at least wants to know better like many below commentators know that we do NOT want to see this chemical ingredient in our products. I think if anyone has a question about it they should research it themselves. We know companies can claim whatever, that’s what people are learning and figuring out. So this CAHS is a NO NO! Sorry, just want to inform the people who are being trusting without having time to research. Just read others comments, they are right, and you are right, this CAHS is a chemical, not a coconut or even derivative anymore! If you want real natural and organic ingredients read the ingredients of a product and if they are questionable, simple quick search will provide lots of resources about such ingredient and ask yourself if you want such ingredient in your products to go on your skin and ultimately in your body or not.

    • Honest

      Thanks for sharing your honest opinion and we agree that everyone should do their own research because people have different priorities. If you choose to avoid CAHS because it’s not close enough to the natural derivative (coconut oil), we understand that’s best for you. But CAHS is a much safer and more eco-friendly alternative to chemicals like SLS, and the fact that it’s approved for Whole Foods Premium Body Care and EPA Design for the Environment are no small achievements. The standards these two certifying bodies created are some of the strictest in the world. Not to mention the fact that CAHS gets a zero (the best rating possible) in the EWG Skin Deep database.

      We know people generally prefer ingredients to be as close to their natural form as possible – we do, too. But product formulations are incredibly complicated and the whole “natural vs. synthetic” issue is not as black and white as most would think. (We encourage you to read our blog post on the topic:

      Thanks again for adding your voice to the discussion. Please let us know if you have any questions.

  • joe

    I feel like almost every product has something that raises a red flag. Does anyone know any good products out there that aren’t trying to sneak any non-natural ingredients? I mean a real organic product. Does that even exist? (shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste)

    • Mya

      Shea moisture is all natural, so is Aubrey Organics.

      • Kelli Spears

        No. No its not. Aubrey Organics still contains synthetic ingredients.

        • Mya

          Aubrey Organics is all natural. Just look at the ingredients of any of their shampoo and conditioners

  • chemicalfreeee

    +1 to Joe question: Can anybody tell a shampoo, that it TOTAL FREE of any chemicals or synthetic ingredients

    I don’t care if it doesn’t foam, if it smells.

    • Alex

      Buy organic castile soap. You can use it directly as shampoo I believe, or add another ingredient of your own to use it as practically any cleaning product you want.

    • Kelli Spears

      Unfortunately, any product that provides suds or foams can irritate your skin. Even cold process soap and castille soap, which are actually said to be even more drying to the skin over time than actual surfactants. That is because the pH on those are too high for our skin and hair. There is actually nothing out there that can be classified as chemical free, since anything made up of elements, including water, can be classified as a chemical. Speaking of water, tap water has so much crap in it I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that!! Is know what you really mean is synthetic ingredients. I see people all over the internet who are so misinformed and freaked out over so many ingredients in products and yes, there are some we should avoid but I really think that people should stop for a minute and instead of worrying so much about what they put on their skin, they should be paying more attention to what they are putting in their mouth. Its appalling what they will allow to be put in and on our food and most people dont even think about that. I can promise you that any bad “chemicals” that are in food are going to be absorbed since they are going right to the blood stream through the degestive system. People place way too much emphasis on what’s in topical stuff and pretend there is nothing bad or even worse in the food they eat or the water they drink every day. Really???