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:

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  • 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 !

  • 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!

    • RLekha

      I have wavy hair and recently switched to a sulfate free shampoo. I’m
      finding my hair is in much better condition and my natural waves are
      soft and manageable. It is, however, difficult to find a lot of
      formulations out there… I’m curious whether SCS would be beneficial,
      passable, or bad on wavy/curly hair that requires more moisture, and
      less drying ingredients.

  • Kenny

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

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  • RLekha

    I have wavy hair and recently switched to a sulfate free shampoo. I’m finding my hair is in much better condition and my natural waves are soft and manageable. It is, however, difficult to find a lot of formulations out there… I’m curious whether SCS would be beneficial, passable, or bad on wavy/curly hair that requires more moisture, and less drying.

    • suzanne

      I have wavy hair and have been using a siliconr free shampoo with scs and my scqlp is going crazy!! and yes: its the only ingredient in the shampoo that is known to irritate. I have tried 3 different kinds (allea eith scs though) and all of them makebmy scalp itch like insanity. I think companies should stop using this all together and also stop putting alcohol in creams and cleansers since they dry out the skin.

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  • mamadelu

    Instead of individually listing all of the fatty acids from coconut oil, companies call it sodium coco sulfate due to its blend of fatty acids. Sodium coco sulfate has the same potential estrogenic properties as sodium lauryl sulfate because it can be contaminated with 1-4 Dioxane. It also has the same risks of skin irritation, eye irritation, stripping your hair of natural oils and forming nitrosamines as SLS does.

  • SLSisinHonestFormulas

    Mamadelu is correct – but to state it even more clearly, SLS is in Sodium Coco-sulfate! In fact, because 52% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are lauric acid (i.e. the “lauryl” in SLS), the MAJORITY of the chemicals in SCS is actually SLS! This is a very dishonest page for a company claiming to be “honest.” Re-read the blog post from the Honest company – does it every clearly state “We have NO SLS at all in our products?” It doesn’t say that, because they can’t say it. It is a very cleverly worded page to confuse and trick you into thinking there is no SLS in Honest products, when in fact it is the main component of so-called SCS. Shame on you Jessica Alba! Speak the truth!

  • SLSisinHonestFormulas

    Here is a blog post that explains it very well. To quote this company in this post:

    “In summary: sodium coco sulfate is largely SLS, with all the concerns that are linked to that product. Basically it is just another way to hide SLS in formulations with yet another name.”

    http://www.hebebotanicals.co.nz/sodium-coco-sulfate-another-synthetic-detergent/

  • Abby

    What I am questioning is the fact that in sodium lauryl sulfate, the lauryl comes from petroleum based oils… Whereas in the coco-sulfate, it is derived from coconut oil. I’m aware they go through the same chemical process.. But coconut oil is in no way bad for the skin, whereas petroleum is the complete opposite. So I can’t really see it being just as bad for you as sodium lauryl sulfate. But I don’t know.. Trying to figure it out because sodium coco sulfate is in my detergent.

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  • Angryman

    Simple greenwashing gimmick. For shame, Honestco. At the end of the day, it’s the same thing with the same potential for dioxane contamination, endocrine interruptors, and canker sore causing irritation. I thought your company was founded on principles of being different and providing better, safer products. But, hey, that may just the silly idealist in me. Jessica Alba loves making money peddling snake oil as much as anyone else, I guess.

  • Maria

    From my own experience i can say that my current shampoo has sodium coco sulfate and my scalp and hair are very healthy. Before i was using different shampoos containing sls and my scalp was itchy with some scales and even tiny blisters. So at least for me my desert essence shampoo and conditioner have improved the quality of my hair and scalp

  • Toddlermagnet

    While I think it’s great that companies are looking for ways to make their products safer and milder on skin, the push for coconut based surfactants has made my life much more difficult since it seems that shampoos that once were fine for me can no longer be used on my hair. Every shampoo I’ve used containing these ingredients has had me scratching my scalp bloody. Is there a list out there of which shampoos do not contain coconut?

  • GIANGEET

    HONESTLY,
    I SUGGEST THAT BEFORE YOU MAKE THESE STATEMENTS YOU DO YOUR RESEARCH. IF YOU OFFER INFO., OFFER THE REAL AND WHOLE TRUTH. I DID MINE BEFORE I FOUND YOUR PAGE AND I FOUND THAT SCS & SLS ARE BASICALLY THE SAME – THEY EVEN HAVE THE SAME CHEMICAL NUMBER. LOOK IT UP. THEREFORE IF SLS IS TOXIC TO HEALTH, THEN THE OTHER ONE IS ALSO, IT’S JUST “A LITTLE LESS TOXIC”. DOES THAT MAKE IT SAFE TO USE? I DON’T THINK SO.
    FOR EXAMPLE: IF YOU WERE TO B GIVEN A CHOICE AS TO WHICH POISON YOU PREFER: WHITE SUGAR OR HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP? MERCURY, LEAD OR ARSENIC?…….POISONS ARE POISONS, SO WHY DO WE NEED TO PICK THE LESSER OF THE 2 EVILS. WE DON’T NEED EITHER. GO WITH WHAT’S TRULY NATURAL AND GET USED TO NO BUBLES, THEY’RE NOT NECESSARY.

    • Brittany Malone

      I’m sorry, could you scream your crap a little louder? We couldn’t hear you.

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  • alev sahin

    Most of us know that sodium lauryl sulfate is a potential health hazard. But what about sodium coco sulfate? Companies will say it’s a gentler alternative since it’s derived from coconuts. The truth is, sodium coco sulfate (SCS) is basically the same as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

    What’s the Difference?

    SLS starts out with one isolated fatty acid (from coconut, palm or petroleum based oils) called lauric acid. The lauric acid is reacted with sulfuric acid and put through a chemical process called “ethyoxylation.” SCS goes through the same chemical process as SLS. It is different only because it uses a blend of fatty acids and excludes the lauric fatty acid. This allows companies to say on the front of their label sodium lauryl sulfate-free and not really lie to you.

    So in actuality, sodium coco sulfate is a blend of:

    sodium caprylic sulfate

    sodium capric sulfate

    sodium oleic sulfate

    sodium stearyl sulfate

    sodium myreth sulfate

    sodium dodecanesulfate

    sodium monododecyl sulfate

    and others

    Instead of individually listing all of the fatty acids from coconut oil, companies call it sodium coco sulfate due to its blend of fatty acids. SCS has the same potential estrogenic properties as sodium lauryl sulfate. It many times may be contaminated with 1-4 Dioxane. Some scientists regard SLS and SCS as a serious environmental hazard. SCS has the same risks of skin irritation, eye irritation and toxic nitrosamine formation as SLS does.

    Watch Out For ‘Green Washing’

    Be wary, many organic and natural companies are playing the ‘Green Washing Game.’ They say their formulations are SLS-free, sulfate-free or sodium lauryl sulfate-free, but if you look on their list of ingredients they are in fact using some form of sodium lauryl sulfate like ammonium lauryl sulfate. You decide if they’re telling the truth or not about being sulfate-free when they use ingredients made by the same processes.