If you ever decide to take a look at the labels of your shampoos or body washes, chances are you'll come across the ingredient sodium cocoyl isethionate. It plays a crucial role in our beloved showering rituals (shampooing, facial cleansing, etc.) and is known to create the sudsy lather we love to indulge in.
Meet the expert
- Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose is a board certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City.
- Dr. Jeannette Graf is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
- Vince Spinato is a cosmetic chemist and skin care developer.
Sodium cocoyl isethionate offers skin care benefits and is a fantastic alternative to harsher, drying cleansers (like sulfates). We spoke with New York-based dermatologists Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose and Dr. Jeannette Graf and cosmetic chemist and skin care developer Vince Spinnato to learn more about the ingredient. Keep reading for all its benefits and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Sodium cocoyl isethionate
Ingredient Type: Surfactant
Key Benefits: Creates a rich lather, gently removes dirt and grime and moisturizes.
Who should use it: In general, it is suitable for all skin types, especially sensitive or dry skin, as it is not as aggressive as other surfactants.
How often can you use it : It can be used daily, but should be used no more than twice for hair care, cleaning and body products.
Works well with : Emollients and humectants to help support the skin barrier.
Do not use with : Other aggressive surfactants or skin irritants to maintain its maximum benefits.
What is sodium cocoyl isethionate?
According to Graf, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a fine white powder derived from coconut oil. "It's a sodium salt known to be gentle on the skin," she says. The process of creating it, Spinnato explains, involves mixing a naturally occurring sulfonic acid called isethionic acid with the fatty acids naturally found in coconut oil. Most often, you'll find the ingredient listed on the back of your shampoos, body washes, cleansers and soap bars, as it's considered a surfactant.
"Surfactants are used as cleansing agents because they mix well with oils and water," Murphy-Rose explains. The ingredient can mix with oils to remove dirt from the face, helping to rinse away any remaining residue from the day. "In particular, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a mild surfactant, so it has a reduced risk of skin irritation," Murphy-Rose explains. Other surfactants (such as sulfates) tend to be harsh on the skin, stripping it of its natural oils and compromising the skin barrier. However, this particular surfactant is not like that. In fact, Murphy-Rose mentions that it can help leave skin smooth and hydrated without stripping it.
"It's also a good emulsifier, foaming effectively to allow for a rich lather while cleansing," Graf explains. "It is used in products as an emulsifier because it reduces surface tension, which helps remove oil and dirt from the skin." With each pump or squeeze, the ingredient helps reduce the surface tension of the water, making the cleanser foamier and more easily spreadable. In other words, sodium cocoyl isethionate is what makes the product foam so luxuriously when you apply it.
Benefits of sodium cocoyl isethionate for the skin
Sodium cocoyl isethionate offers benefits for almost all skin types, especially sensitive or dry skin. Some of these benefits include:
- Produces a silky lather: Because it is a surfactant, sodium cocoyl isethionate lowers the surface tension of water, allowing the product to spread more easily on the face. "In hair care products, it gently cleanses hair while removing excess oil to reduce tangles and frizz, while allowing products to lather," Graf explains.
- Adds moisture and hydration: According to Spinnato, sodium cocoyl isethionate has high lathering power producing a stable, rich, velvety lather that does not dehydrate the skin. Instead of drying out the skin like other surfactants, it will leave your skin moisturized and hydrated without any irritation, redness or dryness.
- Gently remove dirt, oil and other build-up: By binding water and oil, sodium cocoyl isethionate has the ability to help remove any makeup residue, dirt or grime that has been sitting on your face, body or scalp all day. "This means it's an agent that helps remove dirt and oils through emulsification of the product," Graf explains.
- Prevent damage to the skin barrier: Unlike other more aggressive surfactants, sodium cocoyl isethionate is gentler on the skin. In turn, Graf explains, it gently cleanses the skin without damaging the moisture barrier or stripping away any moisture.
Side effects of sodium cocoyl isethionate
At this time, there are no known side effects associated with the use of sodium cocoyl isethionate. However, if you have a coconut allergy, you should avoid the ingredient. "Since sodium cocoyl isethionate is derived from coconut oil, it should be avoided by anyone with a coconut allergy," says Murphy-Rose. Another thing to note: If you overuse the ingredient, it can be drying, especially for those with natural or thicker-textured hair types. "It can strip hair of its natural oils if you use it too often on drier hair types, so be sure to proceed with caution," says Spinnato.
How to use it
Because of its gentle nature, sodium cocoyl isethionante can be used daily. "For a body cleanser, choose to use it twice a day," says Murphy-Rose. "If it's a cleanser, you should only use it twice a day at most."
Before using it, make sure the bottle contains no more than 50% of SCI, Graf advises, as it can dry out. The ingredient arrives in shampoos, body washes, cleansers and soap bars, so incorporating it into your routine is truly an effortless product that will reap major rewards.
The best products with sodium cocoyl isethionate
Gentle Cleansing Bar
This non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic body wash is one of Dr. Murphy-Rose's favorites. "It contains five nourishing ingredients that cleanse the skin without drying it out, maintaining the skin's natural moisture barrier without stripping it of protective oils or emollients," she says. "The cleansing bar is also free of sulfates, parabens and harsh surfactants, allowing it to nourish the skin without causing irritation or dryness."
"This is one of my favorite products with sodium cocoyl isethionate," says Dr. Graf. "It's a gentle and effective shampoo for everyday use."
First Aid Beauty
Pure Skin Face Wash
This cleanser is fragrance-free, pH balanced and one of Dr. Murphy-Rose's top recommendations. "It effectively removes makeup, dirt and oil, leaving skin soft and supple without feeling tight or dry (which are known to be signs of irritation)," she says. "And, the whipped texture transforms into a cream when mixed with water."
Just apply some of this all-natural underarm deodorant that smells like a mix of vanilla and coconut. Trust us, don't sleep on this one!
Transforming Body Repairing Shower Milk with Monoi
If your hair needs a little attention, reach for this Carol's Daughter shower milk. It contains ingredients that are good for your hair and is supposed to help strengthen, repair and moisturize dry strands.