If you ever decide to peep at the labels on your shampoos or body washes, it’s likely you’ll come across the ingredient sodium cocoyl isethionate. It plays a crucial role in our beloved shower time rituals (shampooing, face cleansing, etc.) and is known for creating the foamy lather we love to indulge in.

Sodium cocoyl isethionate provides skincare benefits and serves as a fantastic alternative to harsher, drying cleansers (like sulfates). We spoke with NYC-based dermatologists, Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose and Dr. Jeannette Graf and cosmetic chemist and skincare developer, Vince Spinnato to learn more about the ingredient. Keep reading for all its benefits and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.

What Is Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate?

According to Graf, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a fine white powder that’s derived from coconut oil. “It’s a sodium salt that’s known to be gentle on the skin,” she says. The process of creating it, explains Spinnato, includes mixing a natural sulfonic acid called isethionic acid with the fatty acids that naturally occur in coconut oil. Most commonly, you’ll find the ingredient listed on the back of your shampoos, body washes, cleansers, and bars of soap since it’s considered to be a surfactant.

“Surfactants are used as cleansing agents because they mix well with both oils and water,” explains Murphy-Rose. The ingredient can mix with oils to lift dirt off the face, helping to rinse away any residue leftover from the day. “In particular, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a gentle surfactant so it has a reduced risk of skin irritation,” says Murphy-Rose.1 Other surfactants (like sulfates) tend to be harsh on the skin, stripping it of its natural oils and compromising the skin barrier.2 However, this particular surfactant isn’t like that. In fact, Murphy-Rose mentions that it may help leave the skin feeling smooth and moisturized without stripping the skin whatsoever.

“It also a good emulsifier, foaming effectively to allow a rich lather while cleansing,” says Graf. “It’s 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 lower the surface tension of water, which is what makes the cleanser lather and spread easier. In other words, sodium cocoyl isethionate is what makes the product lather so luxuriously when you apply it.

Benefits of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate for Skin

Sodium cocoyl isethionate offers benefits for nearly all skin types, particularly those with sensitive or dry skin types. Some of these benefits include:

  • Produces a silky lather: Due to the fact that it’s a surfactant, sodium cocoyl isethionate lowers the surface tension of the water, allowing the product to spread easier across the face. “In hair care products, it gently cleanses hair while removing excess oil to reduce tangles and frizz, as well as allow the products to lather,” says Graf.
  • Adding hydration and moisture: According to Spinnato, sodium cocoyl isethionate exhibits a high foaming ability producing a stable, rich, and velvety lather that does not dehydrate the skin. Instead of drying out the skin like other surfactants, it’ll leave your skin feeling hydrated and moisturized sans any irritation, redness, or dryness.
  • Gently lifting away dirt, oil, and another build-up: By bonding water and oil, sodium cocoyl isethionate has the ability to help get rid of any makeup residue, dirt, or grime that’s been sitting on your face, body, or scalp all day. “This means that it is an agent that helps remove the dirt and oils with the emulsification of the product,” says Graf.
  • Preventing damage to the skin barrier: Unlike other harsher surfactants, sodium cocoyl isethionate is kinder on the skin. In return, explains Graf, it cleanses the skin gently without damaging the moisture barrier or taking away any hydration.

Side Effects of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

As of now, there are no known side effects associated with using sodium cocoyl isethionate. However, if you have a coconut allergy, you should steer clear of the ingredient. “Since sodium cocoyl isethionate is derived from coconut oil, it should be avoided by anyone who has a coconut allergy,” says Murphy-Rose. Another thing to note: If you overuse the ingredient, it may be drying, particularly for those with natural or thicker textured hair types. “It may strip the hair of its natural oils if you use it too often on dryer hair types, so make sure to proceed with caution,” explains Spinnato.

How To Use It

Due to its gentle nature, sodium cocoyl isethionante can be used every single day. “For a body wash, opt to use it twice a day,” explains Murphy-Rose. “If it’s a cleanser, you should only be using it two times a day at maximum.”

Before using it, make sure the bottle has no more than 50% SCI, advises Graf, as it can be drying. The ingredient arrives within shampoos, body washes, cleansers, and soap bars, so incorporating it into your routine is truly an effortless product that’ll reap major rewards.

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Is sodium cocoyl isethionate harmful?

Potential side effects of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate include eye irritation and lung irritation. It is highly recommended that protective gloves, masks, and goggles be worn any time this product is handled.

What does sodium cocoyl isethionate do to the skin?

The good: Sodium cocoyl isethionate helps to lift dirt and oil from the skin, allowing it to be washed away. Sodium cocoyl isethionate is a surfactant, making it a regular ingredient in cleansing formulations, soap, shampoos, and bath products.