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Coco betaine is shorthand for the chemical cocamidopropyl betaine. This chemical is frequently used in soaps and shampoos, as well as some hair products. Coco betine is derived from coconut oil, which has led to its description as a natural product. Coco betaine is used primarily as a mild surfactant, meaning that it is used for purposes that other soaps would be too harsh for, like baby shampoo. It was developed as a way to make soaps less irritating to skin and eyes, however the Environmental Working Group suggests that coco betaine does exactly the opposite. A difference in the levels of impurities in different products may be the cause of this discrepancy.


Coco betaine is used for more than shampoo. It is used in any situation where the cleaning of a surface is less important than the foaming action or reducing irritation. Coco betaine is frequently used in bubble bath solution and hair spray. In bubble bath it forms bubbles with very little cleaning being done. Soaps destroy bacteria by lowering the pH of the environment. Coco betaine does not lower the pH a lot, but it does have a mild germicidal effect. In hairspray the coco betaine will adhere to the hair and form a layer, reducing static and making hair more manageable.


Coco betaine is easily obtained through simple chemical reactions. Coco betaine does not require much processing from the coconut oil it is derived from. This also allows some to describe it as a natural cleanser. Coco betaine has largely replaced cocoamide DEA as an additive, because it is generally better tolerated on sensitive skin. Cocoamide DEA is another surfactant that was frequently used in soap before the development of coco betaine. It is no longer frequently used because it is more irritating to skin than coco betaine.


While pure coco betaine is generally perceived as a safe soap, not everyone agrees with this. The Environmental Working Group has given the chemical a risk rating of five out of 10, with one being a very safe chemical and ten being a very dangerous or harmful chemical. They claim that coco betaine is a severe irritant and should be avoided. Some people may have allergic reactions to coconut oil derivatives and should avoid products containing coco betaine. Large levels of impurities of manufacturing by-products like amidoamine and dimethylaminopropylamine, can lead to skin irritation. The levels in these products vary from product to product.


The IUPAC name for coco betaine is {[3-(dodecanoylamino)propyl] (dimethyl)ammonio}acetate. The molecular formula is C19H38N2O3. Coco betaine is created by a reaction of cocamide and glycine betaine. The impurities that emerge from this reaction can be controlled by carefully adjusting the pH during the betainization reaction and using extra chloroacetate during the reaction.

Products Containing Coco Betaine

Many companies use amounts of coco betaine in their products. Most baby shampoos and hair products including Johnson and Johnson’s, Avalon Organics, Giovanni, Physicians Formula, Aveeno, Maggie Blue, Essence of Wellbeing, Aura Cacia, Weleda and Kiss My Face.