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Yes Coco-Betaine and Cocamidopropyl Betaine are different chemicals.

October 18, 2015

Google stuff and a fair proportion of ‘research’ or information that you uncover will be either incorrect or completely rubbish.  The above is just one example of how this incorrectness infiltrates our conscience and leads us astray.  There are more ‘hits’ telling me that coco-betaine and cocamidopropyl betaine are the same than information confirming that they are indeed different.

I know that they are different because unlike the majority of Googlers I am a chemist. That isn’t a statement of superiority, it is merely an unemotional  fact. There were very few people taking a chemistry major Degree when I did it and as far as I am aware it hasn’t gained much in popularity.  Being a chemist allows me the special powers of understanding what a name means and I can see that the ‘amido’ bit in the latter chemical means this:

Amide Group

As pretty much all google searches for these two chemicals have been confused now I thought I’d put everything of interest on here so that you can see the difference.

In a nutshell the two have different chemical structures as I will explain below for those interested.

  • The Coco-Betaine is a natural surfactant that can be used in organic formulations as long as it has been manufactured in an acceptable way, it contains no ‘synthetics’.
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine is always produced via a synthetic process although the coco part and the betaine part are natural.
  • Coco-Betaine is more natural but it is also more irritating.
  • Coco-Betaine is harder to track down than Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
  • Both are surfactants.
  • Both can be used in shampoos, body wash and other cleansing formulations.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine Looks like this:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine

Coco Betaine Looks Like this:

Coco Betaine structure


Breaking it down further we have:

The Coco group:   These are fatty acids that look like this:

Typical Fatty Acid Lauric


The amido (we saw above)

The propyl:  Based on three carbons (Methyl =1 carbon, Ethyl = 2 (like ethanol), Propyl = 3). Below is a very simple representation of a propyl group.

Simple propyl Group


The betaine bit: Betaine was first isolated from sugar beet – that’s why it’s called ‘betaine’!

Betaine group

So coco-betaine is a bit shorter (no propyl group) and is also missing the ‘amido’ functional group.

So what do they do in your formula?

Let’s let someone who sells both chemicals confirm that shall we!

Coco Betaine Features and benefits

And let’s look at how their responses compare when thickening a shampoo with salt:

Genagen thickening with salt

It is hard to make good decisions about a products chemistry without some chemistry knowledge and it is doubly hard when people who are just ‘having a go’ post stuff that is wrong – usually without knowing.

I hope that this has helped clear up a little issue for you – it has for me.

So no, Coco-Betaine is not just shorthand for Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

Goodbye 🙂

Amanda x

27 Comments leave one →
  1. LaVona Edwards permalink
    July 16, 2016 1:26 am

    hi amanda, which one can cleanse hair of silicones in order to not have to use a sulfate containing shampoo, i have heard that one of them or maybe both(I’m no chemist, I’m a nurse lol!) can cleanse silicone. thanks.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 16, 2016 9:24 am

      Ok so there are several things in this question to address:
      Silicones: There are lots of different types, some that are more substantive than others. Most every-day type shampoos use silicones that can be washed out with a decent shampoo. SLS/ SLES/ Betaine systems are those types of shampoo as they are what we would call ‘harsh’ in Google language but ‘deep cleansing’ in cosmetic science language. Blends of these surfactants have good wetting and cleaning power and can disrupt the bonding of the silicone to the hair as the silicone is often cationic (positively charged) and the SLS/ SLES is negatively charged. The betaine is amphoteric and can flip between positive and negative charge.
      Shampoo that cleanses without being too ‘harsh’: To achieve this you will need to maintain the chemistry above but possibly do it using less-efficient surfactants such as Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate or similar. These are less likely to irritate a very sensitive scalp.
      Cocamidopropyl Betaine VS Coco Betain – both work the same but the Cocamido is a larger and milder molecule that is better tolerated for dry or problem skin. Coco Betaine is somewhat harsher. Coco is the natural version, cocamido is synthetic.
      Also keep in mind that there are non-silicone 2-in-1 conditioner agents present in shampoos (Quats, polyquats) that will also build up in some hair. They can be cleansed using the same method here.
      Much that is said about silicones in the hair is outdated now as technology has moved on significantly in the last twenty years.

  2. Lyndsey permalink
    August 25, 2016 4:21 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    My 1.5 year old son has severe eczema and is allergic to cocamidoproply betaine (amongst several other chemicals). Should we also avoid products with coco betaine in them?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 26, 2016 12:27 pm

      Hi Lyndsey,

      That is a good question. I too suffer from eczema and was badly affected as a child so appreciate the importance of getting this right. Coco Betaine is more irritating a chemical than Cocamidopropyl Betaine so from that perspective it is probably to be avoided but that is not all. I asked a surfactant expert here (and representative of a Coco Betaine/ Cocamidopropyl Betaine) manufacturer) for their input and this was what he said:

      ‘The free SMCA (Sodium Monochloracetate) and free coco (amido) amine residues are the issue Amanda,Under the new GHS rules, both Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Coco Betaine are classified as category 1 for skin and eye irritation as well as aqua toxicity’

      The advice I’ve got is to look at replacing Cocamidopropyl Betaine/ Coco Betaine with Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine as that has no chloroacetate residue and is much milder. I’m going to start that process of converting customers over now and will be working with the surfactant manufacturers/ distributors to see if we can get some quantifiable results to help people with eczema make more informed choices. If you google the chemical name in the ‘shopping’ category you can find products that are already using this. The only thing I’d check before assuming the whole product is safe for you if it contains this is what other ingredients are present including fragrances and preservatives. Good luck! I’ll be posting more on this soon.

  3. tricia permalink
    November 8, 2016 8:59 pm

    Some products have just ‘Betaine’ in the products listing. So does this mean ‘Cocamidopropyl Betaine’ or ‘coco Betaine’ ?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      November 9, 2016 8:34 am

      To complicate things further there is also an ingredient called ‘Betaine’. It is a humectant that also helps enhance skin penetration so it could actually be just that. If in doubt you could ask the brand owners but if you don’t want to do that you’d probably be best assuming they have labelled it right and it is the humectant rather than the surfactant.

  4. Elise permalink
    February 14, 2017 3:11 am

    Hi Amanda,
    Thank you for this article.
    Could you precise the reason why coco-betaine is more irritating than CAPB ? What is the source of this appreciation ? (chemical properties, biological tests… ?)
    Thank you,

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 14, 2017 4:45 pm

      Because it is harsher. The Amide group was added to the structure to make it slightly less potent – all surfactants are skin irritants to some degree because they degrease the surface, in modifying the structure we can make them slightly less active and stripping. So coco betaine is more stripping as it is a harsher surfactant because of its un-modified structure.

  5. phi loan permalink
    February 22, 2017 10:25 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    Is CAPB easily wash off with a little water or even no water ? I mean, when i put it in floor cleansing liquid, do i have to rinse the floor with much water? Or do i have to clean the floor twice with fresh water?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 23, 2017 5:47 am

      The surfactant is designed to use diluted into a mixture and washed off with water. It is high foaming and can even be a foam booster so it might not be the right choice to use neat on a slippery surface like a floor. For that application we tend to use specially designed low-foaming non-ionics which hardly foam at all.

      • phi loan permalink
        February 23, 2017 5:53 am

        Can you give a suggestion for floor cleansing surfactant?

    • V Short permalink
      February 27, 2017 9:31 am

      Wow phi loan! the conversation was about chemicals for the skin, not your floor!
      Mop again if the floor is sticky right?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        March 3, 2017 8:58 am

        It’s OK V Short I would not feel morally outraged by Phi’s comments. I just answer the questions and comments in front of me without judgement and leave it at that. (well I try to). If Phi wants to wash the floor with CAPB or CAB I’m good with that. Maybe they can come and wash my floor too lol

  6. phi loan permalink
    March 3, 2017 12:24 pm

    Dear Amanda and V Short,
    I’m so sorry if my question makes both of you feel unplease. It is actually that I have purchased a floor cleansing bottle. Its ingredient consists of CAPB as the only surfactant. And the sale man told that it is so safe and skin friendly when using surfactant for skin in household cleasing product. I try to figure out and I have already had your sincere answer. Thank you so much for that !

  7. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    March 3, 2017 2:07 pm

    Hey not at all Phi! I was happy to answer, I took it as a legitimate question so please don’t feel bad.

    • phi loan permalink
      March 3, 2017 2:35 pm

      ok I am fine. Thanks again for make me clear! That is so helpful to me.

  8. gabriella permalink
    April 18, 2017 8:56 am

    hi amanda wondering what functional groups are present in cocamidopropyl betaine?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 18, 2017 1:22 pm

      They are shown in the article 🙂

  9. Regina Luciano permalink
    April 26, 2017 6:36 am

    Hello! I am trying to look for a shampoo that has no SLS. And I found this company called “Trully Organics.” They used organic and all-natural ingredients, so I purchased their shampoo and love it. Although when I read the label, the shampoo includes these three ingredients (Sodium CocoSurfactant and Cocamidoprpoyl Betaine). I am not a chemist nor do I understand the interrelationship between different chemical and how they work together to produce a shampoo. But from what I have reserached that these 2 ingredients are synthetic surfactant and are harmful to our bodies. I have messaged them and they said, “All of the surfactants we use are all natural organically derived from coconuts. They’re are many different versions on the market which may be synthetic but not ours!” Is this true? Can both ingredients be produced naturally?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 30, 2017 8:30 am

      Sodium Cocosurfactant is not an INCI name so it is difficult to know exactly what that is. I’d go back to the company and ask them for the INCI name for that ingredient so you can make a more informed choice of whether you want that product or not. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is not 100% natural as described in this article. With regards to the comment about being derived from coconuts that’s a bit of a feel-good statement that can be true of many surfactants. The backbone (or bulk) of a surfactant can be made from any feedstock including coconut, palm or petroleum. Usually the feedstock will be whatever is cheapest and easiest to work with but some companies do try to sell on ‘green’ as in ‘sustainable’ platforms and might choose coconut over the others. But a surfactant is more than just the backbone, it also contains functional groups that make the ingredient surface-active. The feedstock that provides this functionality is what matters and often it is ethylene which is often from petroleum although these days more companies are producing ethylene from plant material. So it is complex. The bottom line is that yes you could get a surfactant that people on the internet claim is ‘nasty’ that is actually 100% renewable and ‘safe’. On the other hand you can get surfactants that the internet claims are good and that can be used in organics that are actually quite harsh on the skin and perform poorly on the hair. So it really depends on your situation and what you are trying to achieve.

  10. Mark hughey permalink
    August 1, 2017 1:10 am

    On a technical level you are correct but on a practical level- not do much.
    No one that makes cosmetics or shampoos or body washes wants to use a product that’s more irritating to the skin . So most would use cocamidopropyl betaine. Also most companies selling cocobetaine and or cocamidopropyl betaine have several versions available – look at all the versions just Stepan has . Most every day ingredients sales reps and home chemists use the two names as synonyms . My hunch is that cocobetaine was an early product that was modified later adding the amido and propyl to improve skin feel less irritation.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 1, 2017 8:36 am

      Well of course you are right Mark only not everyone has access to the information that you and I might have – I used to be the Product Manager responsible for Stepan (and way before that I looked after Akzo too). I wrote this article in response to me trying to locate Coco Betaine for a client who assured me that it was easy to get and better than Cocamidopropyl Betaine. I tracked it down to a small-lot supplier here only to find that they were selling Cocamidopropyl Betaine as Coco-Betaine thinking that Coco-Betaine was just a shorthand way of writing the latter. I wrote the blog post because I wanted a clear piece out there confirming that these are different chemicals and that while one is more natural (coco-betaine), it isn’t less irritation. Irritation score testing is something that only the big brands do. Smaller brands probably don’t even know how to go about that sort of thing and are actually very likely to put onto the market products that can irritate over continued use.
      Thanks for bringing it up though as it is always good to have commentary on these articles.

  11. Dr Howard permalink
    August 2, 2017 4:12 pm

    Good accurate!!! Lubrizol’s CC O thickener works much better with the semi synthetic betaine.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 2, 2017 6:05 pm

      That’s good information to have. Thanks!

  12. Kurt permalink
    December 5, 2017 4:12 am

    I’ve been trying to make sense of the apparent confusion of these two products recently too, thanks for the article. Its not been easy tracking down molecular structures for them via the internet.

    From what I could gather however, there appears to be some issues in the article above. The molecular structure in the article for cocamidopropyl betaine incorrectly shows 2 amine groups attached to the quaternary amine. These should be methyl groups instead. And the quaternary amine in the coco betaine structure should carry a positive charge.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      December 11, 2017 10:50 am

      Hi Kurt, Can you draw what you think the correct structure should be? I haven’t drawn the whole structure in one step, I’ve broken it down based on the parts that are used to make the final molecule so that people can identify what comes from where (in terms of sourcing). The Genamin structures are from the manufacturers of those ingredients so I’d assume they know what their chemicals look like but you never know. I just want to see what you are thinking so I can see if it makes better sense that what I’ve done.

  13. Body Be Good: Natural Health Products permalink
    January 15, 2018 6:40 am

    Hello and thank you for the information. It was VERY informative. One of my questions is i have been thinking of making a toothpaste for my business. Considering i know that all surfactants are somewhat of an irritant, i was thinking of replacing SLS for either coco-betaine or Cocamidopropyl Betaine that is commercially available. Are these surfactants a milder and safer alternative than SLS?

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