Skip to content

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

16 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: