You may not recognize it based on name alone, but cocamidopropyl betaine, more commonly known as CAPB, is one of the most common ingredients out there. You'll find it in lots of beauty products and household cleaning products if you look at the formulas, which may leave you wondering how it's contributing to your skincare routine.
Biological scientist Dr. Shuting Hu explains that cocamidopropyl betaine is a synthetic fatty acid derived from coconuts. “This chemical compound is a surfactant, so when it interacts with water it makes the molecules slippery so they won’t stick together,” she says. Because it’s a surfactant, it easily bonds with dirt, oil, and other impurities, making it easy to remove them from the skin. Hu says it’s “highly viscous,” meaning it helps things work into a lather easily. To top it off, the ingredient has a hydrating component, thanks to the coconut.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick notes that cocamidopropyl betaine can cause allergic reactions, but this isn’t because of the ingredient itself, but because of two impurities that are produced during the manufacturing process. “It is thought the allergic contact dermatitis results from exposure to impurities from the manufacturing process, known as aminoamide (AA) and 3-dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA),” says Garshick. “This may appear as red, flaky, or itchy patches, but can be evaluated through patch testing.”
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Shuting Hu, Ph.D., is a biological scientist with special interests in phytochemistry and skin biology. She's a co-founder of Acaderma, a skincare line that brings together science and ethics for an empowering, sustainable, and effective model.
- Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City. She is experienced in a range of cosmetic and medical procedures, and also is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Hu also confirms these findings and says that people should be careful to check packaging if they have had allergic reactions to CAPB in the past. “High-grade CAPB products are likely free of these impurities completely, so that’s another aspect to keep in mind when you’re searching for products that contain the ingredient,” says Hu.
So what are the main benefits of cocamidopropyl betaine, and how should you use it in your routine? Ahead, we investigate with the help of our experts, as well as share some of the best products featuring the versatile ingredient.
Type of ingredient: Cocamidopropyl betaine is a surfactant, which means it binds to dirt and grime, works into a lather, and cleanses your skin or hair.
Main benefits: It lathers easily and leaves the skin feeling hydrated due to the fact that it's derived from coconuts.
How often to use it: Hu confirms that you can, and probably already do, use cocamidopropyl betaine daily because it’s so common in cleansers, including face and body washes as well as shampoos.
Works well with: It works well when paired with other ingredients and is a great hydrating body and face cleanser.
Don’t use with: While CAPB can be safely paired with other ingredients, keep it to a minimum if you’re acne-prone, as washing your face too much can result in your skin over-producing sebum.
What Is Cocamidopropyl Betaine?
If you love foamy or creamy cleansers, chances are high that you’re already using cocamidopropyl betaine in your beauty regimen. Cocamidopropyl betaine is a synthetically derived fatty acid that comes from coconuts. It acts as a surfactant, meaning it binds to oils, dirt, and grime, making it easier to wash off. “Overall, it is considered a gentle surfactant and also used to help as a foam booster,” says Garshick.
Benefits of Cocamidopropyl Betaine for Skin
Cocamidopropyl betaine is versatile enough to be featured across many different skincare products, but it does have a few common purposes that make it so popular.
- It’s cleansing: Since it binds to dirt, it’s great for ridding the skin of oil and grime picked up from the day. It’s also good at removing makeup.
- It’s hydrating: Being derived from coconuts, cocamidopropyl betaine is very hydrating. In fact, Hu says it’s much more hydrating than most other ingredients that are used as surfactants.
- It’s gentle: Since it cleans the skin by lathering up and bonding to the impurities, it’s super gentle on the skin.
- It can be used daily: This is definitely a product that you’ll want to integrate into your daily routine if you’re not using it already. It’s great at removing impurities that build up as a result of makeup or environmental pollutants.
- It’s great as a pre-moisturizing wash: If you’re looking for a body wash that’s gentle on your skin, this is the way to go. It sets a perfect base for any post-shower moisturizers.
Who Should Use Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Hu explains that “if you are someone that prefers skincare products with a thick, creamy consistency or that lather easily (like in a face wash or shampoo), you would benefit from using products with CAPB.”
Side Effects of Cocamidopropyl Betaine
While cocamidopropyl betaine has a slew of benefits, one downside is that it can be problematic for people with acne-prone skin.
“Since CAPB is very effective when it comes to removing the impurities from the skin, if your skin is acne-prone, it can potentially react by overcompensating and producing sebum that blocks pores and results in breakouts,” says Hu.
Since there are two main irritation culprits that pop up during production, make sure you spot-test to see if your skin reacts to them. If your reaction is mild, you can probably just invest in higher-quality products if you don’t want to avoid the ingredient entirely. You can also look into coco betaine, which isn’t synthetically derived.
How to Use Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Since this is an ingredient that’s in other products, you’re probably already using it without realizing it. Hu says it’s perfectly safe to use every day, and even a couple of times a day if you know that you’re not allergic and you haven’t seen any adverse effects. That said, washing your face with cleansers that are harsh could strip your skin of oils, so make sure you’re not overdoing it and are using a formula that gently cleanses and balances your skin.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine vs. Coco Betaine
While cocamidopropyl betaine is a popular alternative to sulfates in many products, it’s still synthetically made. Coco betaine, however, is not. That said, according to Hu, coco betaine is “similar in application and is also a surfactant.”
This could be good to know if you have found yourself having an allergic reaction to products containing cocamidopropyl betaine. Hu explains that studies have found that when people report allergic reactions to cocamidopropyl betaine, they’re actually reacting to impurities produced during the process of manufacturing it. This means if CAPB doesn't work for you, a higher-quality product or one containing coco betaine instead might.