One of the most talked-about subjects in haircare is the use (or avoidance) of sulfates. Sodium lauryl sulfate is one of the most commonly discussed ingredients, as it has been found to strip the hair of color and natural oils. While some experts don't buy into the sulfate-free controversy, many still choose to seek out shampoos that contain alternative cleansers. Enter, decyl-glucoside.
Decyl-glucoside is a gentle and biodegradable surfactant used in cosmetic products, such as shampoos and cleansers. It's derived from plant-based fatty alcohols (coconut c8-16) and glucose (sugar/starch), and it's become popular because of its ability to lather into a generous foam.
Decyl-glucoside is considered gentle due to its low risk of skin irritation. It is unique because it has a superior ability to create and maintain a foamy lather. It is technically considered a sulfate, however it is sourced from coconuts and is not considered carcinogenic—therefore it is considered a safe alternative to sulfates made of petroleum, such as sodium lauryl sulfate. For this reason, it's often used in baby shampoos and shampoos for those with scalp irritation.
Creating maximum lather with a plant-based and gentle formulation, decyl-glucoside sounds almost too good to be true. But is there anyone who shouldn't use it? We turned to experts for the full scoop.
Meet the Expert
- Jayne Bird, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia and the co-owner of Embrace Dermatology and Aesthetics, LLC.
- Azadeh Shirazi, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of La Jolla Laser Dermatology.
- Veronica Joseph is an IAT certified hair specialist. She is also the founder of Luxju.
Find out all the pros and cons and the best ways to use decyl-glucoside to get the maximum benefits from this foaming cleanser.
Type of ingredient: Cleanser
Main benefits: Cleanses scalp and hair, maintains natural moisture, and reduces chance of skin irritation
Who should use it: Decyl-glucoside is safe for use on all hair types and textures, but those with curly or dry hair who are looking for a gentle cleanser would benefit most. It is also beneficial for those with irritated and dry scalps who are looking to cleanse without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
How often can you use it: It is safe for daily use, but like other surfactants, it should not be left on for more than a few minutes at a time to avoid irritation. All hair and scalp needs will vary from person to person, so it's important to speak to your dermatologist if you feel your current cleansing routine is not working for you.
Works well with: It can be combined with all types of other surfactants. It’s often combined with natural polymers, such as xanthan gum and carrageenan gum, to create a thicker formula. Combining it with cocamidopropyl betaine or soy results in a smoother consistency.
Don’t use with: It has been shown to cause irritation when combined with methylene bis-benzotriazolyl (MBBT), but the cause of this irritation has not been determined. Those with a known allergy to the alkyl glucosides or coconut should not use decyl-glucoside.
Benefits of Decyl-Glucoside for Hair
Keeping the scalp clean of oil and buildup is essential for good scalp health and overall hair appearance. Shampoos are surfactants, which work by reducing the surface tension between oil and water to remove dirt, debris, and oil from the hair and scalp. Many shampoos use harsh sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, which cause a lathering effect for a deep clean, Shirazi explains.
Many shampoo alternatives for dry and curly hair do not foam up, which may result in the feeling that the scalp is not thoroughly cleaned because we traditionally expect a lather from shampoo. Decyl-glucoside is a unique cleanser because it has the ability to lather into a rich foam despite not containing these harsh sulfates. "Sulfates can be harmful to health as they can build up in the body overtime," explains certified trichologist Veronica Joseph. "They can strip the natural oils from the scalp and hair strands potentially leading to a dry scalp and hair. Some sulfates are derived from petroleum, known to be a carcinogenic ingredient. Petroleum based products when applied to the hair or scalp can coat hair strands not allowing moisture in or out."
Decyl-glucoside is plant-derived, not petroleum-derived, making it a safer choice. Here are the other benefits of decyl-glocoside:
- Gently cleanses scalp and hair: Decyl-glucoside is able to cleanse the scalp and hair of dirt and excess oil without the risk of irritation posed by other cleansers that contain harsh sulfates. "Decyl-glucoside is considered much less irritating and more gentle on the skin, with superior foaming properties that disperse the formulation across the skin, improving the feel," Shirazi explains. Decyl-glucoside is considered so gentle that many baby shampoos and washes trust it on ultra-sensitive baby skin.
- Maintains moisture: Unlike traditional sulfates used in many shampoos, decyl-glucoside is not stripping. "By creating a nice foam and rinsing out well, it is capable of effectively cleansing the scalp and hair—all while maintaining moisture," Bird shares. This makes it a great option for those with dry or curly hair who want to remove buildup and avoid harshly disrupting the scalp's natural oil production.
- Does not irritate scalp or skin: Most sulfates can be harsh on the skin, leading to irritation, flaking, and inflammation, Shirazi explains. Because of its more natural formulation, Decyl-glucoside is able to provide a luxurious lather that does not irritate the scalp or skin. Scalp inflammation and irritation are leading causes of hair loss, so reducing these conditions can lead to an improved overall appearance of the hair.
- Provides lift: Many natural shampoos do not form a lather and can leave the hair feeling heavy or limp. Shirazi recommends decyl-glucoside to those looking to add texture or volume to the hair shaft thanks to its superior foaming properties compared with other cleansers.
- Shampoos without damaging the environment: Bird explains that decyl-glucoside is formed by reacting a natural alcohol from coconut with sugar (glucose). It’s considered mild, low toxicity, and eco-friendly, making it a great option for those looking to minimize the environmental footprint of their beauty routine. Shirazi agrees, adding that as a plant-based ingredient, it’s a sustainable alternative to conventional surfactants.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that decyl-glucoside is safe for all hair types, including curly, dry, and color-treated hair. If you're looking for a solution for removing buildup without stripping hair of color or natural oils, decyl-glucoside is a solid choice. This cleanser is also a great option for those with inflammation or irritation of the scalp who want to cleanse without worsening the condition of the skin.
"If you have allergies to the plant-based ingredients used to produce decyl-glucoside, such as coconuts, palm oil or corn, decyl-glucoside should be avoided as an ingredient in a hair product," cautions Joseph. "The American Contact Dermatitis Society lists decyl-glucoside as an allergen it has the potential to irritate eyes, skin, and the lungs."
How to Use Decyl-Glucoside for Hair
Decyl-glucoside can be found listed as an ingredient on many beauty products, but it is most often found in the baby care aisle due to its gentle nature. It is a great option for those who are trying to avoid harsher sulfates in their haircare routine, but miss the rich lather of traditional shampoos.
This is not an ingredient for purchase individually, but instead something you would look for on the label of shampoos and co-washes. Products containing decyl-glucoside can be safely used daily, however it is important to avoid over-cleansing the hair and scalp, as this can contribute to irritation and dry hair/scalp conditions.
Here are the main ways you will see decyl-glucoside used in products for the hair:
- Gentle shampoos: "A hair cleansing product that has decyl-glucoside as an ingredient is a milder product that is safe for a sensitive skin and scalp," says Joseph. As with other surfactants, products containing decyl-glucoside should only be left on for a few minutes before thoroughly rinsing out to avoid irritation.
- Moisturizing conditioners: Gentle conditioners will often have decyl-glucoside in it for its moisturizing properties, as well as its ability to keep the product's ingredients stable. Decyl-glucoside also helps the conditioner rinse out easily.
- Hair styling products: You will also find decyl-glucoside in hair styling products, including hair gels, mousses, dry shampoo and smoothing serums.
The Best Products With Decyl-Glucoside
From shampoos to conditioners and styling products, there are many hair care products with this hardworking ingredient.
Shirazi recommends the Mielle Organics Babassu Conditioning Shampoo as a gentle moisturizing shampoo that contains decyl-glucoside.
Simply spray in this Desert Essence Coconut Hair Defrizzer and Heat Protector for shiny and smooth hair. Infused with coconut and jobjoba oils, along with decyl-glucoside, this product will also help protect your hair from heat damage.
This SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Shampoo gently cleanses hair while infusing it with moisture from coconut oil. This shampoo has decyl-glucoside and is free of harsh sulfates, parabens and phthalates.
Add lift and body to your hair with John Masters Organics volumizing foam. This aerosol-free foam is made of gentle ingredients, including quinoa, acacia gum and decyl-glucoside.
The decyl-glucoside in this R+Co Analog Conditioner provides the natural cleansing and foaming properties to make this product a home run. This product helps color-treated or dry hair look shiny, smooth and healthy.
Is decyl-glucoside considered vegan?
Yes, decyl-glucoside is vegan as it does not contain animal or animal by-products.
Is decyl-glucoside considered safe?
The Environmental Working Group ranked decyl-glucoside as a 2 or “low hazard” on a 1-10 scale. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel researched this ingredient and found it to be safe as well.
Does decyl-glucoside help with dandruff?
Due to its superior cleansing properties, you will often find decyl-glucoside in many anti-dandruff shampoos.
Ingredient profile: Decyl glucoside. (2013, September 20). Cosmetics & Toiletries. https://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/cosmetic-ingredients/cleansing/article/21835975/ingredient-profile-decyl-glucoside
Fiume, M. M., Heldreth, B., Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C. D., Liebler, D., Marks, J. G., Shank, R. C., Slaga, T. J., Snyder, P. W., & Andersen, F. A. (2013). Safety assessment of decyl glucoside and other alkyl glucosides as used in cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology, 32(5_suppl), 22S-48S. https://doi.org/10.1177/1091581813497764
Ewg skin deep® | what is decyl glucoside. (n.d.). EWG. Retrieved December 19, 2021, from http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/701883-DECYL_GLUCOSIDE-DECYL_GLUCOSIDE/
Cosmetic ingredient review |. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2021, from https://www.cir-safety.org/