Sodium Palmate: What It Is and Why It's in Your Favorite Products

A dermatologist and a cosmetic scientist explain.

Sodium Palmate Soap Bubbles

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Store-bought products contain a lot of ingredients, and it can be hard to know what you need to be wary of. That said, while some of the chemical names may sound intimidating, they may actually be necessary components of your beloved products. This is definitely the case with sodium palmate. 

Byrdie spoke with cosmetic scientist and skincare entrepreneur Dr. Shuting Hu, as well as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. They explained why sodium palmate is used in so many products, including how it reacts with different skin types and who should avoid it. 

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.

While it’s typically safe to be used daily or even multiple times per day, Hu explains that it’s particularly important to implement into your nighttime skincare routine. “It's best to cleanse your face with a product that contains sodium palmate at night since you will have the most amount of excess dirt and oil on your face from the day,” says Hu. 

Curious why that is or where to get started? Keep reading to learn all about sodium palmate.

Sodium Palmate

Type of ingredient: According to Garshick, sodium palmate is a common base ingredient found in soaps that helps pull dirt and grime away from the skin. 

Main benefits: Not only does it remove oil, dirt, and grime, it acts as an emulsifier so that your products maintain their consistency. 

Who should use it: Garshick explains that sodium palmate can be used by anyone unless they have a known allergy, which is rare. 

How often can you use it: Hu and Garshick confirm that it can be used daily and even multiple times per day.

Works well with: It works well with moisturizers since it can be a little drying, so go ahead and slather on your favorite after use. Garshick suggests pairing it with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin

Don’t use with: It can be paired with most things—just make sure that you’re looking out for your skin’s moisture barrier with nourishing ingredients.

What Is Sodium Palmate?

While sodium palmate may sound like a synthetic ingredient that you’d want to avoid, it’s actually one of the good guys. “Sodium palmate is a type of sodium salt that is derived naturally from the fatty acids found in palm oil,” says Hu. “It is synthesized by reacting palm oil with sodium hydroxide in a process called saponification, which occurs when a fatty acid reacts with an alkali.” 

She continues by saying that it’s usually used when making soaps and other cosmetics as part of the base, which is the most pure part of the soap before any coloring or scents are added in. Garshick explains that it “helps to eliminate excess oil and build up on the skin, and acts as an emulsifier which helps to keep a formulation from breaking apart.” In short, it keeps your favorite products looking and feeling like, well, your favorite products.

Benefits of Sodium Palmate for Skin

While one of the top reasons sodium palmate is in so many products is to ensure the formula works how it's supposed to, this ingredient has several benefits that enhance your skincare regimen.

It strips away dirt and oil: Sodium palmate quite literally lifts oils, dirts and other impurities off of the skin so that they can be washed away. 

It’s gentle: Hu explains that it’s known to be gentle and good for lots of different skin types. 

You can use it daily: Not only can you use this product daily, you can use it multiple times per day. Definitely make sure you’re using it at night, which is when you need to take extra care to make sure your skin is clean.

It can be paired with any ingredients: Not only is sodium palmate paired with other ingredients in products, it can be paired with other products in your skincare regimen. In fact, both experts recommend pairing it with something that adds a little moisture back into your routine. 

It helps emulsify products: Simply put, this means that it helps your favorite products to maintain the texture that you love.

Side Effects of Sodium Palmate

While sodium palmate is a gentle cleanser, because it’s so good at stripping oils off of the skin, it can be drying. If you have normal or combination skin, you should be fine using it. That said, Hu and Garshick caution those with very dry or acne-prone skin

“If you have extremely sensitive or possibly acne-prone skin, you may want to avoid sodium palmate,” says Hu. “While it is an incredibly effective cleansing agent and removes impurities quite well, individuals who have sensitive or acne-prone skin have reported redness and irritation as a result.”

How to Use Sodium Palmate

While you can use sodium palmate in cleansers during the morning and night, if you only want to use it once, make it a part of your nightly regimen—this is when you really want to make sure you’ve removed all of your makeup and grime from the day. Definitely follow with a moisturizer so that your skin doesn’t start to feel too dry.

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