Cocamide DEA in Personal Care Products

Explore Cocamide DEA's role in personal care products, its benefits and applications, from shampoos to lotions.
8 min read

Cocamide DEA (Cocamide Diethanolamine) is a nonionic surfactant widely used in personal care products. Derived from the fatty acids in coconut oil, it acts as an emulsifier, foam booster, viscosity modifier, and thickening agent. Cocamide DEA plays a significant role in the personal care industry, since it provides these multifaceted, essential functions. Its benefits also extend to cost-effectiveness, biodegradability, and versatility. 

This article explores the function, applications, benefits, and controversies surrounding Cocamide DEA in personal care products.

What is Cocamide DEA?

Cocamide DEA, or cocamide diethanolamide, is a diethanolamine produced by condensing fatty acid methyl esters and diethanolamine. Two processes manufacture these ingredients and may contain varying amounts of free diethanolamine. They are surface active agents used primarily as emollients, thickeners, and dispersion aids in cosmetics, such as shampoos, hair dyes, bath products, and lotions. 

Chemical structure of Cocamide DEA

Source: Wikipedia 

How is Cocamide DEA Produced?

  • Cocamide diethanolamide is produced by condensation at a 1:1 or 1:2 molar ratio of the appropriate fatty acids to diethanolamine.
  • The 1:2 mixture of fatty acid (or methyl fatty acid) to diethanolamine results in a lower-quality diethanolamide with ethylene glycol and free diethanolamine residues. 
  • The 1:1 mixture produces a higher quality diethanolamide with much less free amine and is consequently used in lower concentrations than the 1:2 diethanolamide.
  • The appropriate fatty acids for manufacturing Cocamide DEA are methyl cocoate, coconut oil, whole coconut, or stripped coconut fatty acids.

Use of Cocamide DEA in the Personal Care Industry

Cocamide DEA is used to manufacture many personal care products in various markets, such as skin care, hair care, bath and shower, color cosmetics, etc. It is a multi-functional ingredient used as a surfactant, foaming agent, viscosity modifier, and emulsifier in the cosmetic industry. Below is an illustration of the individual functions in detail.

Applications in Personal Care Industry 

SurfactantCocamide DEA is a non-ionic surfactant used as a significant component in many cosmetic formulations, such as bath oil, shampoo, conditioner, and hair dye.
Foam BoosterThe use of Cocamide DEA in cosmetic and personal hygiene products is mostly based on the capability of the compound to generate foam. The good foamability of products containing Cocamide DEA contributes to efficiently removing impurities from the body, hair, and other performance aspects. The foamability of Cocamide DEA is particularly noticeable when mixed with anionic surfactants.
Viscosity ModifierCocamide DEA acts in many products as a rheology modifier, improving the consistency of a cosmetic by changing its viscosity. Rheology modification is essential.
Emulsifying AgentCocamide DEA is used in personal care products as an emulsifier that helps in keeping the formulation stable and prevents the mixture from separating.
Emulsion StabilizerCocamide DEA helps to support the emulsion formation and thus helps improve the product’s stability.

Product Examples

Bath and ShowerBath oils, Bath tablets, Bath salts, Bubble bath, Body wash, Hand soap
Hair CareHair conditioner, Shampoo, Hair styling products, Hair color
Color cosmeticsBlush, Lipsticks
Skin CareCold creams, lotions, Shaving cream

Properties of Cocamide DEA

Physical FormLiquid
OdorFaint odor
Shelf Life2 years
Storage Temperature & ConditionsKeep cool and dry place
Appearance at 25°CViscous yellow to amber liquid
pH (10% Aqueous solution at 25°C)9.0-10.5
Density at 20°C0.99 g/cm3
Viscosity at 20°C, mPa.s. c1150
Melting Point23-35°C
Boiling Point168-274°C
Acid Value, mgr. KOH/gr3.0 maximum
Specific Gravity at 20°C1.004
HLB Value12.558
Solubility (Water)5-10 g/100 mL at 18 ºC
StabilityStable. Combustible. Incompatible with strong oxidizing agents.

Typical Formulations

Moisturizing Shampoo

Here is an example of shampoo with Cocamide DEA along with the % weight of INCI: 

PHASEINCI NameTRADE NameSupplier% Wt.
AWaterDistilled Water QS
Polyquaternium-7Merquat 550Calgon0.05 
Sodium Lauryl SulfateStepanol WACStepan10.00 
Sodium Laureth SulfateStepanol CS-230Stepan10.00 
Cocamidopropyl Betaine Amphosol CAStepan3.00
Cocamide DEA Mackamide CMcIntyre1.00 
BHydrolyzed Jojoba ProteinJOJOBA PRO-HP® Desert Whale5.50 
Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower ExtractChamomile ExtractActive Organic0.07
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract Aloe Vera ExtractBrooks0.03 
Calendula Officinalis Flower ExtractCalendula Extract Active Organic0.05
Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root ExtractLicorice ExtractActive Organic0.03
CCitric acid Citric AcidQS 
Sodium ChlorideSodium ChlorideQS 

Source: Knowde 

Formulation Procedure

  • To a suitably sized vessel, weigh the required amount of Phase A water. 
  • Begin mixing and add the remaining Phase A ingredients (in order). 
  • Continue mixing and heat to 75ºC. Mix until uniform. 
  • Continue mixing and cool to 35ºC. 
  • Continue mixing and add the Phase B ingredients.
  • Continue mixing and add the Phase C ingredients. 
  • Continue mixing and adjust the pH to 5.5 to 6.0 with a 25% Citric Acid solution. 
  • Viscosity may be increased by the addition of 10% aq. Sodium Chloride solution.
  • Continue mixing until uniform and cool to the desired filling temperature.

Cocamide DEA Formulation Considerations

  • The addition of cocamide DEA helps reduce the surface tension in soap formulation. In a formulation study of a transparent soap with 10% cocamide DEA, the properties were enhanced as 69.38% foam ability, 0.146% free fatty acid, pH 8.9, and hardness 569.6 mm/g/s. Making it a suitable gentle skin soap that works on cleansing without ripping off natural skin moisture.
  • Cocamide DEA is an efficient cleansing agent whose main characteristic is being a good addition to other (anionic) cleaning agents and working as an excellent foam booster and viscosity builder. It works great in conjugation with anionic surfactants such as ammonium lauryl sulfate, thus enhancing the overall cleansing experience, foam texture, and richness of foam in the final product.
  • CDEA can be added to lauryl sulfate-based liquid cleansers to help stabilize and improve foam formation.
  • Coconut DEA is an ingredient in various cosmetic formulations, including shampoos, conditioners, bath oils, cooling fluids, lipsticks, soap bars, hair dyes, and different household detergents, in concentrations ranging from 1% to 25%.
  • Coconut DEA features good stabilizing properties. Additional advantages of Coconut DEA in hair care formulations include excellent wetting, dispersion, and antistatic performances.

Safety & Regulatory Considerations

FDA InformationAccording to the FDA, cocamide DEA is safe for personal hygiene products and cosmetics.
EU Information Cocamide DEA is not included among the ingredients listed as prohibited from use in cosmetic products marketed in the European Economic Community (EEC, 1993).
Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) InformationThe CIR Expert Panel concludes that Cocamide DEA is safe as a cosmetic ingredient. These chemicals should not be used in cosmetic products containing nitrosating agents. 

Health Effects of Cocamide DEA

Ocular IrritationCocamide DEA was tested for ocular irritation in three female rabbits. A single 0.1 ml aliquot of the solution was instilled into the conjunctival sac of the rabbits’ left eyes, and the untreated right eyes served as controls. The cumulative ocular irritation rating was not reported, but 30% of Cocamide DEA was at least a mild eye irritant.
Skin IrritationCocamide DEA was tested on six rabbits to evaluate the irritation of a 30% solution of Cocamide DEA in propylene glycol. The dorsal area of each rabbit was shaved, and 0.3 ml of the test material was applied via a patch to either an intact or abraded site. The entire trunk of each animal was wrapped in cellophane, and the patches remained in skin contact for 23 h. Test sites were scored for irritation 1 and 49 h after patch removal. Thirty percent of Cocamide DEA was a moderate skin irritant; the primary irritation index (PII) was 3.1 (max 8). No control data is available.
CarcinogenicityNo carcinogenicity data on these ingredients were available in the published literature.
Other ConsiderationsCocamide DEA is known to be a mild skin irritant but not a sensitizer or photosensitizer.

Safety & Toxicity of Cocamide DEA

Identification Numbers

Chemical NameCoconut oil acid diethanolamine
CAS Number68603-42-9
EC Number271-657-0
EINECS Number271-657-0

Acceptable Limits or Maximum Usage

  • Products containing Cocamide DEA are applied to or come in contact with all exterior portions of the body, including skin, hair, nails, eyes, and mucous membranes.
  • These products remain in contact with the body for minutes up to several days and are applied anywhere from once every few months to several times daily. 

The maximum usage level of Cocamide DEA in the personal care industry as per the CIR is as follows.

CategoryUsage Level
Baby Shampoo and other baby products1-5 %
Bath oils, Bath tablets, Bath salts1-5 %
Bubble bath and other bath preparation5-10 %
Hair conditioners, Permanent waves, Hair shampoo1-10 %
Blushes and lipstick1-5 %
Face, body, and hand skin care preparations (excluding shaving preparations)1-5 %
Shaving cream (aerosol, brushless, and lather)0.1-1 %
Skin cleansing preparations (cold creams, lotions, liquids, and pads)1-5%
Hair dyes and color10-25 %

Source: CIR Safety 

Fun Facts About Cocamide DEA

  • Cocamide DEA is derived from the fatty acids in coconut oil. Despite its somewhat chemical-sounding name, it has a connection to something as natural and tropical as coconuts.
  • As a surfactant, Cocamide DEA can reduce the surface tension of a liquid. This might sound interesting, but it allows it to make bubbles and foam in products like shampoo. The science of creating that perfect lather is more complex than it may seem!
  • Cocamide DEA is a natural multitasker. It doesn’t just serve one purpose in personal care products; it acts as an emulsifier, foam stabilizer, and viscosity increaser. This kind of multi-functionality is rare and exciting in cosmetic chemistry.
  • Cocamide DEA is biodegradable. While the environmental impact of personal care products can be a concern, the biodegradability of Cocamide DEA means that it breaks down in the environment rather than persisting and potentially causing harm.

Additional Resources