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Cocamide in shampoo causes eczema and dermatitis?

The other week on Beautylish there was an article about things that may cause you to break out, and cocamide was featured on there. Cocamide is usually chips of a solid derived from coconut oil, and Cocamide may be why you get un-acne like bumps around your hairline and why hairdressers get hand dermatitis.

What is Cocamide?

coconut cocamide mea dea

It’s a coconut derivative that helps with the viscosity of shampoos and other products, and is also an emulsifier, much like sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate. Don’t let it fool you: just because it’s not SLS doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Most types of Cocamides are restricted in cosmetics and cannot be used in a product that is airborne, such as an aerosol product, and can’t be present in high concentrations. Other types should not be used on wounded skin because of possible irritaiton.

Cocamide comes in different forms, such as Cocamide MEA and Cocamide DEA, among others, and can be found in lathering types of cleaners such as shampoo, body wash, facial cleanser, liquid hand soap and dandruff treatments.

Go take a look-see in your shower

I was horrified to see that 95% of the shampoos, conditioners, and face washes I own contain Cocamide MEA. It really doesn’t make sense for dandruff shampoos, either. Why would you put something on your scalp that causes eczema and dermatitis if you’re trying to treat dandruff? It doesn’t make any sense!

I’ve heard that hairdressers frequently will get hand dermatitis because their hands are constantly in and out of water and dry out easily, but never did I think it could be caused by an ingredient in the products they use on clients daily.

According to Health & Safety Executive in the UK, hand dermatitis (associated with dryness, redness, itching, flaking/scaling, cracking/blistering and pain) can flare up after a few contacts with strong chemicals like bleach. More commonly it develops gradually through frequent wet working or working with milder chemicals like shampoo.

Putting two and two together

So, if contact with shampoo can cause dermatitis for beauty professionals, so can anyone else who uses shampoo with the same chemicals.

Considering the products in which this chemical can be found, we’re certainly exposed to it A LOT. Dry skin? No problem, let’s just rub something all over our skin that will make it even worse. Sounds a lot like the lip balm situation made known in years past, where lip balms containing petroleum actually dried out your lips and created an addiction to the product.

As someone who’s spent a lifetime suffering with eczema and dry skin, I am certainly going to do my best to eliminate this ingredient from my regimen. (Sadly, even a natural shampoo I received recently contained cocamide….)


While there isn’t a cancer or hormone link, Cocamide is something to be aware of if you suffer from dry skin, eczema, dermatitis, or other skin ailments.

Oy vey.

Photo by SingChan.

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