I am wondering how the cocoate ion (in natural soaps, in the form of sodium or potassium cocoate and from the saponification of coconut oil) differs structurally from the olivate ion (from the saponification of olive oil)?

My family is attempting to implement the methods in solveeczema.org and believe that our children have detergent-reactive eczema and our baby is most sensitive. In moving away from detergents and to natural soaps, we have started using soaps that result from the saponification of vegetable oils - mostly coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and olive oil. We discovered that our other child (a toddler) seems to react to these soaps in a similar way that he would react to a cleaner containing much stronger/harsher surfactants (such as sodium lauryl sulfate).

Our toddler seems to get bad eczema flares using soaps that contain cocoate, but he has no reaction to soaps that contain 100% olivate. I have no idea why this would be, since I would assume that both cocoate and olivate have the R-COO- structure. Is cocoate much more hydrophilic than olivate? Is the functional group different? Is the cocoate ion a longer molecule that looks much more like a harsh detergent than a salt resulting from saponification of olive oil or tallow?

Please note that this question is related to two questions already asked:

1) Is soap the natural form of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

2) https://parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/5047/how-to-test-whether-my-toddler-is-allergic-to-detergent/5049#comment7644_5049


1 Answer 1


Note 1. Both coconut oil and olive oil are natural oils. The soap, produced from them, is mixture of several compounds.

The difference of olive and coconut oil may be easily found in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_oil#Composition_and_comparison

In short, coconut oil contains mostly saturated acids esters, while olive contains mostly unsaturated ones. The unsaturated acid esters are responsible for olive oil ability to solidify on air. But here is

Note 2: In my knowledge, allergy is usually caused by carbohydrates or proteins. Fatty acids and their ions have too few binding sites to be recognized by immune system as something distinct from our own. The real source of reaction may be

  1. Minor components of initial oil. There are quite many of them and removing them completely is not easy.
  2. Other components of soap, such as perfume or pigment.
  3. Soap solution pH, that may differs from soap kind to kind, but this is unlikely.
  • $\begingroup$ Hi and thanks for your response. I don't think my toddler is allergic to the soap with cocoate but rather believe his skin is damaged by the cocoate ions in a similar way as SLS and harsher detergents relating to increasing membrane permeability (see <solveeczema.org/thesolution.html#membrane_permeability>). Many other children whose parents have implemented the methods have have had their eczema cured by using soaps (not detergents) even when these soaps contain cocoate but my son seem to have an extra (rare) sensitivity. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ The soaps we are using containing cocoate had no other perfumes/pigments that he could be reacting to (one he reacted to contained only saponified coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil!). The pH thing is a possibility since some soaps are more drying than others and I wonder if more alkaline soaps cause irritation to the extent that it causes eczema on my toddler (because it seems to cause excessive drying to the point of discomfort, but intact skin) on me. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ This is why I wondered whether what the cocoate ion looks like compared with the olivate ion, and if the cocoate ion is better at producing similar results that affect membrane permeability on an eczematic person (similar to other coconut-derived surfactants like SLS) than olivate? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Soap are kind of detergent. Technically. They are little less dangerous for skin, then LSL, but not completely safe. $\endgroup$
    – permeakra
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ 2. LSL and soap are so known 'anionic surfactants'. They are less costly then any alternative. They are, however, most aggressive. There are cationic surfactants and non-ionic surfactants as well. Traditional soaps also gives slightly basic solutions, that is not best for skin. This is the reason one should look skeptically on natural soaps, despite their, ergh, 'naturality'. $\endgroup$
    – permeakra
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 4:58

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