Sodium Citrate: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: November 6, 2023
Table of Contents

Navigating the labyrinthine world of personal care ingredients can often feel like deciphering an ancient scroll—cryptic, complex, and downright confounding. For those without a Ph.D. in cosmetic chemistry, the back of a skincare or hair care product bottle may present a bewildering array of terms, each component more puzzling than the last.

One such ingredient in many cosmetic formulations is Sodium Citrate. Despite its seemingly obscure name, Sodium Citrate plays a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity and performance of cosmetic formulations.

In this article, we’re delving deep into this ingredient, spotlighting its cosmetic uses, its roles in cosmetic products, and even its potential side effects.

What is Sodium Citrate?

Sodium Citrate, also known as Trisodium citrate in the cosmetics industry, is an essential ingredient for product stability and performance enhancement. Renowned for its versatility, it serves primarily as a buffering and chelating agent, and plays a supportive role in fragrance composition.

This ingredient is synthesized by neutralizing citric acid, obtained from the fermentation of plant-based sugars, with sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate, and can be derived naturally from certain fruits or produced synthetically for use in various applications, including cosmetics.

Who Can Use Sodium Citrate?

Sodium Citrate’s mild nature makes it suitable for a wide range of skin types. It’s particularly compatible with formulas designed for sensitive skin due to its role in maintaining the product’s pH at non-irritating levels.

As for its vegan or vegetarian status, Sodium Citrate is a salt of citric acid, which is often derived from plant sources, making it an ingredient that aligns well with vegan and vegetarian skincare philosophies.

For expectant or new mothers, the question of safety in skincare ingredients is paramount. Sodium Citrate, due to its benign nature and the minimal concentrations used in cosmetic products, is generally considered safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, as with any ingredient, product, or regimen changes during these sensitive times, it’s always prudent to consult a healthcare provider.

Sodium Citrate’s Cosmetic Uses

Sodium Citrate is categorized as a non-active ingredient in cosmetic formulations. The term “non-active” is integral to understanding its role. Unlike active ingredients that target specific skin concerns, non-active ingredients support the overall formulation. They enhance the texture, stability, and efficacy of the product without directly altering the skin’s appearance or function.

Sodium Citrate’s inclusion in cosmetic products is based on its proficiency in several roles:

  • Buffering: Sodium Citrate acts as a pH adjuster, creating a buffer to maintain the acidity or alkalinity of a product. This is crucial because the skin has its own slightly acidic pH, which helps to ward off pathogens and keep a healthy skin barrier. By buffering, Sodium Citrate ensures the product’s pH is compatible with the skin’s natural conditions, minimizing irritation and enhancing the product’s skin-friendly profile. It helps to maintain the pH over time, even in the presence of air or when mixed with water during use, which could otherwise alter the pH.
  • Chelating: As a chelating agent, Sodium Citrate can bind to metal ions that may be present in the water used in formulations or those that are naturally found on the skin and in the environment. This binding process helps to inhibit the metals’ ability to affect the product’s stability and appearance. For instance, it can prevent the degradation of vitamins and antioxidants in the product, which may otherwise be prone to oxidation through metal-catalyzed reactions. This chelating action not only prolongs the shelf life of the product but also ensures that its active ingredients remain effective throughout its use.
  • Fragrance: In the context of fragrance, Sodium Citrate does not contribute to the scent profile directly. Instead, it influences fragrance in a supporting role by stabilizing the pH without adding any aroma of its own. This stabilization is essential because it can maintain the integrity of the fragrance components, which might otherwise degrade or change character in less than optimal pH conditions. By ensuring a stable pH, Sodium Citrate helps in preserving the intended olfactory experience of the product.

Through these roles, Sodium Citrate quietly upholds the quality and user experience of cosmetic products without being in the spotlight. Its behind-the-scenes work is a testament to the sophisticated and interconnected nature of ingredient science in cosmetics.

Sodium Citrate Potential Side Effects

While Sodium Citrate is generally considered safe for cosmetic products, reactions can vary from person to person due to individual skin sensitivities and unique biochemistry. These variances in reaction are often tied to one’s skin type, underlying skin conditions, and even environmental factors. For a better understanding of your skin type and how it may react to certain ingredients, consider learning more about your skin.

When it comes to side effects and potential interactions, Sodium Citrate is usually well-tolerated, but like any ingredient, it’s not without its list of potential reactions. These may include:

  • Irritation: In rare cases, some individuals might experience irritation, particularly if they have extremely sensitive skin.
  • Allergic Reaction: While uncommon, it’s possible for a person to have an allergic response to Sodium Citrate, which might result in redness, itching, or hives.
  • Dryness: Though it helps maintain the product’s pH, an imbalance or sensitivity could potentially lead to skin dryness or tightness.

If you experience any of these side effects, the first course of action should be to discontinue the use of the product containing Sodium Citrate and observe if symptoms persist or resolve. If any reaction is severe or continues to worsen, seeking medical attention is advised.

It’s noteworthy to mention that adverse reactions to Sodium Citrate are indeed rare. By and large, Sodium Citrate is a safe and effective ingredient that carries out its role in cosmetic formulations without issue for the majority of users.

Given the rarity of these side effects, it doesn’t overshadow the importance of conducting a preliminary skin test with new products. Patch testing is an excellent method to ensure compatibility with your skin, helping to prevent any unwanted reactions. For a step-by-step process on how to safely test products before full application, consider reviewing this patch testing guide.

Comedogenic Rating

When evaluating Sodium Citrate through the lens of comedogenicity, which measures the likelihood of an ingredient to clog pores, it garners a rating of 0/5.

This indicates that Sodium Citrate is non-comedogenic and does not pose a risk of clogging pores or exacerbating acne. Its role in cosmetic formulations does not interact with the skin in a way that affects the pore structure or sebum production, which are common factors leading to comedogenicity.

For individuals with acne-prone skin, ingredients that do not contribute to clogged pores are essential. Sodium Citrate’s non-comedogenic nature makes it suitable for those prone to breakouts, offering peace of mind that the product is unlikely to provoke acne flare-ups.


Not every ingredient in our personal care products is a front-runner in the quest for beauty and skin health. Some, like Sodium Citrate, serve as the unsung heroes that uphold the product’s quality and usability. As a non-active ingredient, its role is not to transform the skin directly but to support the overall formulation, ensuring that the products perform as intended.

Sodium Citrate’s ability to stabilize pH levels, chelate unwanted metal ions, and even contribute to the longevity and quality of a product’s fragrance underscores why it is considered a good and valuable addition to cosmetic formulations. These silent but critical functions ensure that the active ingredients can perform at their best, providing a consistent and pleasurable user experience.

As for its popularity, Sodium Citrate may not be the star of the show that draws consumers in, but its prevalence in formulations speaks to its importance. It’s a common ingredient, akin to other stabilizers and pH adjusters like Sodium Bicarbonate or Disodium EDTA, which you might find listed on your product labels.

For those with lingering concerns about Sodium Citrate, it’s worth emphasizing that it is widely regarded as safe and effective within the industry. Its use is regulated and well-researched, ensuring that it contributes positively to cosmetic products without unwanted side effects for most users. Its inclusion is a testament to the careful balance and complex science that goes into every personal care product we use.

Tell us how you found this article in just a couple of clicks!
Delivered right to your inbox each week. Zero spam, all goodness, opt-out at anytime.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
How did you find this article?
Tell us how you found this article in just a couple of clicks!
Get all our top headlines in beauty.
Delivered right to your inbox each week. Zero spam, all goodness, opt-out at anytime.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Send good feedback:

All feedback is anonymous and will be used to improve the quality of our articles.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Send bad feedback:

All feedback is anonymous and will be used to improve the quality of our articles.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.