Silicones in hair products
Silicones have been used in personal care products since the 1950s. Initially limited to skin care products, silicone’s use has spread into hair care products and treatments. They are widely recognised for their lubricating properties and characteristically soft smooth feel they help create. Are they safe to use? And why beauty community have recently seen a backlash on silicones?
While silicones that made it to your product shelf are considered safe to use, not all silicones have been created equal. Long-term effects of usage, including build up and hair brittleness have been gaining more and more prominence recently.
In response, to these issues beauty industry introduced “water soluble silicones” to address negative effects of non-soluble silicones while also keeping its benefits, especially to those of us with chemically-treated and / or curly hair. In hair care, cosmetic manufacturers add silicones to shampoos, conditioners, and styling products to help create the slip needed to detangle and give hair a silky shine and manageability. Let’s take a look at how silicones types differ.
Non-soluble silicones in hair care
These are silicones that you cannot remove or penetrate with water, which can inadvertently damage the hair. This happens by silicones “sticking” to the hair surface creating a plastic-like film, preventing strands to absorb water, air and nutrients. Without regular usage of clarifying shampoo, hair becomes dry and brittle – which leads to damage and breakage. With a caveat, these types of silicones have an advantage when protecting hair against high heat styling, being a lot more efficient in this task than most natural oils.
If you do find yourself using products with non-soluble silicones or only just came about to learning about its culprits, you can remove these silicones from the hair shaft by washing with clarifying shampoos otherwise known, as shampoos with surfactants. These types of shampoos, although sometime necessary, are drying to the strands. The problem with non-soluble silicones is the fact that they seal the hair shaft completely, allowing no moisture to penetrate the hair shaft until you wash out the silicone. As an alternative to clarifying shampoos, you can use apple cider vinegar rinse to remove mild product build up.
Some non-soluble silicones that are typically found in hair products include:
- Pheryl Trimethicone
- Ceteraryl Methicone
- Stearyl Dimethicone
- Ingredients ending with “-cone”
- Amodimethicone (non-soluble when Trideceth-12 and Cetrimonium Chloride are absent)
Water Soluble Silicones
The name is the give-away – a water-soluble silicone is the one that it is able to dissolve in water. It is a silicone that is easy to wash out of the hair using mild-shampoos or conditioner-only techniques and which does not leave a heavy buildup. For a time cyclomethicone was claimed to be water soluble, but in fact its solubility is at the lower end of solubility spectrum: 20mg/L. So if your conditioner / mask contains cyclomethicone, you would need to follow a clarifying routine to remove product build up.
Examples of water-soluble silicones are:
- Dimethicone Copolyol
- Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
- Any silicone with PEG as a prefix
How to remove silicones from your hair?
While not all silicones are “evil”, over time without appropriate clarifying routine, it can lead to product build up, breakage and lifeless looking strands. While there is some evidence that apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse can help remove non-heavy product build up from silicones, the best way to tackle it is to use gentle silicone-free clarifying shampoo. Use it only a few times a month – vary depending on heaviness of your silicone-product usage.
Harsh surfactants you should avoid:
- sodium laureth, myreth, lauryl sulfate
- sodium coco sulfate
- ammonium lauryl and laureth sulfate
Some of the gentler cleansing surfactants that you can use to get rid of product build up. are:
- sodium cocyl isethionate
- cocamidopropyl betaine
- sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
- sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate
To repair damage resulting from silicone-based products and nourish the hair shaft, consider using suitable natural oils, instead of conditioners and masks that contain silicones.
Want more customised advice? Take our quiz to find out which natural oil works best with your hair type.
To “nip it in the bud” – attempt to eliminate, or at least minimise products in your hair care routine that contain silicones. While silicone-based are a widely available quick fix to protect your hair against heat-damage, minimising regular use of high heat styling altogether is absolutely the way to go. For curly hair, following Curly Girl Method, which leads you onto slowly abandoning shampoo, heat styling and embraces the bouncy nature of your curl can be a useful, long-term solution.
If you want to step off the silicone ladder altogether, first step is clarifying your hair from the product build up using apple cider rinses and then substituting your silicone-based heat protectants with 100% shea butter – a natural oil is known to lock in the moisture and protect your hair against heat almost on par with silicone-based products. Shea butter works for blow-drying that uses low to medium-heat. If using a curling iron or hair-strenghtener water soluble serums is still the most effective way to protect your hair without weighing it down. As you would need to use a clarifying shampoo to remove the build up, ultimately there is nothing better for your hair than to just Leave. It. Alone. Consider using heat-styling tools no more than once to twice a month (!) and gradually train your hair to grow out to its natural silky beauty.
On a final note, that if you dye your hair and use a clarifying shampoo regularly to remove product build up, the sulfates in your clarifying shampoo remove the pigment in the hair shaft, thus making the colour fade faster. This means that you might have to visit a colourist more often and therefore subject your hair shaft to more damage that can lead to hair thinning and brittleness.
Want to learn more about chemistry of your hair health and how to restore its natural beauty? Check out our article about death of a hair follicle HERE >
- Safety Assessment of Dimethicone Crosspolymers as Used in Cosmetics (1)
- Silicones in Cosmetics (2)
- Rheological characterization of polysaccharide–surfactant matrices for cosmetic O/W emulsions (3)
- Emulsion stability of cosmetic creams based on water-in-oil high internal phase emulsions (4)
- Biology of hair care (5)