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Silicones in Hair Care: Are All Silicones Equal?

June 29, 2022 4 min read


Mention silicone in a gathering of hair professionals and hair care enthusiasts and you might spark up a very heated debate as to whether it’s good or bad for your hair. Silicone, initially used exclusively in skin care products, was introduced to hair care products and treatments in the 1970s. You’ve probably come across articles bashing silicones or people swearing never again to use it in their hair care routine. Why do silicones have such a controversial reputation? Are they truly bad for your hair? Are there good and bad silicones? Do you need to steer clear of silicones? Read on and we’ll acquaint you with all the information you need to make an informed decision that will work best for you.

What Are Silicones?

Silicones are a group of inorganic materials (meaning they are man-made, although they are made from naturally derived materials). They consist of atoms of silicon (a mineral sand element) and oxygen. Most silicones are generally recognized by names ending in “-cone” or “-oxane.”

Silicones have exceptional chemical and physical properties:

  • They are highly resistant to high and low temperatures
  • They resist degradation by UV rays
  • They repel water

Objects made with silicones or that have silicones as one of their ingredients can take on these properties. Silicones are found in a wide range of consumer and industrial goods across various fields (health care, aerospace, electronics, personal care, transportation, construction, etc.) The real question here is, “What exactly are silicones doing in hair care products?”

Hair Care Products

Why Are They Added to Hair Care Products?

Three types of silicones are used in hair care products - water-soluble, non-soluble, and evaporating (also known as volatile). Silicone is added to hair care products for several reasons and because it serves some important purposes They create a thin, waterproof coating around the hair cuticle that protects the hair against environmental aggressors like humidity. The coating serves to seal in moisture, keeping your hair hydrated from the inside. They also prevent frizz because the coating prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft.

Silicones also serve to protect the hair from damage that can be caused by using heat-styling tools like blow dryers and hot irons. Silicones give your hair slip and shine, they make hair strands softer and easy to manage. Silicones are especially great for people with coarse, thick, curly, and dry hair prone to frizz. It makes their hair strands easy to detangle and style. Silicone makes curly hair shiny and easy to style and prevents snagging and tangling when brushing or styling.

Why Do Silicones Have a Controversial Reputation?

With all the benefits mentioned in the previous section, you must be asking, “Why then do silicones have a bad reputation if they offer these benefits?” Who doesn’t want silky smooth hair that is easy to style and detangle? True, silicones are synthetic, and since there is a widespread movement to go organic, this alone could be the reason why some people are against silicones. But even though silicones are synthetic, they offer great benefits that qualify them to be viable ingredients in hair care products. Not all silicones are created equally, some are great for your hair and some are not. Silicone isn’t a toxic chemical, and it won’t affect your physical health in any way.

The only downside worth mentioning is that certain types of silicones (the wrong types of silicones - insoluble silicones) can build up on the hair and act like waterproofing agents, totally preventing moisture from penetrating the hair shaft. This build-up can result in dryness and greasiness. The takeaway here is, that not all silicones are made the same. There are non-soluble and heavy silicones that leave a residue and eventually cause a build-up, and there are water-soluble silicones that are lighter and don’t block moisture from reaching your hair strands. 


Water Soluble Vs. Insoluble Silicones

There are two types of silicones - water-soluble and insoluble silicones. Solubility is a special property of the good silicones used in hair care products. Silicones that are water soluble will dissolve and rinse away with water. Water-soluble silicones are easy to use, easy to wash out and offer a great way to condition your hair between washes.

Insoluble silicones are silicones that won’t dissolve in water, they are the type that end up building up on the hair strand, causing dryness and greasiness. They are the silicones that give silicones generally a bad rep. You’ll need a detergent to remove insoluble silicones from your hair strands.

No-Go Silicones

There are certain types of silicones you can look out for and avoid to escape the downsides of insoluble silicones. These types of silicones are the ones that give silicones their bad reputation because they create a very strong seal around the hair strand which is remarkably difficult to remove.

Watch out for these silicones:

  • Behenoxy dimethicone
  • Bis-Phenylpropyl Dimethicone
  • Cetearyl methicone
  • Cetyl dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol hydroxystearate
  • Polysilicone-18 Cetyl Phosphate
  • Propyl Dimethicone
  • Stearoxy dimethicone
  • Stearyl dimethicone
  • Stearyl methicone
  • Trimethylsiylamodimethicone
  • Aminopropyl Dimethicone (only in the presence of a cationic ingredient) Aminopropyltriethoxysilane (only in the presence of a cationic ingredient)

Should I Completely Steer Clear of Silicones?

Silicones added to hair products are completely safe to use. When used as recommended, there are no indications or proof that silicones will cause any damage to your health, especially water-soluble silicones. Understanding how silicones work and understanding your hair is a great way to start deciding whether to cut out silicones or not. If you have coarse, thick, and curly hair, you don’t have to quit silicones because they are very helpful in making your hair easy to detangle and style. What’s important is watching out for insoluble silicones and the no-go silicones mentioned above.

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