Curly girls have been taught to live in fear of silicones and avoid them like the plague. A lot of products claim to be “silicone-free”. And yet despite all the controversy, it seems like silicones STILL get used in a lot of products. It’s really confusing. Is silicone good for hair? Is silicone bad for your hair? Or are they just getting a bad rap? Do silicones damage hair?! And if a product is silicone free, what ingredients are used instead? Today on the blog, we’re sorting it all out to help everyone, especially curly girls, to get the silicone story straight.
WHAT ARE SILICONES?
Silicones, commonly found in conditioners and styling products, are derived from a natural element called silica, which comes from sand. It starts off natural but silica is put through several chemical reactions to become the silicones you find in modern haircare products. Any ingredient that ends in ‘cone’ (like dimethicone) is some kind of silicone derivative.
There are hundreds of types of silicones used across different industries (car wax or tile grout for example). Thousands of beauty and personal care products use silicones. But the ones used in hair care products are created to deliver one of three things: silky texture, slip, or shine.
WHY DO HAIR PRODUCTS CONTAIN SILICONES? IS SILICONE GOOD FOR HAIR? Silicones are an industry staple because the effects that they give are difficult to accomplish with alternative ingredients, for example, oils.
Oils will give some of the benefits like shine – but typically to replace all the benefits of one silicone, you need several additional ingredients and they still won’t do the same job. Silicone is a “do it all” efficient ingredient, so it’s used pervasively.
WHY DOES THE CURLY COMMUNITY FEAR SILICONES? DO SILICONES DAMAGE HAIR?
Silicones have garnered a rep as water repellant and drying to the hair – and for curly people that’s a big no no. Hydration is essential for curly hair. But not all silicones are the same.
There are three key types of silicones:
- Occlusive Silicones: These are the water-repellant silicones. They form a barrier or layer on the hair and stay there, unless removed with a cleanser (some examples are certain forms of dimethicone or amodimethicone that are non-soluable). If left on the hair, they form a barrier that keeps moisture out of the hair and can cause hair to dehydrate over time. Oh and if your shampoo contains silicones or any other ingredients that don’t easily wash off and form films, that just compounds the problem.
- Water Soluble Silicones: Unlike occlusive silicones, these ingredients wash away with water. They’re easily emulsified, and once they come into contact with water, they leave the hair. Some examples include: Cyclomethicone, PEG-12 Dimethicone and Dimethicone Copolyol, (both water-soluble forms of dimethicone) or Polysilicone-29. There’s no reason to fear these ingredients, because they disappear once your hair gets wet.
- Volatile Silicones: Volatile silicones are completely different. These ingredients are typically added to products for initial slip and shine, but they don’t stay on the hair. They actually evaporate as hair dries. Examples include Cyclopentasiloxane (this is banned in the EU in any product that washes off because of environmental hazards, and it’s on some list of silicones that are bad for hair) or Trisiloxane. There’s no reason to fear these ingredients, because they disappear on their own.
SO WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH SILICONE-FREE CURLY HAIR PRODUCTS? ARE THEY TRULY "SILICONE-FREE?"
Well, if you haven’t noticed, even without silicones, many curly hair products give slip, shine, or a silky texture. How do they do it? Alternative ingredients. Usually natural oils, waxes, or mineral oil. But guess what? Some of these ingredients are actually worse than silicone – because they too form a barrier, create serious build up, and can ultimately dehydrate the hair. So “silicone-free” isn’t always the answer.
Oils, just like certain silicones, can ultimately build up if not removed. However, many of them are more soluble (especially when compared to occlusive silicones). This means they can be emulsified pretty easily (like a water-soluble silicone). Common oils you’ll find in hair care include jojoba, vitamin e, avocado, coconut. Keep in mind, the smaller the molecule of the oil – the easier it is to emulsify and avoid build up (like argon oil).
Mineral oil and wax are a different story – they form barriers. Waxes are one of the most common silicone alternatives, but guess what? They’re just as difficult to emulsify as silicones. And they can lead to very significant buildup over time if they’re never totally taken off.
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE? DO SILICONES DAMAGE HAIR? ARE SILICONES GOOD FOR HAIR?
Silicones, waxes, and oils – all pretty much do the same thing. You just have to make sure whatever you’re using is evaporating, water-soluble, or is being rinsed away with your shampoo.
THE NAMES OF SILICONES IN HAIR PRODUCTS (PLUS THE SILICONE ALTERNATIVES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR):
If you use these, make sure you wash them away with a shampoo that doesn’t include any ingredients that stick to hair and scalp and don’t easily rinse off, otherwise you will just make matters worse!)
- Dimethicone (High Molecular Weight)
- Dimethicone/Vinyldimethicone Crosspolymer
- Cetyl Dimethicone
Forms occlusive barriers – if you use these, make sure you wash them away either with a clarifying shampoo from time to time or Color Wow Sulfate-Free Shampoo that is 100% clean. Every ingredient in the shampoo rinses off, unlike most shampoos!
- Castor wax
- Carnauba Wax
- Candelilla Wax
- Lanolin wax
These are difficult to wash off. They are heavy. If you use these, make sure you wash them away as indicated above!
- Mineral Oil
- Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
- Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil
- Hydrogenated Polyisobutene
- Brassica Campestris (Rapeseed) Seed Oil
Water Soluble Oils
Rinse off, easily emulsified. Totally safe!
- PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate
- Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters
- PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides
- PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil
Water Soluble Silicones
Totally safe! Rinse off, easily emulsified.
- PEG-12 Dimethicone
- Silicone Quaternium-18
- PEG/PPG-20/15 Dimethicone
Silicone that evaporates – a winner for sure!
- Phenyl Trimethicone