In the realm of haircare, the debate over the use of silicone’s in our hair products has become a polarising topic – leaving many of us wondering: is silicone truly bad for our hair? This ongoing debate has beauty enthusiasts and hair experts divided, with some saying that silicone is the miracle ingredient for sleek and shiny locks, whilst others criticize its potential to cause build-up, weighing the hair down and having negative impact on hair health. Surely this isn’t a one size fits all?

In this article, we explore the effect of silicone on a variety of hair textures and what exactly are silicones in our hair products. Our goal is to provide you with a well-rounded insight and equip you with the knowledge needed to navigate its inclusion in your hair care routine, ensuring a decision that best suits you and your individual hair needs.

What are silicones?

There are different types of silicones, but all silicones are man- made from the material silicon (the same stuff that makes up sand). Silicones that come in various shapes and forms, but the most common form of silicone in the world of haircare is gels or oils. 

But not all silicones are the same. There are three types of silicones:

  1. Water-soluble silicones – This is the type that dissolves in water, so can easily be washed out of your hair
  2. Non-soluble silicones – These silicones do not dissolve in water and can only be removed with surfactants (the cleansing ingredients in shampoos)
  3. Evaporating silicones – This type of silicone evaporates as the hair dries.

 

How do silicones in hair products work?

Silicones work by forming a thin film around your hair cuticle. 

This thin film around your hair helps to smooth the cuticles of your hair that may be open or damaged due to bleach, dying and breakage from chemicals, and physical damage from brushing.  

As silicones are synthetically made, the formula of silicones can be altered and engineered to have different results. So depending on the silicone, it can offer different levels of conditioning, colour enhancement, damage protection and frizz control.

Why are silicones used in hair products?

Silicones are used in hair products because of their condition and anti-frizz powers. They make our hair feel softer, silkier, more manageable and shiny in appearance. In the world of hair, silicone tames frizz like no-other.

The power is silicones lie in the thin, protective coating they form around the hair cuticle to keep hydration locked in and humidity locked out.

That barrier is also heat-resistant, which helps to reduce heat damage from blow dryers and heated styling tools. Added benefits include colour protection, fewer tangles and even UV protection. Overall, they make hair look healthier and feel more manageable, which is why they’re so common.

 

What silicones are used in hair products?

The most common silicones in our hair products are:

  • Dimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone

…and MANY more!

How to spot silicones in hair products?

To identify silicones in your hair products, you need to look at the ingredient list on the back of your hair product

The easiest way to identify silicones is to look for words that end in: –cone, –conol, –silane, –siloxane.

 

How are silicones regulated in our hair products?

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) are the organisation responsible for the regulation and safety of our hair products in the UK and all of the countries in the EU.

 

What is the concern with silicones in our hair products?

There are two common concerns with silicones:

Build-up

photo credit: Bella All Natural

As silicones form a barrier around the hair, the concern is that every time you use a product with silicone in it, the hair keeps getting coated and coated. Eventually, these coatins accumulate of silicone on the hair and this can leave some people with hair that just never seems to feel or looks clean. A build-up of silicone on the hair can also stop any nourishing products that we apply from penetrating the hair.

This is is mainly the issue with non-soluble silicone, like dimethicone. 

You can prevent and remove build-up of these silicones by using a clarifying shampoo, or you could opt for hair products that only feature water-soluble silicones like amodimethicone. 

 

Health and Hormone concerns

The other concern with silicones in hair products is the repeated uses and exposure to synthetic ingredients that are not natural and could be endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruptors are natural or man-made chemicals that either mimic or interfere with the hormones in the human body.

The research on silicones in hair products being endocrine disruptors is conflicting and not yet understood. So it is best that you do your own research and make an educated decision. 

 

How silicones affect the different hair types

Fine or Thin Hair Types

With the fine hair type and a typical Caucasian hair type (1a-2b), water-soluble silicones are best. These water-based silicones will avoid weighing the hair down and making it look lifeless. 

These types of hair need products that are lightweight and that allow the hair to use other products for styling and volume. 

For best results, use water-based silicones and a detoxifying and cleansing shampoo once a week.

 

Curly, Afro Hair, Coarse and Frizzy Hair Types

photo credit: @romeufelipe 

The main concern with silicones and the curly or afro hair type (3a-4c), is the silicones weighing the hair down. It is thought that with prolonged use of silicone products, curls will become heavier and therefore lose their bounce or alter the curl pattern.

With this curly and afro hair, you absolutely can still use silicone hair products, but you need to be smart about it. You should opt for silicones that evaporate as the hair dries, or water-soluble silicones that can easily be washed out. Silicones will benefit curly and afro hair types, as this type of hair has a high porosity, meaning it will absorb water and all of the good qualities that silicones provide.

Alternatively, curly and afro hair types could opt for silicone free products which would prevent any chance of the curls being weighed down. However, these products may not provide the slip and assistance to help detangle and style the hair easier.

 

Coloured, Bleached and Damaged Hair

As silicones provide slip, lock in moisture and can have heat protection properties, those with coloured or damaged hair may benefit from using silicone-based hair products.

However, you may find that if your hair has a lot of silicone build-up, your bleach and colour may not take as well. Your hairdresser should spot this and be able to advise you that this is happening, or at risk of happening at a consultation.

Our advice is to use silicone hair products interchangeably with non-silicone products.

 

Thinning Hair

If your hair is thinning with age, or perhaps you have a case of female pattern hair loss, it is best you speak to a Doctor or a Trichologist to discuss what hair products are best suitable for you. Your treatment will be completely unique to you.

 

The immediate effects of silicones vs long-term effects of silicones on hair

Short term effects of silicones in your hair products

Prepare for your hair to feel WONDERFUL!

Smooth, silky, easier to brush through and manage, and even more shine. Using silicone-based hair products for the first time, or if you’re picking up an old-trusted favourite again, you are going to wonder why you ever stopped using them!

Short-term use of hair products containing silicones can be very beneficial to your hair, and help you manage your hair easier.

 

Long term effects of silicone-product use

Here is where it gets a little interesting.

The long-term effects of hair products containing silicone really depends on you and your hair. 

Some people can use silicone-based products continuously and have no problems. Others find that continued use eventually leads their hair to looking dull and they’re unable to get that freshly washed, ‘clean hair’ feeling. This is because there is a build up of silicones on the hair strands, as mentioned earlier.

photo credit: @cassandra_foehr

Are silicones in hair products safe to use?

The short answer is yes!

Silicones are safe to use on your hair, and there is no immediate threat to your health by using them. 

There is nothing quite like that feeling of freshly washed, healthy, shiny and easily manageable hair either. Styling made easy, and walking around feeling like you have just left the salon…a wonderful way to boost your well-being!

But as we have found out, it all depends on hair type. Silicones are not all made equally and coarse, dry, frizzy or curly and afro hair will benefit from using silicone-based hair products the most.

For those in the other camps of fine, thin or straight hair, we recommend you keep an eye on how your hair responds to these products and switch between silicone and non-silicone based hair products when necessary. 

 

As with most things in life, use silicone-based hair products in moderation. Using too much of anything is never yields good results. Swap in a clarifying and detoxing shampoo every so often, and a silicone free conditioner and hair mask to keep your locks cleansed, silicone-build-up-free and able to absorb moisture and goodness from your usual hair products.

 

Our hair product recommendations

Shampoo’s to tackle silicone build

Ouai’s Detox Shampoo

Ouai detox shampoo

Living Proof’s Clarifying Detox Shampoo

References

Where we got our research from

References
Berthiaume, M. D., Merrifield, J. H., & Riccio, D. A. (1995). Effects of silicone pretreatment on oxidative hair damage. Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, 46(5), 231-246.

Clarson, S. J., Fitzgerald, J. J., Owen, M. J., Smith, S. D., & Van Dyke, M. E. (Eds.). (2007). Science and technology of silicones and silicone-modified materials. American Chemical Society.

Colas, A., Siang, J., & Ulman, K. (2006). Silicones in Pharmaceutical Applications. Part 4: Silicone Antifoams and Silanes. Dow Corning Corporation.

De Smedt, A., Van Reeth, I., Marchioretto, S., Glover, D. A., & Naud, J. (1997). Measurement of silicone deposited on hair: Developing X-ray flourescence and hair-wettability protocols. Cosmetics and toiletries, 112(2), 39-44.

Ullah S, Ahmad S, Guo X, Ullah S, Ullah S, Nabi G, Wanghe K. A review of the endocrine disrupting effects of micro and nano plastic and their associated chemicals in mammals. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2023 Jan 16;13:1084236. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.1084236. PMID: 36726457; PMCID: PMC9885170.

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/know-science/natural-doesnt-mean-better

https://inside-our-products.loreal.com/silicones-should-we-do-without-them

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