What are silicones?
Silicones are synthetic substances that arise after the silicon (pebble) element is processed. They are so-called polymers (poly = many, more = part) and that means that they are molecules that consist of 2 equal parts, in this case, silicon atoms, and oxygen atoms. You can see it as a kind of liquid rubber or liquid plastic.
What types of silicone are there?
There are many different types of silicone. These are not only used in cosmetic ingredients but also, for example, in baking tins and implants. For now, I will keep it limited to hair care, because this blog is about that after all.
You can roughly divide them into 2 types: water-soluble and non-water-soluble. And there is a small extra mention for silicones that, although they are not water-soluble, evaporate on their own. These types can be further subdivided in terms of structure.
The most well-known type of silicone is Dimethyl silicone or Dimethicones. This silicone type was the first to be used in cosmetic products and they are still one of the most common types of hair products.
Some silicones (there are many more):
- Bis-peg / ppg-16/16 peg / ppg-16/16
- Dimethicone copolyol
- DEA PG-Propyl PEG / PPG-18/21 Dimethicone
- Dimethicone PEG-8 Phosphate
- Dimethicone-PG Diethyl ammonium Chloride
- Hydrolyzed Silk PG-Propyl Methylsilanediol Crosspolymer
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane
- Hydrolyzed Wheat protein/hydroxypropyl polysiloxane and cystine/silicone copolymers
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Silanetriol
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol
- PEG-40 / PPG-8 Methylaminopropyl / Hydropropyl Dimethicone Copolymer
- PEG / PPG-14/4 Dimethicone
- PEG / PPG-20/15 Dimethicone
- PEG-12 Dimethicone
- PEG / PPG-20/15 Dimethicone
- PPG-8 Methylaminopropyl, Hydroxypropyl Dimethicone Copolymer
- PEG-7 Amodimethicone
- PEG-8 Disteramon Chloride PG-Dimethicone
- PEG-33 (and) PEG-8 Dimethicone (and) PEG-14
- Silicone Quaternium-8
If PEG stands for it is probably water-soluble, but please note that PEG can also be a separate ingredient.
- Amodimethicone – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Aminopropyl triethoxysilane
- Behenoxy Dimethicone Cetearyl methicone
- Bis-Amino PEG / PPG-41/3 Aminoethyl PG-Propyl Dimethicone – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Bis-Aminopropyl Dimethicone – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Bis-Cetearyl Amodimethicone
- Bis-isobutyl Peg / Ppg-20/35 / Amodimethicone Copolymer
- Bis-Phenylpropyl Dimethicone
- Bis-Hydroxy / Methoxy Amodimethicone
- Cetyl Dimethicone
- Cetyl PEG / PPG-15/15 Butyl Ether Dimethicone
- Cyclopentasiloxane and C30-45 Alkyl Cetearyl Dimethicone
- Crosspolymer Cyclohexasiloxane
- Dimethicone / Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer
- Divynildimethicone / Dimethicone Copolymer
- Dimethiconol meadowfoam
- Di-Isostearoyl Trimethylolpropane Siloxy Silicate
- Diphenyl Dimethicone
- PCA Dimethicone
- Phenyl Trimethicone
- Polysilicon-18 Cetyl Phosphate
- Silicone Quaternium-16 – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Silicone Quaternium-18 – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Silicone Quaternium-22 – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
Silicone Resin Spheres
- Simethicone Stearoxy (or Stearyl) Dimethicone
- Trimethyl Silylamodimethicone – (A special case. It is a polymer-type silicone that attaches to damaged parts and cannot accumulate on top of itself.)
- Cyclomethicone (Cyclomethicone)
What are silicones used for?
Silicone has only been used in cosmetic products since 1950 when it was mainly about skincare. – To put it in perspective: Shampoo, as we know it today, was only introduced after 1930 – Only later did its use in hair products become popular.
They are used as – it sounds very wrong, but it really is a lubricant for your hair, among other things. Silicones form a protective water-repellent layer. They make your hair smoother, softer, easier to comb and reduce frizz. They reduce adhesion and friction, which prevents a lot of damage.
They also have the ability to reduce the effectiveness of other ingredients. It also softens the effect of the hard, aggressive ingredient SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) contained in shampoos. That skill led to the development of 2-in-1 shampoo, both SLS and silicone were in place.
However, silicone does not add anything to the hair itself, so they are not nourishing. They only form a layer around your hair and create the illusion of healthy hair.
Why do silicones have such a bad name?
It all sounds very nice when you read it above, but silicone has a very bad name. How justified is that?
– Bad for the Environment
Firstly, silicones are not that environmentally friendly, you can compare it with plastic.
– Cause Build up
Many silicones are not soluble in water, which means that you cannot rinse them out with water. Studies show that even after 20x (!) Washing with an SLS-containing shampoo, some silicones may still be present on your hair to a small extent. So you always apply new silicones, while the old ones are not gone. This will cause the silicone to pile up in your hair, which is called build-up.
Most build-up occurs in the points of your hair, this leads to the well-known ‘crunchy’ hardpoints that you often experience with build-up. Your dots are always more damaged, no matter how healthy your hair is than the rest of your hair. Many silicones mainly accumulate along the edges of damaged scales and in places where the scales are broken off.
- The consequences of build-up
Build-up stifles your hair. Too much silicone makes your hair limp, sticky, it removes moisture from your hair, ensures that good ingredients such as oils can no longer reach your hair, it makes hair dull, causes tangles in the long term and can cause so much damage that your hair breaks down.
– Disguise natural condition and texture of your hair
Silicones often create the illusion of healthy hair, while your hair is damaged and dried out. This way you don’t give your hair what it needs. If you stop using silicone, you are often suddenly confronted with the true state of your hair, and that is why many people quickly resort to silicone.
In some cases, silicone can also conceal your hair texture. They weigh your hair, so curls have less chance.
– Don’t add anything
Silicones do not contain any active substances, and therefore they do not add anything to your hair. They only form a layer over your hair, which is also very good for protection.
– Scalp problems
Build-up can also occur on your scalp if you also apply silicone-containing hair products. This can lead to serious skin problems. Common complaints include itching, pimples, redness, dandruff and forms of eczema.
Can I use silicone safely?
My motto is: If it works, it works. Many people I know swear by silicone and never have anything. If you do not experience any problems then I would say keep using it if you want. But be aware of the disadvantages that it can entail. You do not need silicone if your hair is healthy, but if your hair is damaged it can very well help to prevent further damage.
If you use a lot of silicones, it is good to regularly clarify to prevent build-up, which means that you wash your entire hair with shampoo. If you do this regularly you can do that with a mild shampoo, but if you are very bothered by build-up then you can best do this with a somewhat stronger SLS-containing shampoo. Special clarifying shampoos are also available.
I want to switch to silicone-free products, how do I do that?
If you want to go through life silicone-free, it is good to first clarify so that the silicone disappears from your hair.
Then you will have to give your hair time to get used to it. There is often a kind of withdrawal phase, you have to go through this. Often you will suddenly notice the true condition of your hair because that is something silicone disguise. You may have fairly dry hair, or you may suddenly discover that your hair is curling much more than you thought. Listen carefully to your hair and jump into it. Fortunately, there are a lot of products that you can use that do not contain silicones.
How do I recognize silicones in the INCI list (ingredient list)?
The vast majority of silicones end with –cone. Take a look in the list above for the names and try to remember them so that you will recognize them when viewing the INCI list. You will often find this list on the back of the product or packaging, sometimes also on the bottom.
What alternatives are there for silicones?
Silicones are synthetic substances, but like many synthetic substances there are very good, sometimes even better, natural counterparts with a similar effect, only without all the nasty side effects.
The natural substances that are comparable to silicones are called slime substances and you will find them in a number of plants, such as Tricolor Violet (Viola tricolor) and Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis). But the biggest source of mucilage is Irish Moss (Carrageenan), if you make tea with it you have a lump of mucus. Mucilages are often used as an extract in hair products, for example, Viola tricolor extract or Carrageenan extract, so they are also indicated on the INCI list.
Other ingredients that you can embrace, if you haven’t already, are the well-known Aloe Vera gel and vegetable oils. Chances are that you will make your hair very happy with that!
I have gone through life silicone-free for almost 2 years, and now and then I use silicone products again and again. I have noticed that it is not as black and white in terms of silicone as it seems. I have used silicone products that worked very well and silicone products that caused all kinds of problems, but the same applies to silicone-free products. It is often more about the right composition of a product: the right ingredients, the right combination of ingredients and the right amount of ingredients. Don’t let the whole silicone-free hype fool you, if a product works for you then it works, whether or not it contains silicone. But also take a look at the ‘other side’, who knows, the result may surprise you.