What Science Says About Silicone in Hair Products

Silicone's usage dates back to the 1940s, when it was first used in medical devices and products because of its non-toxic nature and chemical stability. It became an excellent substitute for plastics. Since the 1970s, silicone has become a popular ingredient in skin and hair care products. However, recently, its safety has come into question, and many wonder if it really is safe or if should we avoid using it.

Key takeaways:

What is silicone?

Silicone is a man-made material that is manufactured from silica. Silica is a component of sand. When silica is heated at very high temperatures, silicone is created. There are many types of silicones, which can be found in liquid or solid forms.

What products contain silicone?

Silicone can be found in many facets of life. The most common place to find silicones is skin and hair care products. This is where most people come in contact with silicones, which is why many have raised the alarm about these ingredients.

Everyday lifeCookware, cooking containers, and utensils
Industrial applicationsUsed as an insulator, sealant, or lubricant
Medical fieldBandages, tubing, breast implants, and devices like pacemakers
Skin and hair beauty productsMoisturizers, sunscreens, make-up, shampoos, conditioners, detangling agents, de-frizzing serums

Additionally, some have used silicon as a dermal filler for cosmetic enhancement; however, the FDA warns against it. It has caused many chronic health problems, such as granulomas, infections, pain, stroke, disfigurements, and death. There are many FDA-approved injectables, such as hyaluronic acid, which are safer. Silicone, unlike hyaluronic acid, cannot be dissolved or removed. It is a permanent filler that can cause permanent problems.

Silicone in skin and hair care products

Silicones in skin care products can temporarily smooth rough areas of the skin giving your skin a silky, velvety feel. They also act as a barrier to lock in moisture and prevent dehydration and protect the skin from toxin penetration. Silicones also give the skin a matte finish. They are hypoallergenic, odorless, and colorless.

Many hair products contain silicones for similar reasons. They smooth out, detangle, and remove frizz from the hair, making it temporarily smooth and shiny. Silicones can lock in moisture and prevent the hair from becoming dehydrated.

Is silicone safe in skin and hair care products?

Studies have shown that silicones, when used according to recommended product use directions, are not toxic and are safe for humans. No definitive studies have shown that it causes cancer, health issues, autoimmune disorders, or death in humans. In fact, the FDA has approved the usage of silicones for many medical supplies and devices.

There is some evidence to suggest silicones might be harmful to the environment. It may bioaccumulate and be toxic to fish, animals, and the ecosystem. More studies are needed.

Side effects of silicone in beauty products

While it has not been proven toxic to humans, silicones may cause some issues with your skin and hair. Since it is difficult to wash off, it can clog pores and cause acne in patients who are prone to acne. It can build up on the hair, making it look dull and dry and even lead to breakage. Because silicone acts like a protective barrier, it will also block the penetration of other necessary ingredients for the skin and hair. If you are concerned about developing problems from silicones, use small amounts of the products and use them infrequently.

There are very few, if any, side effects to silicones since they are hypoallergenic. Some have reported some transient redness. Allergic reactions are extremely rare as well. If you have sensitive skin, you can always try a test spot first to ensure your skin will tolerate it.

Silicone alternatives in beauty industry

If you have decided to avoid silicones in your hair and skin care products, there are alternatives. For the hair, you can try plant-based oils and butter (jojoba oil or shea butter) to moisturize and strengthen the hair and give it a smooth, soft texture. For the skin, if you are looking for a product to pull in moisture, products with humectants (hyaluronic acid and glycerin) can help. Moisturizers with squalene can moisturize the skin and give it a soft, smooth feel. If you are looking for a product with a matte finish, kaolin clay can do the job.

How to identify silicone in products

It is vital to read the ingredients on the back of your products, to see what you are putting on your body. Many products will say "silicone-free," but they may not be. Look for ingredients that end in "-cone." This indicates they are silicones, such as dimethicone and cyclomethicone.

Silicones are prevalent in many skin and hair care products. They give your skin and hair a velvety, soft, smooth texture. While silicones are considered safe and non-toxic to humans, you may choose to avoid them to help protect the environment. If so, read your ingredient labels. If you are unsure, ask your dermatologist for help.

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