Silicones in our hair care products: What are they? What do they do?

This is a topic I really care about because I noticed that there's a lot of alarmism about using silicones in our hair care, without really knowing what they are and what they do.

In order to make a conscious choice about whether or not we should use hair products with silicones, I'd say it's necessary to know what they are, their use, their action on the hair and why they could be useful for some of us and why others should avoid them. 

In the article, "Fine, Thin Hair? 4 essential tips to get volume & strength in your hair!" (which I suggest you to read), I talked about how the hair is made, and I said that the superficial cells of our hair are like flakes, as you can see in the photo below.


When our hair is strong and healthy, the "flakes" of the cuticle are closed, and they reflect the light, resulting in glossy and shiny hair. When we have dry, damaged, weak hair, the "flakes" are open, like the ones in the pinecone above.

The aim of this article about silicones, is to understand how they work on our hair, what they are useful for, what are their pros and their cons. Then, choosing hair care products with or without silicones is subjective.

Silicones: what are they?

I asked about them to doctor Maria Gemma Lunardi, cosmetologist, chemist and herbal medicine expert:

""Silicones are inorganic polymers, they can not be found in nature and they derive from silicium, and they are artificially created.

They are appreciated and largely used by cosmetologists because they're very versatile, because of their molecules: 

  • chemically inert,
  • liquid, at high molecular weight, with high flexibility and diffusibility,
  • thermo-stable (their properties remain the same under the sun light),
  • odorless and colorless,
  • stable under temperature variations (unlike vegetable oils, they resist to heat and oxidation),
  • non-irritant, non-sensitizing, they do not penetrate neither in the skin nor in the hair so they're not allergens,
  • hydrophobic, they're water-resistant.

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How many types of silicones exist?

I noticed that there is a huge generalisation of the silicones: they're not all the same and they do not have the same functions.  

They can be classified based on their molecular weight therefore based on their viscosity in:

✓volatiles, ✓fluids, ✓waxes, ✓rubbers, ✓resins and ✓elastomers.

Simply put, there are various types of silicon:

  • some are light, volatile, highly transpiring (like cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane). They are light and dry and they don't leave residues because they evaporate quickly.
  • some are a little heavy and oily, they do not evaporate and then
  • there are the heavy, oily, non-transpiring ones like dimethicone.

Volatile and fluid silicones with silk effect, like dimeticonol, are mixed to small amounts of vegetable oils, to film the hair and isolate it especially from thermoprotectors.

They are oil-non-oil fluids, that are applied on dry hair. Siliconic rubbers have a high molecular weight (like Dimethiconol) and they are used for their isolating and filming effect as conditioning and polishing agents against electrostatics.

There are also silicones with conditioning properties, in which the silicones properties coexist with the properties of the cationic surfactants. One of them is Amodimethicone, in which we have the water-resistant effect, due to its silicon part, and the conditioning effect due to its amine part.

In general, the ingredients that end in -one, -siloxane or -silanol have a silicon component, but it's not the rule, so don't take for granted the fact that every ingredient with that suffix is a silicon. It's important to know what INCI names are and how to read a cosmetic label

Based on their solubility, silicones can be:

  • Water-soluble
  • Almost water-soluble
  • Non-soluble

What are water-soluble silicones? They are light silicones that can be easily washed away with water. Non-soluble silicones are the exact opposite, so they're heavy, oily and they need aggressive surfactants and many washes in order to be washed away from our hair.

For example, volatile and light silicones like cyclomethicone or cyclopentasiloxane are water-soluble and evaporate quickly, without filming and creating buildup on the hair. If there were only them in our hair care products, it wouldn't be a problem at all! But, unfortunately, they're often used with other heavy silicones in order to make the latter ones less heavy and less filming, so I recommend you to pay attention when you read the cosmetic label.

I want to leave you with a question to which I will answer in my next post: "So, silicones in our hair care products are pure evil?"

©Beautilicious Delights

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