Are silicones evil?
When you walk into a store looking for a new hair product, you’ll come across many products labelled “silicone-free”. Even if you don’t entirely know what silicones really are, you’re tempted to go for silicone free products just because of the way they’re marketed (10 points for marketing!)
But unless you know the science behind the purpose of silicones and how they can benefit or damage your hair, you’re not in the best position to decide whether your hair needs them or whether you should entirely avoid them.
So let’s break it down using science and logic rather than fads in the hair industry.
What are silicones?
Silicones are synthetic (aka womanmade) polymers that have hydrophobic (water repelling) properties, which means that they help retain moisture by creating an impenetrable seal. In other words, silicones are occlusives. Occlusives form a water-repelling layer on hair which helps seal in moisture and water.
Silicones are not the only occlusives found in hair care products. There are many other occlusives like shea butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax. Silicones are just like any other occlusives.
What do silicones do to your hair?
Silicones provide many conditioning benefits to the hair. They do this by forming a thin, waterproof coating around your hair cuticle. This coating keeps your hair hydrated from within, while also preventing moisture from penetrating the hair shaft and causing frizz. Silicones have a slick and glossy texture which leaves your hair soft, smoother and free of tangles. Silicones also protect your hair from damage caused by heat-styling tools such as blow dryers and hot irons.
To sum it up, here is how silicones provide benefit to the hair:
- Frizz control
- Lots of shine
- Less friction while brushing
- Sealing in moisture
- Protecting the hair shaft from environmental damage
- Leaving hair feeling clean
So why do silicones get a bad name in the curly hair industry while other occlusives like shea butter and oils do not?
A huge majority of people in the curly haired community follow the Curly Girl Method which bans the use of silicones. That may be why silicones get such a bad name amongst curlies. The logic is that silicones cause build up and that build up is only removed by shampoos that contain harsh surfactants like sulfates. Shampoos are not allowed in the Curly Girl Method which means it’s hard to remove the build up cause by silicones. The logic makes sense - there is no point of using silicones and then stripping them away using harsh chemicals like sulfates.
However, there are two questions: Can silicones only be removed by using sulfates? And are sulfates really so harsh that they have to be removed from your hair care routine?
The answer to both is no.
While we’re not disregarding the Curly Girl Method, it is important to note that not all silicones are made equal. And hence, not all silicones are bad. After all, it’s silicones, not men.
There are two kinds of silicones
- Water soluble: silicones that dissolve in water and cause no build up
- Water insoluble: silicones that are harder to wash off and may cause build up
- Silicones that evaporate very quickly
It’s important to be able to identify good silicones from the not-so-good silicones.
How do you identify silicones on ingredient labels?
Silicones generally end with “cone” or “xane”.
Below are some examples of the three types mentioned earlier. These will help you read ingredient labels more smartly.
1. Silicones that easily evaporate and do not cause build up
These are safe to use as they evaporate very quickly. They’re added to products mainly to easily disperse other ingredients as they don’t provide much conditioning benefits.
2. Soluble silicones
- Dimethicone copoyol
- Laurl methicone copolyol
- Any silicone with PEG as a prefix
These silicones are great for hair and are water soluble so they do not need harsh surfactants to remove them.
3. Insoluble silicones
- Ceteraryl methicone
- Pheryl trimethicone
- Stearyl dimethicone
These silicones require a good surfactant or sulfate shampoo to wash them off. Most of them have amazing conditioning benefits though!
Here’s where we’ll break it to you: You can still wash off insoluble silicones WITHOUT using a sulfate shampoo. You do not need to use a sulfate shampoo in order to get the amazing benefits that silicones offer! There are many ingredients other than harsh sulfates that can wash off silicones such as sodium cocoyl glutamate, polysorbates, caprylic acid, Lauramide DEA, cocomidopropyl betaine.
So, should silicones be entirely avoided?
No! It all depends on your specific hair type and your hair regimen. If you use products that are entirely free of sulfates or any good cleansing agent, it is probably a good idea to only stick to the water-soluble silicones. If you’re on a conditioner only routine, it is best to limit water insoluble silicones or silicones that need sulfates to be washed off.
For some people, silicones may be bad while for others, silicones may be the best thing that ever happened to them. Just make sure the rest of your hair care routine is in sync with your silicone preferences.
Curious to know if sulfates are bad for your hair? Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post.