Increasingly, hair care products are labelled “silicone-free,” which does not bode well for the ingredient. Its image had been further tainted by viral videos in which people are seen scraping off white gunk (presumed to be silicone) from their hair strands. But still, the question remains, are silicones bad for hair?
That’s because despite the consumers having many qualms about silicones, the hair care industry continues to use them even in products that it labels “silicone-free.” Why? Because naysayers tell you only one side of the story as if it were the whole truth.
What Is Silicone & Why It’s Used In Shampoos?
Not to be confused with the naturally-occurring silicon (without the “e” at the end), silicone is an artificially manufactured substance that is somewhere between rubber and plastic. It comes from silica, which is found in nature (sand, rocks).
The global silicone industry is valued in billions of dollars. And it’s not just used in cosmetics, skin and hair care industries. It’s used in some capacity in almost every big industry like:
It’s found in primers that you use and even the shaving creams. Of course, many silicone derivatives are also found in shampoos and conditioners. It’s used because of the following reasons:
- Emollient – Silicone softens and smooths the outer coating of the hair (the cuticle).
- Occlusive – By forming a protective layer around the hair shaft, it protects the hair from water loss. Therefore, it keeps the hair hydrated and moisturized.
- Shine – For as long as they’re on the hair, they can reflect light, making the hair look shiny.
- Heat Protection – The protective coating on the shaft protects it from heat damage. It is found in heat-protectant sprays.
- Provides Slip – This makes it easier to detangle the hair, making it more manageable. This “slip” also allows for products containing silicone to better spread.
Because of these reasons, many shampoos and conditioners contain silicones in different forms.
How To Check For Silicones In Hair Care Products?
Most commonly, people are familiar with dimethicone. And it is certainly the one that’s most widely used, especially in 2-in-1 shampoos. Other than the “-cone” at the end, the ingredients that end in “-oxane” are usually silicones.
The higher up they are on the ingredient list, the more of them the product contains. Now, there are three main types of silicones, and it’s only one category of them that is bad for hair. They are all as follows:
Water-soluble silicones are good for your hair. As the name indicates, they dissolve in water and wash away. Even when a hair care product is labelled “silicone-free,” water-soluble silicones can be found in them.
They’re the ones that usually have the prefix “PEG” (polyethylene glycol). The numbers associated with them are usually an indication of their solubility. The higher it is, the easier it dissolves. Some examples of water-soluble silicones include:
- Dimethicone copolyol
- Lauryl methicone copolyol
- Dimethicone PEG-8 phosphate
- PEG-12 dimethicone
Are silicones bad for hair? Yes, water insoluble silicones are bad for your hair. They have the tendency to build up on the hair shaft because they do not dissolve in water. Some examples of water-insoluble silicones include:
- Cetyl dimethicone
- Stearyl dimethicone
- Cetyl dimethicone
Water insoluble silicones usually end in “-cone.” Instead of making the hair stronger, it can make it more prone to breakage and frizz.
These are the ones that only linger in the hair for a few minutes to a couple of hours, after which they’re gone. They’re not completely soluble, but since they’re volatile, they don’t stick to the shaft to their detriment. Here, the answer to “are silicones bad for hair?” is also no. They do not cause build-up. Some examples of evaporating silicones include:
What Are the Hair Type Considerations for Silicones?
There are many people who wonder if there are hair types they’re good for. Those who have dry, frizzy, knotty, textured and curly hair can benefit from using shampoos and conditioners that contain silicones.
It will help in the retention of moisture in the hair and even protect it from breakage. Products containing silicone are also good for colour-treated hair. They can reduce friction between the hair created after the use of anti-dandruff shampoo.
However, there are also instances where the answer to “are silicones bad for hair” is positive. This is especially so for those with curly hair. If you’re someone who doesn’t use shampoo and co-washes (using only conditioner) hair, silicone can build up quite easily.
Since this is more among people who have curly hair, they have to be more careful about the kind of silicones their products contain. Also, too much silicone can weigh the hair down, making it feel limp. This problem is more common with fine hair.
Are Silicones Good for Low Porosity Hair?
Low porosity hair is the one in which the cuticle is very tightly packed. That means it’s difficult for products (including water) to penetrate the deeper layers of hair.
Now, applying a kind of temporary sealant on top of this kind of hair would only worsen the problems. For this reason, silicones are not good for low porosity hair. You can test it by letting your hair sit in water for a few minutes. If they float, you have low porosity.
What Causes Hair Loss from Silicones?
People asking, “are silicones bad for hair?” may be wondering this. Mainly, hair loss from silicones occurs due to build-up. The coating of silicones doesn’t allow nutritious products to penetrate the hair shaft. In addition, the water can’t get through either.
This can make the hair very dry and increase breakage. Other than that, it can end up making the hair very oily to make up for the dryness. This oiliness can set off other skin problems, which can cause hair loss. You may experience the following because of a build-up:
- Itching and flakiness on the scalp
- Hair weighed down
- Dull hair
- Scalp inflammation
The problem is worsened if you’re using multiple hair care products containing silicone in them. For instance, applying serums, creams, and sprays after shampoo and conditioner can result in a quick build-up. In this case, the answer to “are silicones bad for hair” is also in the affirmative.
How To Wash Off Silicones From Hair?
For cleaning up build-up from the scalp, clarifying shampoos are usually recommended. These usually contain sulfates, which can further dry the hair out. So, make sure to ask a medical professional about the one that’ll best suit your hair. You may also be recommended a hair scrub for cleaning purposes.
Are Silicones Dangerous?
When wondering, “are silicones bad for hair,” many people are also thinking about this. They’re not sure if silicones are inherently dangerous for use. The good news is that silicones are safe. It is not toxic.
As it is inert, it should not cause allergic reactions when applied to the body. There haven’t been any reports of its dangers for human health either. If it’s making your hair fall out, you need to consult a dermatologist. Maybe, you need to limit its use to 1-2 times a week.
Alternatives To Silicones For Hair?
There are many products out there that are “truly” silicone-free. That’s because there are ingredients that can do what silicones do for hair. Plant-based oils are, in particular, being popularly used as silicone alternatives.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Phytocosmetics and Natural Ingredients, vegetable oil (olive and Brazil nut, in this case) was more effective in improving the strength, hydration, shine and softness of the hair, in contrast to silicones.
Keep in mind, though that heat protection is not what oils provide. Other than plant oils, certain kinds of butter can also do what silicone does. Here are some examples of these products:
- Avocado oil
- Aragan oil
- Coconut oil
- Shea butter
- Vitamin E
Therefore, you can consider using products with these ingredients in them if you’re struggling with dry, frizzy hair. They can also work well for curly hair.
Much of what has been said about the dangers of silicones for hair has been about water-insoluble silicones. These are the ones that can build up on the shaft of the hair. The barrier they form doesn’t allow healthy nutrients to nourish the deeper layers of the hair. They also don’t allow water to hydrate the shaft.
This can make the hair quite dry, and to compensate for the dryness, more oil is produced, which can make the scalp greasy. Either of these cases can cause hair loss. You may also develop a skin condition or worsen the symptoms of a pre-existing one.
Other than that, “are silicones bad for hair?” Silicones are not dangerous for your hair. They can smoothen, shine and strengthen frizzy, dry hair, helping with hair loss. However, if you are still unsure about the presence of silicone in your hair care products, you can consider using its alternatives. Plant oils and different kinds of butter can have the same effect as silicones, eliminating their need.
Make sure to check the ingredients on the packaging of any product that you buy to make sure that it truly is free of any silicones. If you’re experiencing excessive shedding, it’s best to get in touch with your dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.