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Silicone in Hair Products: Yay or Nay?

16 May 2024

Silicones are the rock stars of the haircare universe. Reviews about them range from “They ruined my hair!” to “Superb for my locks” toHelp my ends look full!” Tons of shampoos and conditioners marketed as silicone-free might have led you to demonize and avoid them like the plague. Yet, almost every holy grail hair care product has them! So does silicone in hair products deserve its controversial rap?

First, let us be boring—it depends. Silicone can be your hair’s bbfs—you just have to figure out which type suits you (if any). Of course, that’s easier said than done! Here’s the essential info to know before you take your stance in the silicone debate.

What Are Silicones, and Why Are They Cooler than You Think?

Silicones are synthetic, non-toxic components derived from silica, the main building material of sand and quartz. In a lab, you’d see it’s a transparent, gooey substance. On labels, you can recognize them by the –cone ending (but there are many that don’t have it). Coating your strands into something like plastic wiring, they lock in hydration and prevent it from evaporating. What’s in this “glazing” for your hair? 

  • Silicones instantly give your locks that red-carpet-ready (or at least going-out-ready) luxurious shine. 
  • They help seal split ends, wage war on frizz, and improve your tresses’ resistance to humidity (so you have fewer instances of styling your hair, only for it to turn into a fluffy cloud on your way to class).
  • They make your hair easier to detangle and manage overall (they can even help you tame that unruly strand that keeps sticking out).
  • Silicones prevent hair dye from washing out fast and protect your precious locks from UV rays and the heat from straighteners and curlers (super important if styling is your daily ritual).
  • They’re also good rehab for damaged, bleached hair.

(Just a bonus silicone fact—that favorite long-lasting lipstick surviving your second mac and cheese round? You should probably thank silicones for that endurance.)

Now, if you’re impressed by silicones’ killer portfolio, we’re with you on that. But if you feel there should be a major plot twist and things are about to get hairy… you’re spot on!

Types of Silicones

“How can ingredients boasting so many benefits be so questionable?” Well, knowing their types will shed more light on this matter. Let’s welcome non-water soluble and water-soluble silicones into the room…

Non-water-soluble Silicone in Hair Products

If these silicones had merch, they’d have “Live now, pay later!” on it—they are so sneaky they make you pay for the beauty of your hair… with the beauty of your hair. 

Now let us explain.

Ever realized your hair is greasy and feels heavy, even though you washed it just a couple of hours ago? Hardly anything is more evil than that! And non-soluble silicones might be the masterminds behind this. Because the longer you use such silicones, the more they build up on your hair. This means they’ll block its shaft and not let so much-needed nutrients get in. 

The catch is that this buildup is hard to rinse out with water; instead, you’ll need a clarifying shampoo. Such products are fantastic at removing product buildup—but in turn, they strip your tresses of natural oils, promoting dryness and flakiness. Plus, they may leave your scalp itchy and cause extra oiliness, brittleness, and even breakage (that’s what our hair probably sees in nightmares). And guess what can help with these issues? Right, silicones! Here we go again. 

To avoid getting trapped in this vicious circle, watch out for these popular non-soluble silicones on the labels:

  • Dimethicone
  • Cetearyl methicone
  • Cetyl dimethicone
  • Stearyl dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol

And if even the buildup can’t stop you from loving what silicones do to your hair, remember to use clarifying shampoos regularly and look for those with gentler surfactants (cleansing agents):

  • Cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Coco glucoside
  • Sodium cocoyl isethionate
  • Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate

Water-soluble Silicone in Hair Products

Now, let’s meet the good guys. Water-soluble silicones are easily washed out from hair with gentle shampoos and won’t create buildup, all while offering all the benefits “regular” silicones have. A win-win! How do you spot them on the label? Look for PEGs, and the higher the number in the component, the more water-soluble the silicone is.

Examples of water-soluble silicones are 

  • Peg 7 amodimethicone
  • Behenoxy PEG-10 dimethicone
  • PEG-8 (or higher) dimethicone
  • Bis-PEG-8 (or higher) dimethicone
  • Bis-PEG-12 dimethicone beeswax
  • Laurylmethicone copolyol
  • Vinyl dimethicone

If you’re not a fan of squinting to decipher those tiny words on labels (after all, our eyes deserve princess treatment just like our hair), ingredient scanners can help you pinpoint the good or not-so-good ingredients. For instance, OnSkin indicates whether a hair product contains silicones and also determines their type—simply scan the product or type its name.

So What’s the Big Picture?

  • As a rule, the healthier your hair is, the less chance it needs silicones. If your locks are damaged, frizzy, and porous, silicones could be the superhero they’ve been waiting for.
  • Not a stickler for taking risks, especially with your hair? Trying silicones briefly won’t disrupt even the most meticulous hair routine. Test a silicone-based product (make soluble silicones a priority) and trust your hair instincts; you’ll know if silicones aren’t your vibe. 
  • (A moment of silence for all the shampoos and conditioners we started but eventually abandoned.)
  • Have you been using products with non-water-soluble silicones forever (even without realizing it), and your hair is thriving? We’re not here to blow you off course. To ensure your hair doesn’t get “overfed” with silicones, use a clarifying shampoo when you notice your locks feel and look weighed down, which might be a sign of buildup.
  • Your hair says meh or even yikes when introduced to silicones? Well, no matter how cool they are, there’s more fish in the sea—consider incorporating products with panthenol, niacinamide, or sodium hyaluronate into your haircare routine. These moisturizing ingredients won’t create product buildup.
  • And finally—sorry for being boring again—moderation never hurts, be it with silicone-containing products, perfume, tacos, denim in your outfits… You get the idea.

P.S. 

Whenever you feel like screaming, “Somebody please help me find what works for me!” while shopping for haircare, use ingredient scanners to save time and avoid guesswork. OnSkin also works with skincare, makeup, and many other types of products.

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