Silicones: To Use or Not to Use Them That is up to YOU
Disclaimer: Not all hair types are created equal because it's on an infinite spectrum. Everyone's hair is different and reacts differently, and is on a different level/stage in their journey. This is only to be a source of reference NOT a one size fits all. If silicones work for your hair, great and if it doesn’t, great. This is not about putting anyone to shame who uses them or who chooses not to use them. Remember that! This journey is all about finding out what works best for your hair. I realize that silicones are a controversial topic so please do not comment on this post in order to start an argument. If you do, you will be blocked. Please read everything first.
What is Dimethicone
Dimethicone is a chemically synthesized silicone oil. It is the most widely used silicone in the hair care industry. Dimethicone has the effect of protecting the hair shaft from abrasive actions and can help thicken and improve the distribution of other ingredients. It creates a film and covers the hair shaft, which helps smooth the cuticle down and coats the hair. Dimethicone is mainly used in conditioners and serums.
According to Hair Scientist, Wendy, “Dimethicone is not a bad ingredient". It gives hair a feeling like silk (soft and slippery), it decreases friction during shampooing and afterward (makes detangling easier), increases shine. There are benefits to Dimethicone especially if you have super thick hair that’s hard to detangle. Another benefit of Dimethicone is that since it forms a film over the hair it makes a great heat protectant. It will protect the hair from excessive heat and UV rays. Speaking of excessive heat, it’s also great to help prevent frizzing during humid days. Sometimes silicones are even more effective when used together with natural (plant) oil.
FYI: Dimethicone is considered to be a permeable water barrier, which means it is a barrier to water but it does not fully prevent water entry and exit according to the Journal Soc. of Cosmetic Chemistry. Pp. 275-284, p. 131-136, p. 135-148, Journal Investigation of Dermatol sym. proc. 10:201-204, 2005.
When It Becomes a Problem
We all have ingredients that don’t agree with our hair and it doesn’t necessarily make it “bad”. When used properly, silicones can be very beneficial to our hair as mentioned above. When we use products with silicones instead of proteins, or deep conditioners, or things that help keep hair hydrated, or use silicones in order to use more heat than is good for the hair, that is when silicones become a problem because they keep hair slippery and shiny and can mask damage or dehydration. It also becomes a problem when it is too heavy for our hair or if it’s used in EXCESS to attempt to make up for lots of heat damage or too much shampooing.
It is a useful ingredient when used in MODERATION for a lot of us. If dimethicone doesn’t make your hair heavy or limp immediately or overtime, it’s NOT a problem. Your hair will show you what is right for it. When Dimethicone is in a shampoo for example, it will be deposited on your hair and accumulate somewhat, that is the purpose of having it in a shampoo- to provide some lubrication while your hair is wet and a little after it is dry also. If you find your hair is weighed down or has an unpleasant feel with repeated use, you will be able to remove nearly all silicone buildup by using a silicone free shampoo (more on that later).
Consider the fact that when Dimethicone is in a formulation, it doesn’t EXIST alone. There are other ingredients in a product. It’s part of a complex formula. As I mentioned in my IG story the other day, silicones have suffered a lot of bad press when in truth products can be mixed with incorrect quantities by some manufacturers, and when we do not understand the importance of clarifying our hair, or when we do not understand how to use them in moderation, etc. Not all silicones are bad when they are formulated or used properly. Anything not formulated properly can actually be bad for the hair. In reality, a product might leave a “feel” on your hair that you may or may not like. If it leaves your hair feeling weighed down or oily, simply avoid it. (Principles of Polymer, Science and Technology in Cosmetics and Personal Care, Amodimethicone and Other Amine-functionalized Silicones).
However, overtime it can definitely cause build up which will cause the hair to feel heavy and limp. You should avoid it if you have very fine hair or hair that tends to get weighed down or just simply don’t like the way it makes your hair look and feel.
One other note about silicones. It depends on the formulation of a product as mentioned earlier. For example, silicones in a shampoo reduces friction that occurs during washing. Silicones in a rinse out product helps those products lubricate the hair when it is wet and dry as well as leave in conditioners. “Silicones in a protein treatment like the Aphogee brand, when used prior to a color session, the hair resulted in 30% less fading after 10 washes. It lowers the porosity of the hair and allows the hair to attract and hold color dye within the cortex”. (Credit: Alyson’s article, “Silicones: Where They (Sometimes) Fit in a Curly Girl Routine" on naturallycurly.com).
Ingredients for Removing Silicones
The detergents sodium lauryl or sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl, C14-16 Olefin sulfonate or laureth sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine (when used in conjunction with an anionic detergent like C14-16 Olefin sulfonate, it tends to make the formula milder) will help remove silicones.
For a more mild detergent, choose a formula that contains: sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, sodium lauroyl glutamate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, sodium lauroyl cocoyl glutamate, sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate.
Sodium cocoyl is an anionic detergent like sodium laureth sulfate. It is considered mild but generally anionic detergents (aka surfactants) are better at removing oils (including silicones) than nonionic detergents like decyl glycoside and cocoyl glycoside. But when nonioic detergents like these two are very concentrated even they can remove a lot of oil and silicone. Even concentrated nonionic detergents can help remove oils and butters but you may have to wash twice. In most cases, oils and silicones in simple formulas are easily removed with detergents.
Also, some cationic surfactants (a conditioning ingredient) may help remove silicone from hair like; cetrimonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide and stearalkonium chloride. This doesn’t mean they remove all silicones from your hair like a shampoo can, but they can help pull silicone off if they are present in high concentration. You can more than likely get oils off your hair using a simple conditioner with these ingredients. If you want to use a co-wash to remove silicone, look for a silicone free conditioner using cetrimonium chloride within the first 2-4 ingredients, such as Suave Daily Clarifying Conditioner, GVP Conditioning Balm, Magick Botanicals Oil Free Conditioner, Cure Care conditioner (contains protein), Giovanni Magnetic conditioner.
In a study done, silicones in a 2 in 1 shampoo accumulate on the surface of hair for the first 5 uses, but after that, there was no accumulation. There is only so much surface on the hair for silicone to bond to it therefore, it does not accumulate indefinitely. A shampoo that is sufficiently degreasing to remove silicones can remove up to 90% silicone in one washing.
Silicones are not bad for hair in and of themselves. It can weigh SOME hair down and their lubricating ability can render some wavy and curly textures flat or limp. It takes approx. 1-2% silicones to provide slip whereas it takes more for cationic conditioners to do the same. Did you know that cationic conditioners by definition accumulate on (bond to) hair and resist rinsing or shampooing hair and this can cause a dull look or matted feeling residue if they’re overused? It’s actually something cosmetics formulators try to manage in at least some of their formulations so their products don’t weigh your hair down or leave it feeling coated or matted according to Wendy (Hair Scientist).
I hope to encourage people to make decisions about what to use in their hair based on how products work in the hair. Everyone’s hair is unique and one prescription for curly/wavy hair does not work for every head of hair.