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Silicones for Curly Hair: Do They “Suffocate” Hair?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Learn if silicones for curly hair suffocate it

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Silicones for curly hair are often a topic of inquiry, with a common concern being whether they “suffocate” hair. The straightforward answer is no—hair is essentially dead. However, the potential for silicones to excessively coat the hair, hindering moisture penetration, will be addressed later in this article.

Certain silicones can offer advantages for curly hair, sealing in moisture and preventing frizz, especially in humid conditions. They also protect against heat damage and environmental stressors. Yet, it’s crucial to be mindful of non-water-soluble silicones, as their prolonged use can lead to greasy, weighed-down hair. Regular use of a clarifying shampoo becomes essential to remove any build-up that may dull the appearance and affect the shape of curls.

For a comprehensive exploration of silicones, including types to avoid, challenges of removal, and their impact on water penetration, stay tuned. It’s worth noting that the insights shared here are in collaboration with an expert on the topic—my hair scientist friend with a PhD in Chemistry.

Understanding the Role of Silicones in Curly Hair Care

Images of ingredient label showing silicones in the hair care product.

Curly hair is different from other types of hair. They have special structural features that define their curl pattern and curl diameter.1

So, the question is; are silicones for curly hair good or bad? And, can silicones be beneficial to curly hair?

The answer can’t be a simple, Yes or No.

It depends on the following factors:

  • The of type of silicone used
  • The amount of silicone (are they listed high-up in the INCI list?)2
  • Their synergy with other active ingredients of the formulation 3

A single ingredient cannot be responsible for everything good or bad happening to your curls. It is the formulation as a whole that is responsible for the final outcome.

Moreover, the performance of an ingredient is also highly dependent on how it is used in the formulation. It is also important to understand the health or condition of your curls.

A good hair care product is one with a formulation where all ingredients work together to deliver the desired and promised results.

Silicone Types for Curly Hair: It Matters

The type of silicone used in the formulation is also an important factor to consider. There are different types of silicones with varying molecular weights, and each type has its own set of unique properties.2

It is highly recommended to analyze the INCI listing,9 whether silicones are listed high-up in the list (which means they are used in high amounts) and most importantly, what type of silicones are used.

So, let’s talk about the many different types of silicones and their INCI names. It’s critical to study the product label and see if the product is good for your curly hair.

Categorizing Silicone Varieties: An Overview

Image of silicone oil in a measuring jar.

A general classification of silicones is listed below along with examples of each class.

Silicones Oils: Water-Insoluble

They are strongly hydrophobic (they do not mix well or dissolve in water) and lubricate the hair shaft.4

·      Cyclomethicone – Volatile silicone oil, frequently used high gloss 5

·      Cyclopentasiloxane

·      Dimethicone – high molecular weight, heavy silicone oil, good for highly damaged hairs 12

·      Phenyl Trimethicone – lustrous gloss due to high refractive index 6

·      Aminopropyl Phenyl Trimethicone

·      Amodimethicone – Amino functional silicone with high deposition on hair 12

·      Trisiloxane – volatile silicone 7

·      Bis-Hydroxy / Methoxy Amodimethicone

·      Dimethicone Copolyol

Silicone Ethers or Ethoxylates: Water-Soluble

·      PEG (Polyethylene Glycol)-n Dimethicone (n = 8, 10, 12 etc) – surfactants and emulsifiers

·      PEG-7 Amodimethicone

·      PPG-12 Dimethicone

·      PEG/PPG (Polypropylene Glycol)– 14/4 Dimethicone

·      PEG/PPG – 20/15 Dimethicone

·      PEG-40/PPG-8 Methylaminopropyl / Hydroxypropyl Dimethicone Copolymer

Silicone Waxes (Water-Insoluble)

·      Cetyl Dimethicone

·      Cetearyl Dimethicone

·      C30-C45 Alkyl Dimethicone

·      Behenoxy PEG-10 Dimethicone

Avoid these Silicones for Curly Hair

Image of curly girl holding hand up to say stop, while other hand is holding strands of her hair.

Fine and natural curly hair does not benefit from high-molecular silicone polymers with large molecule sizes and high viscosity.

For example, Dimethicone is one of the most commonly used silicones in hair care formulations. It is a methyl silicone polymer having a range of molecular weights and viscosities.

Dimethicone is highly hydrophobic and forms a water-resistant film on the hair shaft. This works as a sealant and prevents penetration of water molecules and other active ingredients. Therefore, it should be avoided.13

Similarly, other silicone waxes and alkyl-modified silicones (e.g. C30-C45 Alkyl Dimethicone) should also be avoided.

Good Silicones for Curly Hair

Water-soluble silicones are easy to rinse off from the hair surface. They do not form a water-resistant film and do not cause any heaviness or greasiness. They are suitable for curly hair in rinse-off formulations.

Volatile silicones that are good candidates for fine curly hair:

  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Phenyl Trimethicone – evaporates quickly without leaving any residue on the hair fiber. They are recommended for leave-on formulations and deliver intense shine. They also protect the hair shaft against excessive heat during thermal treatment (i.e. blow drying and flat ironing).8

How Much Silicone is Deposited on Hair

Image of curly girl thinking.

Silicones for curly hair are widely used in hair care formulations because of their multifunctional benefits to hair fibers. They are regarded as high-tech materials and are versatile in their chemistry, functionality, and impact on hair quality.9

New functionalized silicones are known for their higher deposition on hair fibers, superior lubrication on the shaft, and amazing shine.10

The amount of silicones deposited on the hair surface depends on many factors, such as:

  • The type of silicone used in the hair care product
  • The other ingredients present in the formulation
  • The physicochemical properties of the silicones 11

Today, silicones are used as oils to lubricate the hair shaft and as surfactants to boost the foaming of a hair-cleansing formulation.

Likewise, silicone emulsifiers are used to formulate cream or lotion, while silicone waxes are added as occlusive agents.

Their versatility and high physiological inertness (skin safety) position them as a preferred choice for a cosmetic chemist.2,12,13

Despite their benefits, silicones may not be an ideal ingredient for all types of hair.

Most of the silicones are high molecular weight polymers. Their repeated and high-dose usage can cause build-up on the hair shaft and alter the hair’s cosmetic properties.2,14

This is so true for natural, fine, and curly hair where high molecular weight polymers can cause a limp-down effect and damage the curl pattern.15

Next, we will go through some scientific details of silicones and analyze whether they are good or bad for curly hair.

Silicone Build Up

Image of Curly girl looking at her hair.

Do silicones cause build-up? Yes, they do.

However, it again depends on the type of silicone used. Hair products that have silicones (e.g. Dimethicone) listed among the first 5 ingredients in the INCI listing are more susceptible to causing higher silicone deposition on hair.

Repeated applications may also lead to significant build-up, demonstrated by heavy feel, limp down effect, distorted curl pattern, and greasy touch.10

Do Silicones Prevent Water Penetration?

Certain silicones (as described above) work as a sealant forming a fine, yet uniform film which is water resistant. These silicones are good for heat protection and humidity control.4,12

However, their excessive application (especially for curly hair) can prevent the penetration of water and other active ingredients into the inner hair core. Therefore, applying too much of silicones could be detrimental to your hair.

Are they Hard to Remove from Hair? How to Remove Them?

Build-up from conditioning products undermines the natural look and cosmetic features of hair fibers.16

It makes it difficult to manage and style curly hair. It is essential that this build up is removed to ensure a natural look and texture of curly hair.

Though silicones are tough and highly hydrophobic; they can be removed from hair using a clarifying shampoo. That’s why it is advised to use clarifying shampoo once or twice a week to get rid of this build-up.17

Detergents to Remove Silicones

Image of curly girl washing her hair.

While silicones for curly hair can be beneficial, they can also be difficult to remove. Fortunately, several detergents are specifically designed to deal with silicones.

These detergents usually contain active ingredients that break down the silicone molecules, making them much easier to remove.

Detergents that remove silicones from hair:

  • Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate): These are the most effective cleansing agents that can remove silicones from hair. However, they are harsh and can strip away natural oils from hair making it dry, frizzy, and unmanageable. Therefore, they should be used in moderation.17
  • Shampoos with Cocamidopropyl Betaine: This is a mild cleansing agent that can also remove silicones from hair. It is suitable for all hair types including colored and chemically treated hair.18
  • Shampoos with Sulfosuccinates: These are also strong cleansing agents that can remove silicones from hair.17
  • C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate or Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Coco Betaine
  • Sodium Cocoamphoacetate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
  • Sodium Coco-Sulfate 
  • Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
  • Sodium Lauroyl or Cocoyl Glutamate
  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
  • Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate

Note: Coco-Glucoside and Decly Glucoside are mild detergents and are not the best at de-greasing the hair if they are the only detergents in a shampoo.

Shampoo Recommendations for Removing Silicones

Image of curly girl shopping for hair product.

There are a number of shampoos available that can effectively remove silicones from hair.

Here are a few suggestions:

Suave Naturals Shampoo
$7.49 $5.99 ($0.27 / Fl Oz)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/19/2024 11:33 am GMT
Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo
$17.00 ($2.12 / Ounce)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/18/2024 07:18 pm GMT
dpHUE ACV Soothing Shampoo
$32.00 ($3.76 / Fl Oz)
Buy at Amazon Buy at dpHue
03/19/2024 11:27 am GMT
Pureology Moisturizing Shampoo
$37.00 ($4.11 / Fl Oz)


Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/19/2024 11:31 am GMT

These are just a few of the many silicone-removing shampoos available on the market.

When choosing a shampoo to remove silicones from your hair, be sure to read the ingredients list carefully to ensure that it contains one or more of the detergents listed above.

Final Word

Silicones are amazing high-tech, high-performance materials that may benefit hair fiber in a variety of ways. They provide detangling, conditioning, and superb shine.

However, while they can provide a lot of value and benefits to our hair, it is important to use them with caution and in moderation.

You’re aware of the adage that, excess of anything is bad.

High molecular weight silicone oils are not preferred for curly hair. Silicone deposits can cause build up and suffocate hair fibers inhibiting penetration of water and other active ingredients.

A clarifying shampoo is essential to get rid of silicones build up.

We hope you found this article helpful. What are your thoughts on silicones for curly hair?


References

  1. Cloete E, Khumalo NP, Ngoepe MN. The what, why and how of curly hair: a review. Proc R Soc A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2019;475(2231):20190516. ↩︎
  2. Personal Care Products Council. INCI. 2023. ↩︎
  3. Gavazzoni Dias MFR. Pro and Contra of Cleansing Conditioners. Ski Appendage Disord. 2019;5:131–4. ↩︎
  4. Nazir H, Zhang W, Liu Y, Chen X, Wang L, Naseer MM, et al. Silicone oil emulsions: Strategies to improve their stability and applications in hair care products. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014;36(2):124–33. ↩︎
  5. Gawade RP, Chinke SL, Alegaonkar PS. Polymers in cosmetics. In: Almaadeed MAA, Ponnamma D, Carignano MA, editors. Polymer Science and Innovative Applications: Materials, Techniques, and Future Developments. Elsevier; 2020. p. 545–65. ↩︎
  6. Abrutyn ES. Organo-Modified Siloxane Polymers for Conditioning Skin and Hair. In: Schueller R, Romanowski P, editors. Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin. 1st ed. New York, NY: Macel Dekker, Inc; 2005. p. 167–200. ↩︎
  7. Cheng Y, Zhang S, Wang J, Zhao Y, Zhang Z. Research progress in the synthesis and application of surfactants based on trisiloxane. J Mol Liq. 2022;362:119770. ↩︎
  8. Bouillon C, Wilkinson J. The Science of Hair Care. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2005. XIII–801. ↩︎
  9. Van Reeth I. Silicones-A Key Ingredient in Cosmetic and Toiletry Formulations. In: Barel AO, Paye M, Maibach HI, editors. Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology. 3rd ed. Informa Healthcare; 2009. p. 371–80. ↩︎
  10. Schueller R, Romanowski P. Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin. 1st ed. Schueller R, Romanowski P, editors. New York, NY: Macel Dekker, Inc; 1999. 398 p. ↩︎
  11. Reich C, Su D, Kozubal C, Lu Z. Hair Conditioners. In: Barel AO, Paye M, Maibach HI, editors. Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology. 3rd ed. Informa Healthcare; 2009. p. 687–704. ↩︎
  12. Lim YH, Park CH, Kim J. Hair conditioning effect of amino silicone softeners in varied treatment conditions. Fibers Polym. 2010;11(3):507–15. ↩︎
  13. Yahagi K. Silicones as conditioning agents. J Cosmestic Sci. 1992;43:275–84. ↩︎
  14. Beauquey B. Scalp and Hair Hygiene: Shampoos. In: Bouillon C, Wilkinson J, editors. The Science of Hair Care. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2005. p. 92–140. ↩︎
  15. Thomas K, Rust RC. Hair Styling: Technology and Formulations. In: Draelos ZD, editor. Cosmetic Dermatology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2015. p. 270–9. ↩︎
  16. Marsh J, Gray J, Tosti A. Healthy hair. 1st ed. Springer Cham; 2015. XVI–136. ↩︎
  17. Draelos ZD. Essentials of hair care often neglected: Hair cleansing. Int J Trichology. 2010;2(1):24–9. ↩︎
  18. D’Souza P, Rathi SK. Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(3):248–54. ↩︎

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