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

June 20, 2022


Verna Meachum

Learn if silicones for curly hair suffocate it

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Curl care

I am highly experienced in the beauty industry and specialize in writing for brands and websites that focus on curly hair care. Moreover, I actually have curly hair and have curly-haired children with varying hair textures. I am also surrounded by curly-haired friends, including curly hairstylists and curly-haired family members. You get the point :) I’m well-versed in the language and nuances of curly hair care, styling tips, and product recommendations.

Furthermore, I collaborate with my friend who has a Ph.D. in organic and inorganic chemistry and works as an R&D Chemist to help us navigate through the misinformation around curly hair care. He advises us on Hair Care Science to ensure we are well-informed.

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Last Updated on April 11, 2023 by Verna Meachum

One of the most common questions asked about silicones for curly hair is whether silicones “suffocate” hair.

The short answer is no, silicones do not suffocate hair. Hair is dead. The hair cells are already dead when they emerge from the hair follicle.

Thus, the visible hairs you see all over your head are dead fibers. The cells in these fibers do not grow outside of the scalp or send pain signals to your brain when your hair is cut or damaged.

On the other hand, is it possible that silicones might coat the hair so heavily that it could prevent moisture from penetrating the hair shaft? We’ll answer that later in the article.

Some silicones can actually be beneficial for curly hair. Silicones help to seal in moisture, which can keep curly hair hydrated and prevent it from becoming frizzy during the summer months. They also help to protect hair from heat damage and environmental stressors.

However, if you use products with silicones that are not water-soluble, they can build up on your hair over time and cause it to become greasy and weighed down. Thus, it is important to use a clarifying shampoo to remove any build-up.

Build-up can make hair appear dull and lifeless, and it can also weigh down curls and cause them to lose their shape.

In this post, we’ll discuss the various types of silicones, which silicones you should avoid, silicone build up, if they are hard to remove from the hair, and answer the question if they prevent water from penetrating the hair.

How Much Silicone Is Deposited On Hair

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.

New functionalized silicones are known for their higher deposition on hair fibers, superior lubrication on shaft and amazing shine.1

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 physico-chemical properties of the silicones

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 of a cosmetic chemist.2-3

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

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

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.

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

Silicones: Good or Bad for Curly Hair

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

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?)
  • their synergy with other active ingredients of the formulation

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.

The type of silicone 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.

It is highly recommended to analyze the INCI listing, 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.

Silicone Types

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 hair shaft.

·      Cyclomethicone – Volatile silicone oil, frequently used high gloss

·      Cyclopentasiloxane

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

·      Phenyl trimethicone – lustrous gloss due to high refractive index.

·      Aminopropyl Phenyl Trimethicone

·      Amodimethicone – Amino functional silicone with high deposition on hair

·      Trisiloxane – volatile silicone

·      Bis-Hydroxy Methoxy Amodimethicone

·      Dimethicone copolyol

Silicone ethers or ethoxylates: Water soluble

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

·      PEG-7 Amodimethicone

·      PPG-12 Dimethicone

·      PEG/PPG – 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

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

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 – evaporate quickly without leaving any residue on 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).

Silicone Build Up

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 INCI listing are more susceptible to cause 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.

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.

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

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 these build ups.

Detergents to Remove Silicones

While silicones for curly hair can be beneficial, they can also be difficult to remove. Fortunately, there are a number of detergents that 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.
  • 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.
  • Shampoos with sulfosuccinates: These are also mild cleansing agents that can remove silicones from hair.
  • 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

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

Here are a few suggestions:

Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying Shampoo

Kinky Curly Come Clean

Dove Oxygen Moisture Shampoo

dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Soothing Shampoo

Pureology Strength Cure Shampoo

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?


1. Schueller, R.; Romanowski, P., Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin. Taylor & Francis: 1999.
2.  Lim, Y.; Park, C.; Kim, J., Hair conditioning effect of amino silicone softeners in varied treatment conditions. Fibers and Polymers 2010, 11 (3), 507-515.
3.  Yahagi, K., Silicones as conditioning agents in shampoos. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1992, 43 (5), 275-284.


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