Everything Your Ever Wanted to Know (and More) About Silicones

It’s no secret within the natural and curly hair community that silicones are not good for the long-term growth or moisture of hair, however, nearly all mainstream haircare companies continue to use silicones in their products. Silicones are commonly used because they have hydrophobic properties that help make shampoos and conditioners slippery and easily spreadable on the scalp, a feeling we have all become accustomed to when washing our hair.

Additionally, because silicones easily coat the hair and fill in porosity, they help damaged and frizzy hair look shiny and feel smooth by acting as "drywall patch" to repair holes in the hair shaft. This sealing process not only helps detangle and lock in the moisture provided by conditioner, but it also creates a layer of repellent that protects our hair from the elements, making it great for blowdrying and easier to manage.

Where Do Silicones Come From?

Adding silicones to hair products clearly has its advantages, but we need to ask ourselves do these pros outweigh the cons? For starters, some “all-natural” brands sneak silicones into their products passing them off as natural, when in fact, silicons are completely synthetic.

Silicones are man-made polymers, similar to plastics, that are derived from silicon, an element found in silica (also known sand), and oxygen. In order for silicon to be extracted from silica, it needs to undergo a chemical process where it is combined with hydrocarbons to make it a usable liquid haircare ingredient. Hydrocarbons, which are a carbon and hydrogen compound, come from fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas. So in conclusion, silicones are petrochemicals and are no more “natural” than common plastic.

The Risks of Using Hair Products with Silicones

How do brands get away with putting petrochemicals in hair products? The beauty industry is not regulated by the FDA or any other government entity, which means products can claim just about anything on their bottles and there is no one to enforce that the ingredients match their marketing claims or that the ingredients are safe. In fact, the US government has only banned 11 ingredients from being used in personal care products (read more about this in our Ingredient Library).

While silicones may not pose severe health risks like other ingredients out there, they are certainly detrimental to the long-term health of our hair:

  • The strong sealant quality of silicones are a short-term fix when it comes to restoring dehydrated hair because they only fill in holes in the hair shaft, they do not actually provide the hair with nutrients to get stronger. Furthermore, they don’t allow any other hair treatments containing good oils and you may be using to penetrate the shaft because they are such strong repellants.
  • Silicones do not wash out of hair easily, which means there is buildup that leads to weighed down hair, loss of curl, clogged pores, scalp irritation and ingrown hairs.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: In order to get rid of silicone buildup, you need to use shampoos with strong sulfates to breakdown the buildup and clean the hair, which strips and further damages delicate hair. In order to remedy the harsh stripping effects of sulfates, you need to use conditioner, which often contains contain silicone. It’s a vicious cycle!

Identifying Silicones in Hair Products

There are two main types of silicones, water-soluble and non-soluble. Water-soluble silicones can be washed away with water, while non-water soluble silicones cannot be washed without the help of a deep clean. Unfortunately, the majority of haircare products found at your local drugstore or salon contain contain non-soluble silicones. Below is a list of commonly used silicones:

Water-Soluble Silicones:

  • Dimethicone Copolyol
  • Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane (hydrolyzed wheat protein)
  • Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
  • Any Silicone with PEG as a prefix

Non-Soluble Silicones:

  • Amodimethicone
  • Behenoxy Dimethicone
  • Cetyl Dimethicone
  • Cetearyl Methicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Phenyl Trimethicone
  • Stearoxy Dimethicone
  • Stearyl Dimethicone
  • Trimethylsilylamodimetheicone

There are dozens of silicones not in this list, so one helpful tip when trying to identify silicones is to remember that they can usually have suffixes such as -one, -conol and -xane. Spotting silicones in haircare products can still be a little tricky, so we compiled a short guide to some conditioners that do and do not contain silicones:

Products that contain no silicones or water-soluble silicones:

  • ELEVYNN Neroli Jasmine Conditioner (a little self-promotion never hurt anyone)
  • Aubrey Organics White Camellia Conditioner
  • Briogeo Rosarco Repair Conditioner
  • Curls Coconut Sublime Moisturizing Conditioner
  • SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner

Products that contain non-soluble silicones:

  • Aveda Brilliant Conditioner (Cetyl Dimethicone)
  • Aussie 3-Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner (Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone)
  • Bumble & Bumble Super Rich Conditioner (Dimethicone)
  • Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair Mask (Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethiconol)
  • John Frieda Dream Curls Conditioner (Dimethicone)
  • Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner (Amodimethicone)
  • MoroccanOil Extra Volume Conditioner (Dimethicone)
  • Oribe Signature Conditioner (Cyclopentasiloxane)
  • Organix Coconut Milk Conditioner (Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane)
  • OUAI Smooth Conditioner (Amodimethicone)
  • Wen Fig Cleansing Conditioner (Amodimethicone)

Every hair type will react slightly different to both types of silicones. However, if you have curly, dry or damaged hair, the cons of using silicones, such as buildup and loss of curl, can far outweigh the pros.