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:
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:
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:
Products that contain non-soluble silicones:
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.