What Are Silicones And Are They Bad For Your Hair?

Hair care is no stranger to the health and wellness conversation about what you put in and on your body. When it comes to hair products, many people have begun to focus on what kind of ingredients they may contain. For some, hair care is part of their wellness routines, so it has become important to look into any ingredients that may have any negative impact on their health.

Silicone has quickly become an ingredient that has many wondering if it is a safe hair product ingredient. It is often found in shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays, and serums. According to a hair product study published in the International Journal of Trichology, silicones are "hybrid (inorganic-organic) inert, heat-resistant and rubber-like polymers derived from crystal quartz." Silica, which is often derived from sand or similar material, is the initial ingredient for creating silicone. This ingredient is common in many hair products because its goal is to help tame frizz, lock in moisture, and give hair a beautiful shine. However, silicones come in many different forms, and some may be heavier or lighter — or some might attach longer than others. With a focus on ingredient awareness, many people have begun to wonder if silicones are actually safe to use.

What is silicone and why is it in hair products?

Silicones provide an array of benefits for your hair. The most common silicones found in hair products are cyclomethicone, amodimethicone, and dimethicone. They work by creating a barrier around your hair that keeps outside moisture from coming in and causing it to frizz. The barrier also protects your hair against any elements, including heat from hair styling tools (via John Frieda).

One type of silicone does not rule them all. In fact, many hair products may have varying silicones from one another because some of them may target different hair needs. It comes down to whether the silicone is water-soluble or non-water-soluble. According to Healthline, cyclomethicone is a breathable, lightweight silicone. It is also water-soluble, meaning it can wash out easily. On the contrary, amodimethicone and dimethicone are heavier and may take multiple washes with a clarifying shampoo to remove them. 

"Soluble silicones tend to focus mostly on helping to provide shine and a conditioning effect, while non-soluble silicones are also intended to protect the hair shaft by providing an occlusive coating, reduce frizz, and soften the hair," Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Allure.

Is silicone dangerous?

Nevertheless, many ultimately wonder whether silicones are dangerous for humans. Cosmetic chemist Vince Spinnato tells Allure that silicones are perfectly safe to use but may affect the strength of your hair with long-term use. A common problem with silicone usage is that it may cause hair to weaken over time, making it more susceptible to breakage and dryness. 

"Silicones are hydrophobic, which means they repel water," Spinnato says (via Allure). "In your body, silicone will displace water and push it away. When it does this in hair, the very precious moisture content of just 3% is reduced, and the protein bonds that make up 97% of hair become less stable and more liable to break." Additionally, some long-term effects of heavier silicones can also create some stubborn build-up which can lead to clogged pores, red bumps, or sensitivity.

If you need some peace of mind, however, silicone is not considered a toxic chemical (via Healthline). Professionals say that when silicones are used as instructed, they are safe and indicate no harm to humans. Overall, it is always important to think about your unique hair needs. Often, those with thicker or curly hair may benefit the most from the use of silicones. For those with thinner hair, professionals recommend proceeding with caution as it may weigh down hair or create the risk of build-up (via Allure).

Can silicone products be used on all hair types?

In the haircare community, using silicone can be a touchy subject. Some seem to avoid using silicone-based styling products entirely, while others absolutely swear by them. If you're wondering why there's such a divide, you're not alone. As it turns out, some hair types respond much differently to silicone than others. 

Those with curly hair or overprocessed strands tend to favor silicone, as it creates a softer, shinier appearance — a godsend for those with dry or damaged tresses. Anyone who's struggled with unruly frizz can attest that silicone's weight and smoothing properties are excellent at combating flyaways. Of course, it's important to use a clarifying shampoo treatment every two to four weeks in order to wash away product build-up, which can dull the hair's appearance. "With all that we put in our hair, it's always a good idea to have a 'spring cleaning' moment once in a while," Ouai's head of education Diana Pratasiewicz told Today.

Conversely, people with fine or oily locks should probably avoid silicone. Unless applied sparingly, silicone products can make oily hair look more weighed down. Furthermore, fine or straight hair may not be able to withstand its buildup. For that reason, many experts suggest that they use a water-soluble silicone hair product instead of popular non-soluble silicones like dimethicone. Water-soluble silicone products have less propensity to cause buildup, and their names typically begin with "PEG" on ingredient lists, according to Color Wow, so always look out for what's best for your hair.