Monday, May 13, 2013

Silicones in Hair Care. What You Need To Know


There has long been talk about the evils of silicones in hair products. I am here to say that silicones in hair products are not necessarily bad or "evil".  I personally choose to avoid them, but many silicones do your hair no more harm that hairspray or other styling products.  I know that many people complain about silicone buildup, but  almost every product you use on your hair will cause buildup. Hairspray, styling products, conditioners, it is all the same and silicone is no different.

The purpose of this post is to explain what some of the more popular silicones do to your hair and why I personally try to avoid them for my hair.  You might find, after reading this article that you need not worry about silicones in your hair products and can go on your way with the satisfaction that you are doing no harm to your hair. Others with dry hair, or hair prone to breakage or already damaged hair may find that all those silicones are actually hurting the recovery of your hair and a change might be in order.

silicone molecule

Using silicones on your hair will not give you any long term benefits at all.  All that silicone does is give the appearance of healthy and shiny hair.   Silicones simply coat the hair strands to make them appear smoother, less frizzy and shinier.   For example, certain silicones in conditioners, frizz fighters, and hair shine serums simply coat the hair strands and make them appear smoother and shiny.  The silicones can add a little weight to the hair which gives those with fine hair a little substance, but also can make some hair look greasy.  Basically, silicone based hair products provide only a temporary smoothing effect.  Some silicones on some types of hair WILL cause damage over the long term. I will get into that later in this post.

To understand how silicones might or might not damage your hair you need to understand that there are two types of silicones:   Water soluble and non-soluble silicones.   Water soluble silicones are just that. They can be washed away with just water. No soap or detergent required.  Non-soluble silicones are exactly the opposite of the water soluble silicones.  These silicones require sulfates in order to be washed away.  It is true that if you use non-soluble silicones on your hair and never use a shampoo with sulfates in it, you can get build up.   HOWEVER, there is a limited amount of surface area on each strand of hair for the silicone to attach itself to.  And the silicone will not attach to more silicone so it will not accumulate indefinitely.  So keep in mind that if you co-wash (never use shampoo) use sulfate free shampoo and/or have very delicate hair, silicones may weigh your hair down with repeated use.

You know how I talked about long term use causing damage to some types of hair, well this is where I explain why.  Non-soluble silicones require the help of sulfate shampoos and cleansers in order to remove the silicone coating from the hair.   This may seem meaningless to some, however if you are trying to retain moisture in your hair then you may want to refrain from using non-soluble silicone products.  Why?  Well, in addition from having to use drying sulfate based cleansers, the silicone coating on the hair prevents moisture, protein, or other products from penetrating the hair shaft.   Additionally, when an overload of silicone products are applied to hair, the buildup from the silicone coating eventually causes breakage.  (If your hair is already dry or prone to breakage)

Here is a closer look at some of the more popular silicones in hair products and what they do to your hair.

Amodimethicone is a special  type kind of silicone that has been chemically modified to better adhere to your hair strands. Commonly used in leave in conditioners, Amodimethicone is a little more difficult to remove because of the unique way it was formulated.  Silicones that have "amo", "amine" or "amino" in their name are also similar to Amodimethicone and can present a challenge to remove.

Cyclomethicone is one of the most commonly used silicones in hair care. I bet you can find at least two or more products in your hair styling/care arsenal that has Cyclomethicone in it. (Cyclopentsiloxane, cyclotetrasiloxane, and cyclohexasiloxane are also designations for the same class of molecules.)  These types of silicones have a cyclic, or ring-like structure and can be much smaller than Dimethicone.  This type of silicone is often used as a solvent for fragrance and essential oils (Argan Oil for example) and is used as a way to carry higher molecular weight silicones such as Dimethicone.  Cyclomethicones are popular because they spread easily on the hair and the result is usually not greasy.  Cyclomethicone evaporate easily from the hair, therefore is not prone to build-up or an oily residue.   Many people find that conditioners or serums containing Cyclomethicones  help speed drying time of the hair.  Also, because it evaporates quickly, the "desired ingredients" like essential oils and such, can penetrate the hair shaft without being blocked out like with other silicones. The Cyclomethicones are supposed to be too large to penetrate the skin or hair itself, but some people still have a sensitivity to them and can have reactions from use.  Some believe that because Cyclomethicones evaporates on the hair like ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol evaporates, it can leave a ragged hair cuticle that results in a rough texture to the hair surface.

Dimethicone is another commonly used silicone in hair products.  The structure of the Dimethicone molecule is more linear and the basic opposite of Cyclomethicone.  The non-soluble silicone is sometimes called silicone oil.  Unlike Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone will not evaporate on the hair.  The combination of Dimethicone being a non-soluble silicone AND the fact that it does not evaporate makes, it one of the more difficult products to remove from the hair.  On average there is usually 3-5% of Dimethicone in most rinse out conditioners, shampoos and leave in conditioners. However, there can be as much as 80-90% in serums.  The issue with Dimethicone is that is adsorbs into and sticks on to the outer cuticle of the hair.  This in turn, forms a film on the hair which smooths the outer cuticle and makes hair look smooth and glossy.  Because of its heavy coating, Dimethicone prevents essential oils and other moisturizing ingredients from penetrating the hair shaft. Because Dimethicone is so water insoluble, it can be difficult to remove.  Use of sulfate cleansers are the best way to remove Dimethicone from the hair, but many times the hair will not be fully cleansed of the Dimethicone on the first wash. Those with sulfate allergies, color treated hair, fragile hair, dry or damaged hair may want to avoid Dimethicone.  Dimethicone will not damage the hair, but the products needed to remove it, could cause damage.

Dimethicone Copolyol is a water-soluble, lightweight silicone that provides very little buildup. It is often used in conditioning shampoos. Of all the silicones out there, this would be the one I would LEAST worry about having in my hair.  Aside from it being water soluble is it mainly used as a humectant and to keep products stable.  Dimethicone Copolyol provides slip to the hair and is similar to glycerin.  The main purpose of Dimethicone Copolyol is to add shine to the hair and make it feel more full.

Basically, when dealing with silicones on your hair, it all comes down to your hair type and quality.  The more moisture your hair needs, the less you should use silicones that coat the hair and blocks that moisture from getting to the hair shaft.  The more damaged or more prone to breakage your hair may be will decide if and what types of silicone products you use in your hair.  It is important to be your own Ingredient Detective and try various products on your own hair to find out what gives you the results that you want the most. As I always say, what works for me, may not work for you.

I hope this was helpful.  What do you think about silicones in hair care products?  Has your opinion changed after reading this? Has it stayed the same?  Will you now approach some hair care products with less trepidation now that you know the different types of silicones and what they do to your hair? I would love to read your comments.

Here is a list of some common Water Soluble Silicones:
Any Silicone with PEG as a prefix
Dimethicone Copolyol
Hydrolyzed wheat protein (Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane)
Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
Here is a list of some Non Soluble (not water soluble) Silicones:
Behenoxy Dimethicone
Cetearyl Methicone
Cetyl Dimethicone
Phenyl Trimethicone
Stearoxy Dimethicone
Stearyl Dimethicone


  1. I use conditioner to clean my hair, and rarely use shampoos. To prevent build up, I avoid silicones completely.

  2. This was really interesting. Even the boyfriend would find this post interesting, what with it being all scientific and shizzles :-) Seriously, though, I am glad you explained it so well. Like many people, I knew silicones are supposed to be the bad guy and that we should avoid them, but I never actually knew WHY that was. So thank you!

  3. I like what silicones do for my hair! It's very fine and thin, and damaged from dying it. A light dose of silicones makes it easier to untangle, thus avoiding breakage while combing. It smooths down the damage. I use a sulfate free shampoo, but my hair hasn't been getting greasy- need to go see what type of silicones are in the products I like.

    1. That's why I say that silicones are not necessarily bad. They can have a very nice effect on certain hair types. Obviously reducing drag and breakage during wet combing is a plus! :-)

  4. This is a very nice review. My dad is a chemist and was just explaining me why I should avoid silicones in shampoo a few weeks ago. Your explanation and introducing different types of silicones surely help. Thanks

  5. Great comprehensive article! I knew 'cones just kinda sit on the skin/hair and coat it but I didn't know of the soluble vs. insoluble types. Takes me back to my chem days in high school...eons ago lol. Very interesting stuff!!

  6. Great post! Now I fully understand it. I really avoid silicones for they really make my hair dry and dull. And since I have thin hair, I make sure to use gentle hair care products.

  7. Awesome post! Now I know WHY silicones make my hair look limp and lifeless :)

  8. Awesome post!! Super informative. I'd love to know what non-silicone shampoos & conditioners are in your beauty arsenal and/or any recommendations...?

    1. Actually I'll do you one better (since I'm always testing new products. Here is a comprehensive list of Silicone Free Conditioners from a great blog called Healthy Curls

    2. It looks like the Healthy Curls domain has expired. Wondering if there's another source for the silicone-free list.

  9. That makes total sense! Thanks so much for this post! I got a sample of Josie Maran's Argan Oil and I heard that a lot of people use it as a facial moisturizer, but looking at this post, that doesn't make very much sense anymore.

    1. Oh wait! I just read that Josie Maran's doesn't contain any silicones (at least not particularly bad ones). Is that correct?

    2. The Josie Maran pure argan oil does not contain silicones, but the Josie Maran argan oil hair SERUM does. That has Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone, and Cyclopentasiloxane.
      The silicones in that product are not water soluable so you may need to use a clarifying shampoo once in a while to remove buildup, if you start to notice buildup.

  10. I love this article! I want to share it with all my friends. I've been having trouble finding hair heaven, but now I feel like I'm on a better path to understanding. Thank you so much!

    1. Please. Feel free to share with anyone you like, especially famous people that will send me money! LOL

    2. So great. Thanks. My hair looks great with the 'cones' but breaks easily. Guess it is actually dry. Always wondered about that. Would baking soda remove the cones - perhaps every other week?

  11. I always roll my eyes at companies that tout their wonderful hair oils and the first ingredients end in "cone". Charging 50 bucks for silicone serum with some argan oil in it? No thanks...

  12. I actually just referenced this post again when deciding whether or not to buy the Bumble and Bumble hairdressers invisible oil. I don't know why I didn't comment the first time I read it, but this was so helpful in determining whether the ingredients in said product were water soluble or not. Unfortunately, the oil contains both amodimethicone and dimethicone, and something I am sure must be another form of dimethicone, called dimethiconol. I will not be purchasing it as I use mostly natural shampoos from LUSH, and I doubt that they would be sufficient to cleanse my hair with the silicones. Thanks so much for this detailed and informative post!!

  13. What would be nice is if companies would warn people that their products require special washing procedures to get out of the hair. I never knew that avoiding sulfate shampoos could result in build up of silicone products. Since silicone is an ingredient in my hair oil spray I figured it just absorbed into the hair with the oil...


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