What is Silicone in Hair Care? - AMR Hair & Beauty

What is Silicone in Hair Care?

Aug 02, 2021Scott Peers

There are many misconceptions about silicone in hair care. Some companies talk about silicones in a negative context and the criticisms are not always entirely accurate.

I thought it would be great to share with you some information so that you can make that educated choice if you want to use products with silicones in them.

If you work in the professional hair industry, it's important to educate your client too, so they know what's in the products being used and they can make an informed choice.

What is Silicone?

The basic raw material for silicones comes from naturally occurring sand which makes up 27% of the earth's crust.

Silicones have been used in hair care products for over 40 years. They're among the most extensively studied materials used in consumer applications today. More than 1,000 studies have been conducted by silicone manufacturers to assess the safety of silicones relative to workers, consumers, the environment, and manufacturing processes.

In hair care, silicones can provide the following benefits:

  • hair colour protection
  • heat protection
  • hair damage repair
  • hair strengthening
  • hair shine
  • a smooth feeling

Silicones can be used for all hair types and across all hair care products such as shampoos, rinse-off conditioners, hair masks, hair sprays, hair serums, hair oils, and styling products.

Three Types of Silicones

It is important to note that there are three different types of silicones and the type is what determines whether they're good or bad for your natural hair. The three types are:

  • Non-water soluble
  • Partially water soluble
  • Water soluble

The difference between the three is simple and easy to remember.

Non-water soluble silicones cannot be washed away by water alone. This is because they are thick and heavy on the hair and leave a wax like texture. Over time product with non-water soluble silicones will cause build up on the hair. To remove non-water soluble silicones, you will need to use shampoos that contain sulphates because it'll break down the silicone on the hair.

Partially soluble silicones will eventually evaporate after the conditioner has been applied. However, any hair that has used partially soluble silicones will need to use sulphate shampoos to remove the product and ensure no product build up is evident. Build up is bad for the hair and doesn't feel the best either.

Water soluble silicones are the best type because they can be washed away without the use of shampoo or any other product for removable, water alone will wash the silicone from the hair. Water soluble silicones are lightweight and will make hair feel silky smooth and soft.

Do Silicones Build Up On Hair?

While caring for your hair, it is important to select hair care products that best suit your hair type. For those who need to use more products to manage their style, or for consumers that have hard water, periodic use of a clarifying shampoo will help manage build-up.

Build-up on hair is often described as an unwanted coated feel, leaving the hair heavy, flat, stiff, or lifeless because of repeated usage of certain hair products over time. Any repeated use of products that are not washed off regularly will cause build-up.

Some ingredients are more prone to building up than others. These include oils, waxes, styling polymers, and positively charged polymers that are attracted to hair (since hair is negatively charged). Washing with hard water can also form mineral deposits which can contribute to a build-up.

Additionally, pollution particulates from the air, and other components such as sweat, and natural human sebum can deposit on the hair throughout the day.

Some silicones have a higher deposition on the hair than others. These silicones can easily be removed using clarifying shampoos. Some silicones provide lighter conditioning than others. Additionally, the level of silicone in the consumer product can be optimised for different hair types. It all comes down to selecting the best product for your hair type and lifestyle.

Are Silicones Safe to Use With Hair Extensions?

When it comes to hair extensions, it's important to pay close attention to the type of silicone that is being used in the conditioning process of the hair. Generally, it's recommended to use sulphate free shampoos on the hair however remember that when using a sulphate free shampoo with a non-water soluble silicone, the shampoo will not budge. The silicone will build up over time and this is what is bad for your hair extensions.

Therefore when conditioning your hair extensions you must use a sulphate free shampoo with a water soluble silicone conditioner. This is because the silicone will wash off the hair and will not build up.

Does silicone form a plastic coating on the hair?

Silicone does not form a plastic coating on hair. It is chemically quite different from plastic. Silicone is derived from quartz (sand), while most plastics are petroleum-derived. Silicone has a very flexible polymer backbone. Typical linear hydrocarbon materials become more rigid with increasing molecular weight, which is typical of a plastic-like high-density polyethylene, while a silicone of equal molecular weight remains a liquid.

Because of their low surface energy, silicones easily spread over the surface of the hair, providing conditioning benefits and an overall healthy look and feel to the hair.

Healthy hair is achieved when the cuticle is not lifted and when it is sealed. The natural seal for the cuticle is the oil created by your own body when the hair grows from your head; however, everyday grooming practices can remove this oil. Many oils, silicone included, can replace the lost lipid layer, sealing the cuticle.

Does silicone irritate the scalp or cause pore-clogging?

Silicones do not irritate the scalp, nor do they clog pores on the scalp when they are used for their intended applications at recommended use levels. Studies have shown silicones do not typically irritate the skin or scalp. One study evaluating a silicone-containing shampoo found no pore-clogging under normal use. Silicones are also often used in anti-dandruff products as part of scalp care, where they help counteract the negative aspects of anti-dandruff actives to provide ease of combing and overall hair conditioning.

Do silicones negatively affect the colouration process?

Silicones do not negatively affect the colouration process. On the contrary, studies have shown silicones provide a more vibrant colour to the hair when added to the colourant. Other studies have shown that when silicone was deposited on the hair from a shampoo containing dimethicone prior to a permanent hair colour process, the hair colour was not affected, and was like hair washed with a non-silicone containing shampoo. Silicones are proven to be beneficial in restoring hair to its healthy, hydrophobic (water-repelling) state after the damaging effects of the chemical colouration process.

Silicones are known to prolong colour retention after repeated washing. A significant amount of hair colour is lost due to the diffusion of the dye out of the hair during the shampoo process. The presence of silicone on the hair fibre assists in preventing the hair colour from fading out, helping to prolong the beautiful hair colour our client desires.

Leave-In Silicones vs Non-Soluble Silicones

Soluble silicones are the type you will typically find in shampoo, conditioner, and hair treatments. Then there are leave-ins and non-soluble silicones which are the ones that we would normally see in hair serum, beard serum, or mixed in with an oil base.

The soluble silicones are accompanied by other ingredients that make them water-soluble. Also, these same silicones are sometimes married with proteins to make a unique ingredient that offers the benefits of the silicone combine with the benefits of the protein.

Silicone as an Ingredient in Haircare Products

Because of the way manufacturers must list their ingredients at the back of the packaging, from the most to the least, most of the time silicones will be sitting on their own while the ingredients that have made them soluble are sitting further down the list. Having a look at the list could confuse consumers into believing that they are dealing with a non-soluble silicone.

Sometimes there will be a need to use a non-soluble silicone in a conditioner, treatment or your favourite leave-in because of the benefits they offer. You would normally see non-soluble silicones in serums blended with your favourite oils. As the saying goes, a little bit goes a long way.

May I also add that silicone is thermally stable up to 600 degrees without showing signs of breaking up? So, it provides protection when we use our heat stylers.

What About Silicones in the Environment?

In the environment, silicones are ultimately converted to silica, silicic acid, and carbon dioxide. This is primarily through non-biological degradation processes such as hydrolysis or photolysis, and through biodegradation by biological organisms.

Concluding Thoughts

Understanding what silicone is and why it is used can help guide your haircare product choices. 

If you choose to go silicone free it will limit the range you can choose from but some quality products are still available such as Kerastase Specifique Bain Vital Dermo-Calm Shampoo.

Silicones in hair care products are safe to use for the vast majority of people. Most popular hair care brands regularly use silicones in their formulas for the benefits they offer.

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