What is Silicone in Hair Care?

silicone in hair care
August 2, 2021

Jose Iturrieta

There are many misconceptions about silicone in hair care. Some companies use silicones in a negative context when it’s not always needed. 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 their formulas. It’s important to also educate your client too, so they are aware of what is being used.

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

Do silicones build up on hair?

While caring for your hair, it is important to select hair care products that best suits 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 optimized for different hair types. It all comes down to selecting the best product for your hair type and lifestyle.

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.


There are two types of silicones, those that are soluble silicones which you will find in shampoo, conditioner, treatments and leave-ins and non-soluble silicones are the ones that we would normally see in hair serum, beard serum, or mix in with an oil base. The soluble silicones are accompanying 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.

Because of the way manufacturers must list their ingredients at the back of the packaging, which is 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 would confuse the consumer 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. 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.

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.


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