Silicones: they’re the shiny, glassy, glossy polymers of the haircare world. Sound pretty amazing, right? Unfortunately they’re more cloud than silver lining.
WHAT IS SILICONE?
Silicones are a huge family of high performance materials found in thousands of products from personal care and health care to textiles and electronics. Silicones are entirely synthetic, produced through reacting one of earth’s very common elements silicon with methyl chloride and then creating a second reaction with water. Et voila – you have silicone polymers resistant to extremes of temperature and useful for all sorts of things. Like any family, silicones have toxic and inoffensive members. Those used in skin and hair products are entirely safe, thoroughly tested and widely used…but also the poster children for man-made ingredients.
WHY ARE SILICONES IN HAIR PRODUCTS?
To cut to the trichological chase, silicones work by covering hair with a thin hydrophobic (waterproof) layer. This coating reduces the porosity of the hair so it’s less likely to react to humidity – bye bye frizz. It also creates a smooth outer sheath that reduces friction so each strand lies more compatibly with its neighbour. Smoother hair = fewer tangles plus more shine and gloss. That same waterproof layer traps moisture in the hair fibre, slowing moisture loss. So when you first use silicones, you can see an improvement in your mane’s condition.
Sounds great, right? You can understand why all sorts of hair products rely on them. That’s part of the problem: silicones pop up in all sorts of haircare products from stylers where you might expect them, to shampoo where you wouldn’t. It can make avoiding them challenging.
ARE SILICONES IN HAIR PRODUCTS BAD?
Wait, why would we avoid such a useful ingredient? Silicones give off that A-list, red carpet worthy veneer of healthy, shiny locks. But it’s just that: a veneer, a cover-up, a glossy coating to paper over the cracks. When hair is fully hydrated and healthy, the cuticle is sealed, lies flat and light bounces off it so it gleams with a beautiful glossy glow. Silicones add another barrier layer to hair strands, so, yes, initially it looks shiny and new (like a virgin, hey). And that’s where the problems start.
The waterproof barricade silicones create prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft, so over time as water’s lost and not replaced, tresses become dry. That wonderful waterproofness is a disadvantage if you’re trying to hydrate hair with treatments and conditioners.
Instead, through repeated use silicones build up on the hair, weighing it down and contributing not just to a limp, lifeless and lackluster appearance, but damage like splits and snaps. In fact, that layer of silicone can become a magnet for dirt and other ingredients and over time hair accumulates more build up baggage. Which is more for the hardworking actives in conditioners and treatments to wade through before getting to work. In the worst case scenario the hair becomes brittle, frizzy and susceptible to breakage (that’s NOT what we categorise as #hairgirlgains.).
And once they’re there, it can take some effort to remove them (one of the reasons it can take up to 8 washes to make the transition to natural haircare).
IS THERE SILICONE IN MY SHAMPOO?
With more than 100 silicones used in hair products how do we identify a silicone in a shampoo, conditioner or styling product and what exactly are they doing for our hair? Reassuringly for all us non-scientist types they are usually quite recognisable on ingredients lists as most of their names end in ‘cone’ - two of the most common are cyclomethicone and dimethicone. See our label look out for a quick lowdown of some of the most prevalent you’ll find in the salon, supermarket or pharmacy.
To become fully silicone savvy though it’s vital to recognise that they vary greatly in their performance and wash out capability. Water-soluble silicones are kinder to locks as they wash out easier and are less likely leave a heavy build-up in their wake.
If you simply can’t live without a little silicone in your life, two ingredients to look out for are cyclomethicone, a very common silicone that leaves less build up on the hair and dimethicone copolyol, a more expensive silicone that’s lightweight and leaves minimal build up. If you choose a non-water soluble silicone, you’ll definitely need to use a clarifying shampoo packed with chelating ingredients like Detox Dynamo to remove it. Amodimethicone is very common in leave-in conditioners and can weigh the hair down. It works well on thick, curly and Afro hair…but go careful – it can be a culprit in brittleness and snapping. Dimethicone is the most common and cheapest silicone, but the hardest to remove. Go sparingly.
So, what are the alternatives? Plant oils are starting to gain momentum in the anti silicone backlash. At Noughty we choose not to use silicones in our products to limit the long-term effects of build-up and breakage. Instead we have invested in high-quality natural oils like argan, almond and coconut. These enhance the natural barrier your scalp’s own oils provide to the hair fiber, trapping moisture, smoothing and imparting shine. We pair that with potent researched actives like the magic mushroom in our serum which provides heat protection, and Quinoxy in our curl products to help define. It’s an approach that’s kinder to your hair and the planet.