What are they?
According to the American Chemistry Council, silicones are produced by reacting silicon- one of earth’s most common elements with methyl chloride and then water. This reaction produces polymers (large molecules with repeated subunits) that are resistant to high and low temperatures, moisture, and chemicals. They are used in every industry such as healthcare, electronics, construction, and yes even hair care.
Silicones in hair care products
Silicones can be found in shampoos, conditioners, or even styling products and provide a hydrophobic (waterproof) layer over the hair. This layer fills in porous strands giving it a shiny appearance, creates slip, and reduces moisture loss. Additionally, since these polymers are resistant to heat, silicones are often used as heat protectants.
So why do silicones have such a bad rap?
Since silicones are synthetic, the hydrophobic (waterproof) layer acts like a barrier preventing moisture from penetrating the hair shaft allowing the hair to become a magnet for dirt and product buildup. But wait, I thought hydrophobicity is desirable since it locks moisture into our strands? While we do want products that are mainly hydrophobic, repeated use of this inorganic, plastic-like barrier accumulates on the surface of the hair preventing water from penetrating into the cortex and dehydrating the hair. However, not all silicones are created equally and for some people, their hair thrives while using silicones. Let’s investigate why.
Solubility of Silicones
Recently, water-soluble silicones have become available in the market. Ordinary silicone polymers thereby undergo a series of chemical reactions to make them both hydrophobic and hydrophilic- this process is called ethoxylation or polyethylene glycol (PEG)-modification. This process allows these polymers to dissolve in water and be rinsed out by conditioner washing or mild shampoos. They provide some of the same benefits that ordinary silicones provide without the harsh protective layer.
· Dimethicone PEG-8 or higher
· Laurly Methicone Copolyol
· PEG- 8-PG-coco glucoside dimethicone
· Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane
Alternatively, if you use a non-water-soluble silicone, then using a clarifying sulfate-based shampoo is necessary to remove it from your hair. Some have found that some sulfate-free shampoos (those that lather) will remove most of the silicone from their hair and will only require a clarifying shampoo monthly for a fresh start.
Non-Water-Soluble Silicones- note many silicones end in (cone) or (oxane)
· Ceterayl methicone
Whether you are using a water-soluble or non-water-soluble silicones, it is important to maintain a cleansing routine that will benefit your hair’s needs. Have you used silicones, or do you avoid them altogether?