Many non-pure cosmetic products contain silicone. Opinions are quite divided whether these are okay for your skin and health or not. And whether or not they are harmful to the environment. Time to dive deeper into it!
What are Silicones?
Silicones are synthetic substances. They are polymers; an organic compound of silicon (found in sand, among other things) and oxygen atoms. Which are chemically linked to each other through a synthesis process using various auxiliary substances. Leaving a non-organic product. There are different types of silicone. The polymer structure of each is different in composition and length.
Applications are very diverse:
- Silicone oil in cosmetics (e.g. dimethicone)
- Silicone oil as an anti-louse agent
- Breast implant
- Lubricating oil
- Silicone glue
- silicone rubber
- Silicone - putty
- arch supports
- Contact lenses
The advantage of silicone is that it is highly resistant to the effects of oxygen and UV light (no oxidation). More resistant to high or low temperatures than comparable fabrics. Not be fragile. And conduct heat poorly (useful for baking tins, for example. The heat in a mold is retained well, but you don't burn your fingers).
What do silicones do in cosmetics?
Silicone makes a cosmetic product easy to spread. And make sure it feels smooth on the skin. Imperfections are filled. And your skin looks a bit fuller. Because the silicone lays a thin film on the skin. However, this layer is porous (like a kind of gauze), so that your skin can continue to breathe. But it retains moisture better. And larger molecules of, for example, irritants from the outside, are less permeable. So that they do not come into contact with your skin.
In hair care products, silicones coat your hair, making it soft to the touch and easy to comb. The silicone ensures that your hair is protected against dirt, weather and wind. And the heat of a hair dryer or straightener.
You can recognize silicone in the ingredients list of a product by the name that ends with cone or xane (commonly used in cosmetics are: dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclomethicone).
Silicone is odorless and colorless. And cheap. This makes them popular with cosmetic manufacturers in combination with the aforementioned properties.
Three kinds of silicone
There are three types/categories of silicones for use in cosmetics:
- water-soluble; can be removed with water.
- Not water soluble ; can only be removed with a sulfate cleaner. They cannot be removed with an oil alone. For example, dimethicone
- Volatile; dissipate over time after application. For example, cyclopentasiloxane
Are silicones bad for your skin?
That depends on which silicone, how it is used and whether you clean your skin in such a way that you remove the silicone from your skin.
Dimethicone is a silicone that is widely used in skin care. It is not water (or oil) soluble or volatile. If you use cosmetics with pure dimethicones, it is important to remove them from your skin every day! Which is a challenge because they are not soluble in water or oil and only partly in (soft) alcohol. A cleaner with sulfates (such as SLS, SLES) can (partially) remove them. Only those are not good for your skin. A so-called 'micellar' cleanser or a double cleanse with first a mild gel and then an oil or balm cleanser helps to remove dimethicone well.
If residues remain on your skin, they can form a layer that prevents your skin from properly performing its natural function and dries it out. The 'dirt' leftovers of dimethicone, together with sebum and other dirt, can clog your pores. What can cause acne.
There is also research that shows that dimethicone increases skin irritation and causes eye irritation with prolonged use. And can cause allergies in people with sensitive skin. Other research indicates that silicones are not irritating.
Cyclopentasiloxane is a so-called 'volatile' silicone. And is / was used a lot in cosmetics products. Applied to the skin, it also gives the smooth feel. But evaporates during the day and leaves other active ingredients from the cosmetic product to do their job. This silicone initially seems to do little bad for your skin. In 2020, however, the EU banned the use of these stay-on cosmetics products. Due to potential health risks.
Healing wounds with silicone
Proponents of silicones for use in cosmetics often argue that they are used medically for wound healing, among other things. Is this right? Silicones can help with wound healing because they create a layer on the skin that allows oxygen to pass through. Including a wound can heal calmly. External healing-disrupting substances cannot reach the wound. The wound has a chance to heal in its own 'bubble'.
However, this is somewhat different than when used in cosmetics. There, silicones mainly have a superficial function: making a product more spreadable, a smooth skin feeling, filling lines and other irregularities. As soon as you wash the product off your face with silicone, this function is gone.
If you leave it on your face or if you do not clean properly and apply a new layer of silicone product every day, they can accumulate and clog your skin or cause a reaction in the long term.
Are silicones bad for your hair?
In the short term, silicones in hair products usually have a nice effect. However, the disadvantage of silicones in hair products is that they are often difficult to wash out (most that are used in hair care are not water soluble). This is often only possible with dehydrating and environmentally unfriendly sulfate shampoos. And even then there is often a residue left on your hair. This can damage and dry out your hair in the long term.
If your hair is already in poor condition, the silicone products will make your hair feel better and look smooth. But they do not improve the condition of your hair. So underneath that layer, damaged hair remains.
Because they are difficult to wash out, the silicones often build up a layer upon layer on your hair. This can make it heavier, so that curly hair does not fall nicely. Curly hair is also often drier than non-curly hair (1) , a silicone layer on your hair can dry it out even further. Which makes it fluff faster.
This accumulation of layers of silicone can prevent your hair and scalp from functioning properly. The natural nourishing skin oils that your body produces can no longer reach your scalp or hair. Or sebum from your skin can start to accumulate, along with the layer of silicone. Nourishing and moisturizing ingredients of care products do not pass through the layer from the outside.
In extreme form you see this with anti-louse products based on a high concentration of dimethicones. These suffocate the lice and lice eggs. So you're done with that. It just takes some effort to get the anti-lice product out of your hair. Your hair looks greasy and limp. Often several washes are needed with a somewhat more aggressive sulfate shampoo to get your hair okay again.
A natural tip to wash silicone residues from your hair is to use baking soda (which is different from baking powder!) and then use apple cider vinegar as a conditioner.
Added value for skin or hair?
Silicones do not really add value to your skin or hair. In addition to the optical effect they create. They have no nourishing value for your skin. They don't soak into your skin. If you remove them from your skin, the effect is gone.
They do not contain any nutrients or minerals, for example. Unlike natural oils or other natural skin enhancing ingredients.
That is not to say that all natural oils are a suitable alternative to silicones. But there are a large number of oils that easily absorb into your skin or hair (do not leave a greasy layer), protect your skin or hair against external influences with a protective layer without hiding it. And nourish your skin / hair at the same time with work fabrics present in the oil. An example is the skin's own ceramide. Jojoba oil and squalane also absorb quickly into your skin and are very similar in composition to skin's own fats. They just don't have or have less of the instant optical effect that silicones have.
Hyaluronic acid is another natural and skin-specific ingredient that binds water and thus ensures beautiful, fuller skin. Glycerin also does this because of its ability to attract and retain moisture.
Liposomes provide both optimal hydration of your skin and help active ingredients from other ingredients in a care product to enter your skin faster.
Are silicones bad for your health?
This depends on the type of silicone. Recent studies show that the group of polydimethylsiloxanes can be harmful to your health and the environment (6) . This is a group of silicones that are widely used in cosmetics as cyclomethicones. For example, cyclotetrasiloxane is suspected to have a harmful effect on fertility.
Therefore, according to European legislation (2020), cyclotetrasiloxane and cyclopentasiloxane may only be used in wash-off cosmetic products with a maximum concentration of 0.1%. Moreover, the former may only be added to a new (rinse-off) cosmetic product if this is technically not possible otherwise. Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane may no longer be used in cosmetics at all. (7)
In response to this, the cosmetic industry is conducting research into alternatives such as organo-modified silicones or esters. In time it will become clear whether these are healthier alternatives.
It is known that a different type of silicone, the one from implants, can cause physical complaints if they start to leak. These resemble complaints of autoimmune diseases: fatigue, joint pain, itching, dry eyes or mouth, muscle relaxation.
Silicone and the environment
Some of the silicones used in cosmetics initially seem to do no harm to your skin or hair. They ensure that a cream lubricates nicely, give a smooth feeling and fill in imperfections. More than other ingredients seem to be able to do this. The condition is that you clean your skin properly after using a product with silicone. Because otherwise accumulations of silicone residues can occur. Which can cause skin or hair complaints.
A number of silicones commonly used in cosmetics will be banned in the EU from February 2020 or only allowed in a product to a very limited extent. Because these can have negative health effects. And less good for the environment. The so-called cyclomethicones.
Apart from an optical effect, silicones have no real added value in cosmetic products. They do not contain any active ingredients that protect or nourish your skin for a long time.
Silicones are not biodegradable, they are not broken down by microorganisms. After about 500 years they are degraded in the environment. Depending on the type of silicone, this can damage the environment.
Sources: Wikipedia, Info.nu, healthline.com, dermabase, ewg, PubMed, natural-skincare.com