The Truth About Silicones in Hair Care Products

By Lesley Rotchford | | Haircare Ingredients

You’ve probably seen hair care products that brag about being silicone-free on their packaging. They might as well be saying, This won’t make your hair smooth! Bring on the frizz! Hey, hope you like damage! In other words, skimping on hair silicones isn’t something to necessarily boast about—these ingredients play an important role in hair health and texture.

Now that people want hair care ingredients that are as simple, natural, and wholesome as the ingredients in the foods they eat, hair silicones—which are synthetic—aren’t too popular. But while exotic, plant-based ingredients get all the attention and credit, silicones are working hard behind the scenes, making hair sleek, smooth, and soft—and protecting it from harsh heat and damage. That’s why Sauce Beauty uses a selection of beneficial silicones in a number of their foodie-inspired hair care products, including their Intense Repair Shampoo Chimichurri Mint Tingle, Intense Repair Conditioner Coconut Cream, Deep Moisture Mask Guacamole Whip, and Thermal Protectant Spray Hot Sauce.

Since there’s so much confusion surrounding silicones (deciding whether to use products containing them can be a real head scratcher), we’re giving you the low down on what they are, how they work in your hair, and the most effective ways to apply them.

What Are Silicones

Silicones are polymers derived from crystal quartz. They are heat resistant and generally rubber-like in texture, according to a study by Brazilian researchers that appeared in the International Journal of Trichology. While they are derived from a natural source, silicones undergo chemical processing, which means they are classified as synthetic. Their innate slipperiness makes them ideal for stuff like breast implants and lubrication for automotive parts; their super sealing ability makes them popular components of aquariums and plumbing pipes; and they’re often chosen for kitchenware (like pots and pans) because they’re remarkably heat resistant.

We know you’re reading this thinking, Why would I want to put an ingredient found in fake boobs and bathroom pipes ON. MY. HEAD? But it makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it: Slipperiness, sealing, and heat resistance can come in quite handy when it comes to protecting and styling your strands. That’s why silicones are ubiquitous in hair care products, especially ones designed to condition, protect, and repair.

What Hair Silicones Do

Silicones’ main job is to provide hair with a waterproof coating (it’s like a little rain coat for each strand). This coating does a few important things: It prevents your hair’s natural moisture from sneaking out (protecting against dryness), while preventing humidity from seeping in (guarding against frizz). The coating also acts as a lubricant, making hair feel smooth and soft, reducing tangling, and adding shine. Finally, they repel heat from the hair, which protects strands from searing-hot styling tools like curling irons, straight irons, and blow dryers. Overall, “they make damaged hair look healthier,” says Sauce Beauty founder Andy Rah.

The Different Types of Silcones

There are many kinds of silicones, and they are easily identified on product ingredient lists because they usually either end in “-cone” or “-siloxane.” While they all do basically the same thing, they have slight differences—and some are believed to be more effective in hair care than others. “Cyclomethicone, dimethicone copolyol and cyclopentasiloxane are considered better silicones,” says Rah.

Cyclomethicone gives hair a silky-smooth texture and provides lots of slip, meaning you can run a comb through your hair while it’s soaking wet without causing snagging or tangling. Its claim to fame is that it evaporates, meaning it won’t hang around on your strands causing build up. Dimethicone copolyol is a water-soluble type of silicone, which means it dissolves in water and washes out easily. For this reason, it’s considered lightweight and doesn’t contribute to build up. Finally, cyclopentasiloxane is a silicone derivative (which is why it doesn’t have “-cone” tacked onto the end of the word). It also evaporates and is thin in texture, and is often combined with other types of heavier silicones (like regular dimethicone, which isn’t water-soluble like dimethicone copolyol) to help spread them out. Cyclopentasiloxane prevents water loss and is an excellent lubricant.

How to Use Hair Products with Silicones

Despite the chemically-sounding name, silicones aren’t toxic. The problem with using products that contain silicones—and why silicones sometimes get a bad rap—is that they can build up in the hair over time, weighing hair down and making it look limp. But if you’re sticking to the more lightweight silicones like dimethicone copolyol, cyclomethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane, you’ll be less likely to struggle with build up.

The other issue: Because silicones are so good at sealing hair strands, they can actually prevent important nutrients from entering, which can weaken hair over time. “Silicones are especially tough on naturally curly hair, which tends to be drier and more easily damaged,” says Rah. Rah recommends thoroughly and properly rinsing out silicone-spiked products and rotating your hair products so you aren’t using silicone products on a daily basis, especially if your hair is curly or beginning to look a little heavy and flat. “As long as you don’t overuse any type of hair product (or overdo it with coloring/processing, which causes damage to hair), the health of your hair should benefit over time,” says Rah. Simply put, the good will outweigh the bad.

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