Silicones; they’re the shiny, glassy, glossy polymers of the haircare world. Sound pretty damn amazing then, right? Well despite offering that undeniable (bordering on addictive) swishability factor, they can be damaging in the longer-term and create product build-up. So should we be swerving the silicone mainstream and opting to smooth our tresses with other ingredients that deliver the lustre-to-lust-after factor? We investigate and ask: Silicones- haircare saint or sinner?
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 their names end in ‘cone’. (see our label look out for a quick lowdown of some of the most prevalent you’ll find in the salon, supermarket or pharmacy). Two of the most commons silicones are cyclomethicone and dimethicone.
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. That’s a serious hair win for smoothing and taming unruly lids. Silicones also reduce moisture loss from the hair we can see (that’s the hair fiber if you want to be technical about it) so they are excellent for improving condition. They also increase lustre, gloss and help to detangle. Sounds saintly so far… You’ll find them primarily in conditioners, but they can also sneak their way into shampoos and styling products.
So should we be triple coating our tresses with silicone to achieve that smooth, post-salon gloss 24/7?
In a word, no. The reality is silicones, (just like their 80’s throwback breast implants) aren’t the real deal, they’re pretty fake. They 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. Sounding more like a sinner, right now then?
When hair is fully hydrated 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).
But it prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft, becomes a magnet for dirt and other ingredients and over time hair accumulates more product build up. As a result tresses are weighed down and can become limp, lifeless and dull. Conditioners and nutrients are unable to penetrate the hair fiber, sit on the surface and in the worst case scenario the hair becomes brittle, frizzy and susceptible to breakage. (that’s NOT what we categorise as #hairgirlgains.) The sinning continues…
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 don’t leave a heavy build-up behind. 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. That’s a small swish victory to the hair saints then.
If you choose a non-water soluble silicone, you’ll definitely need to use a clarifying sulfate-based shampoo to remove it. Amodimethicone is very common in leave-in conditioners and can weigh the hair down. But it works well on thick, curly and afro hair. Dimethicone is the most common and cheapest silicone, but the hardest to remove. so go sparingly.
So, what are the alternatives?
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 such as argan, almond and coconut that are loaded with antioxidants, linoleic acid and omega 6 fatty acids to impart spectacular shine and gloss.
Label look out: Our pit stop guide to decoding silicones on haircare labels:
Water Soluble Silicones
Non-Water Soluble Silicones