#HaircareVillain: Are Silicones Actually Harmful For Hair?

silicones hair care

In our ongoing series of decoding #BeautyVillains, we are talking about silicones today. Much like skincare, the world of hair care is also abuzz with ingredients that you need to be cautious about. Parabens – absolutely. Sulphates – maybe; sometimes they come in handy when your hair needs a thorough cleansing. But what about silicones? Many believe that they are a harbinger of scalp build-up, leading to many brands now going ‘silicone-free’ and adding the claim in their brand communication. Lovers of clean hair care routines do not care for silicones either. Having said that, silicones are still used in some of the top hair care brands in the market. So what gives? Are they really THAT bad for you? Here’s what experts have to say!

What Does It Mean To Have Silicones In Hair Care?

Dr Saloni Vora-Gala, Senior Consultant Dermatologist and Cosmetologist at Dr Rekha Sheth’s Skin and Hair Clinic, Mumbai, says, “Silicones are polymers that act as occlusives and form a film around the hair shaft. They coat it to lock in the moisture and prevent damage from external factors like environmental pollution, UV rays, heat, and humidity thereby, reducing withering and breakage of hair.” The man-made polymers have hydrophobic properties, meaning they help retain moisture by creating an impenetrable film over the hair shaft. 

Before we dive into the widely debated safe status of silicones, let’s understand why they are used in haircare. Dr Sushma Yadav, dermatologist and founder of Skinologycentre, Bangalore explains, “Silicones can be found in shampoos, conditioners, leave-in conditioners, hair serums and masks. They are added because of their effectiveness to protect hair from damage caused by heat-styling tools such as blow dryers and hot irons. Along with that, the coating keeps the hair hydrated and moisturised.”  The thin, waterproof coating of silicones helps hydrate the hair from within and keeps it frizz-free by limiting its exposure to humidity. As a matter of fact, they are excellent for frizzy, unruly hair and act as raincoats to provide protection from external factors that make hairstyling a nightmare for many.

The Types Of Silicones Used In Hair Care

There are three types of silicones in hair care and they’re all added for a similar purpose – to lock in moisture and keep the hair frizz-free. Here’s what you need to label check for –

1. Water-soluble silicones can be easily removed from hair with water. Examples of water-soluble silicones are stearoxy dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, dimethicone PEG-8 phosphate, and PEG-7 amodimethicone.

2. Unlike water-soluble silicones, non-soluble variants cannot be removed or penetrated with water. They include dimethicone, dimethiconol, stearyl dimethicone, cetyl dimethicone, cetearyl dimethicone, amodimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and behenoxy dimethicone. 

3. Evaporating silicones (you guessed it) evaporate from the hair ten minutes to two hours after application. These include cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and cyclomethicone.

Why Is There Such A Divided Opinion On Silicones?

One of the biggest reasons for silicones’ controversial status in hair care is because of the generalisation that surrounds them. Dr Saloni reveals, “Water-soluble silicones are easily washable. However, non-soluble silicones may not get rinsed easily and cause a product build-up on the scalp if not washed out thoroughly over a period of time giving rise to greasy, flaky scalp and hair.” 

The potential side effects of silicones go beyond the hair and the scalp. If left unchecked, prolonged contact with the skin of the upper back, shoulders, forehead and chest can lead to clogged pores. Also, because silicones form a ‘film’ around the hair follicle, they can block other beneficial ingredients from penetrating the shaft. If not washed out properly, this protective layer can render your other hair care products worthless over time. 

Are Silicones Really THAT Bad For Your Hair?

According to extensive research, there are no harmful or unsafe aspects associated with silicones. No studies claim that there are long term side effects that are associated with the use of silicones in hair care. They are completely safe if used in the right way. Dr Sushma reveals, “While silicones aren’t super nutritious or excellent, they’re also not a toxic chemical that’s going to ruin your hair forever. They are safe for human use and safe for the environment but one must use them minimally and not for a long term.” The trick is to find the right kind that suits your hair. Dr Saloni recommends opting for the water-soluble ones as they are comparatively safer and don’t cause build-up. So make sure you are looking out for these in your products – dimethicone copolyol, stearoxy dimethicone, and behenoxy dimethicone. 

Pro tip: For people with a very oily and greasy scalp, or ones who have thin or limp hair should avoid excessive use of products with silicones. The subsequent build-up caused by silicone use can weigh already oily and limp hair. You should also take adequate care of your hair by washing it thoroughly and regularly to avoid product build-up, while also procuring benefits from silicone-based products without any harm. Also, avoid using silicones consistently for too long and alternate with silicone-free formulations. Dr Sushma explains, “Breathable silicones are not coating nor damaging to the hair; they only provide shine and a strong conditioning effect to the strands. Silicones are not toxic if used in moderation.  Using it in moderation can help your hair look great!” That settles it!

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