Misconceptions about Silicones

The Silicone-Free claim

The “Silicone free” claim, made in certain personal care products, has gained momentum solely as a niche marketing tool to suggest such formulations are somehow safer, more healthy or offer enhanced environment credentials than otherwise. 

Mintel presented a view on silicones in 2014 that consumers in Germany, France, Italy and Spain don’t know much about silicones and 10% had never heard of the ingredient and therefore in a weak position to make any sound judgments.

In fact, such misinformation is pedalled through blogs and social networks with vested interests rather than through rigorous scientific premise.

Silicone Benefits

Contrary to some bad publicity silicones have been used for decades without concern, and scientific data suggests that silicones are neither dangerous nor allergenic; yet suddenly, they have become one of the ingredients some consumers love to hate. Numerous studies have shown that they are non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, biologically inert, and do not cause eye or skin irritation. In addition, they are also biodegradable and eco-friendly.

Silicones have become one the most valued ingredient categories used in the luxury hair and skin care products. In hair care, they have long been known as the “conditioning workhorses,” capable of repairing signs of damage, filling in cracks in the hair’s surface and preventing new damage from occurring. There are so many types of silicones, some are water-soluble and some are not. The silicons we use are water-soluble, lightweight breathable silicones that are easy to wash out of the hair and do not leave buildup.

Many people get confused about the differences between silica, silicon, and silicone. Silicon is the 14th element on the periodic table and the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, after oxygen. Silicon readily bonds with oxygen and is found in nature in it’s pure form. You have likely seen silicon as silicon dioxide or silica, better known as quartz, which is the most common component of sand. 

Common Silicones

Common silicones found in most hair and skin care products are cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone, Cetrimonium Chloride, Amodimethicone, Trideceth-12,. If you are looking to identify silicones on a product label, they generally end in “-cone,” “-conol,” or “-siloxane.”

Positive effects

The positive effects [of silicone in hair care] are plenty, starting with the fact that silicone can actually make hair that is dry and damaged look and feel like it’s healthy by filling in the porosity (what looks like frizz and split ends) and driving and locking in conditioner. Silicone is a mineral which provides slip and shine, can help smooth and straighten hair, and gives hair a luxurious, conditioned feel. Silicone protects the hair from the elements, keeping it smooth and shiny by ‘waterproofing’ each strand. It also gives hair a slippery-when-wet feel because of its hydrophobic coating, which is coveted in our world of brushing and blow-drying (who needs tangles).

They have become critical in many high-end, high-performance skin and hair care formulations, giving them never-before-seen glide, spreadability, and ultra-smooth application and finish for a luxurious, silky, comfortable-skin feel without any sticky residue.

Silicone as a cosmetic ingredient.

Silicone is a catch-all word for one of the most useful and broadest classes of raw materials used across all sectors of the personal care industry. Since the 1950s, this class of additives has imparted desirable multifunctional effect and represents a key go-to solution based on
performance-price considerations. It is estimated that over 50 percent of all new cosmetic products launched contain at least one silicone.

Silicones as petroleum derivatives?

Often formulators and consumers mistakenly believe that silicones are petrochemicals derived from oil. In fact, silicone science starts with sand, also known as silica or quartz, composed of two of the most abundant elements on earth: oxygen and silicon.

Are silicones natural?

Silicones do not grow on trees, but neither do most ingredients termedc“natural” used in a cosmetic formulators laboratory. Most of them have been highly processed and refined resulting in a sizeable environmental footprint. Naturals are perceived as safer, but what constitutes “natural”?
There are no industry standards or agreed definitions within current legislation, only significant debate. Indeed “naturals” present their own drawbacks as assay and commercial position can be highly impacted per harvest. By contrast, the optimised process routes to synthesize silicone from sand enable consistently tight physical and chemical specifications making life easier in the lab.

Are silicones arming the ozone layer?
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the family of chemicals harming the ozone layer, no silicones. Chlorine gas disrupts ozone formation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, which is where the damaging reactions occur. Silicones do not contain chlorine, which means they

cannot contribute to this disruption.

Do Silicones contribute to smog?

The chemicals that contribute to urban smog are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These include acetone, ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, methacrylates, and ethyl acetate; such compounds are formulated into fragrances, nail and hair products, and some cleansing
formulations. Silicones should be considered as inorganic, therefore cannot be described as smog contributing VOCs. But the legislation is not everywhere the same.

In Europe, Low linear siloxanes and cyclic (D4, D5 & D6) are considered from the Council Directive 1999/13/EC of 11th March 1999 as organic and in certain cases seen as VOC. In the USA, the same products - Volatile methylsiloxane (VMS) - are exempt from VOC
legislation because laboratory experiments at the University of California demonstrated that, in contrast to other organic compounds of similar reactivity, the breakdown of VMSs in the the atmosphere does not lead to the formation of ground-level ozone (CES, 2005b).

Are silicones biodegradable?

Although silicones aren’t biodegradable in the traditional sense, they do degrade in the environment, breaking down into water, silica and/or silicate and carbon dioxide. The degradation trigger for low molecular-weight silicones, including Cyclopentasiloxane, is sunlight and oxygen. Heavier weight silicones aren’t susceptible to degradation by UV, oxidation or ozone, instead, they seek solid, water-free surfaces, adsorbing preferentially onto the biomass formed in effluent treatment plants. This sludge, as it is known in the water treatment industry, is ultimately
incinerated. When deposited over soil, mineral clays catalyze the breakdown of the silicone’s polymer backbone. This can take weeks and months if the soil remains wet, but if the soil dries, it can take only days. Inspection of soils treated with high concentrations of silicone
showed a negligible impact of microorganism activity, nor harm to plant germination and growth.

Do Silicones bioaccumulate in humans and other animals?

Silicones do not bioaccumulate as they are too large to pass through cell membranes—a key to the requirement for bioaccumulation.

Are silicones safe?

Extensive research has been conducted by, and on behalf of, the silicone industry to qualify and document the use and properties of this class of raw material within their intended cosmetic application. A body of evidence exists within the public domain reinforcing our assurance that silicones in personal care are safe for the environment and human use.

Is D4 forbidden in Personal Care applications?

Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) is classified in the EU as a reprotoxic substance, category 2, although officially, it can still be used for Personal Care applications when accompanied by a toxicological evaluation. In practice, the European Personal Care industry is stepping back
from D4, adopting self-imposed impurity limits of max 0.1% in end products. BRB is continuously improving its products, aligning them to this specification limit but acknowledges D4 is still widely used in Personal Care applications outside Europe.

Do silicones suffocate the skin or hair?

Most silicones do not allow liquid water to penetrate but are breathable, allowing oxygen, nitrogen and water vapors to transport easily through them, into or out of the skin or hair. Some silicones are cited to reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) which is a leading cause of skin and hair dryness and dehydration.

Do silicones clog pores on the skin or scalp pores and cause breakouts?

Silicones are highly resistant to oxidation, resulting in non-comedogenic properties. They do not go rancid and, as they are non-irritant, they are non-acnegenic. They are also hostile to bacterial or other microbial growth. However, silicones may increase the penetration of some ingredients, such as common irritants including fragrance or known pore-cloggers for example, lipid-rich plant oils;
these than the actual culprits behind breakouts and blackheads.

Do silicones cause irritation?

Silicones don’t irritate the skin. They actually lower or eliminate irritation because they enhance the spreading and leveling of ingredients during application. This in-turn prevents pocketing and minimizes percentages of potentially irritating forms of cosmetic and drug ingredients. These include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), salicylic acid, strong emulsifiers and surfactants, benzoyl peroxide and organic sunscreens.

Are silicones allergens?

 Silicones are too large to enter the skin and react with the immune system, so they can’t trigger an allergic reaction. In fact, they’re so biologically inert when in contact with the skin, silicones are now replacing latex, a common allergen in adhesives, gloves and a widearray of other items. Silicones are also used on open wounds because they shorten healing time and do not promote bacterial growth.

Do silicones prevent moisture from entering/exiting hair?

Silicones are impermeable to water and bacteria, but they are permeable to water vapour and air. This property allows the hair to “breathe”.

Do silicones buildup on hair and is difficult to remove?

Silicone deposition levels and the impact on hair volume depend upon the product and quantity used. In any event, where silicone deposits are suspected, they can be easily removed after one application of a clarifying shampoo.

Silicones are often one of the main ingredients in “oil-free” products such as anti-acne treatments, sensitive hypo-allergenic skin lines, scar treatments, healthcare, and medical devices, therefore applied to the skin at its most sensitive. The reason? Silicones are chemically
inert and never irritate or cause an allergic reaction on the skin. They are not occlusive, so they permit the skin to breathe and they do not close pores. This breathable character protects skin from urban, external aggressions and permits skin to regenerate.