Sep 13, 2019

The Truth About Silicones

Think you've made up your mind about silicones? Let's talk about the science behind them.

Silicones are a pretty hot topic on the internet right now - let's get in deep with this controversial ingredient.

Why do cosmetic chemists formulate hair products with silicones?

Every ingredient in the beauty products you use was chosen by a cosmetic chemist for a very specific purpose. No ingredient is ever included by mistake - cosmetic chemists are scientific professionals whose primary concern is to create safe, effective products that will provide the desired results of their specific users.


Cosmetic chemists who specialize in hair products use silicones primarily to seal the hair shaft and protect from breakage-inducing microfractures. Silicones shield the hair from damaging everyday factors, such as:

  • Chemical treatments
  • Brushing hair while wet
  • Pollutants in the air
  • Swimming in chlorinated water
  • Heat tools, like curling irons or straighteners
  • Products with a PH over 9.0
  • Harsh styling techniques (tight ponytails are not good for the hair!)

... et cetera, et cetera. Your hair is exposed to a whole lot on a daily basis!

To better understand the damaging factors that hair is exposed to on a daily basis, think about an item of clothing that you've frequently worn during the past few years. It's probably not in as good shape as when you first got it, right?

Now imagine if you wore that item of clothing every single day since you bought it (including while swimming and bathing!), exposed it to hot and cold extremes, bleached and/or dyed it, and tied it into knots, all on a daily basis. Yikes... would that article of clothing even really exist by the time you were done with it? It's amazing our hair is as resilient as it naturally is, considering the environments we put it up against!

Still, like any other natural fiber, human hair can only withstand so much stress until it reaches a breaking point. Silicones add valuable protection to increase the lifespan of each individual hair. For consumers whose primary goal is to grow out their hair, this protection is especially essential - the best way to aid natural hair growth is to prevent the hair you already have from breaking off!


...But I heard that silicones are bad for your hair. What's up with that?

There's a lot of misinformation on silicones floating around online that lacks empirical, peer reviewed, scientific evidence. One of the most common rumors is that silicone weighs down the hair, causing it to become dull, dirty and dried out. As a community of scientific professionals and leaders in the Chemist-to-Consumer movement, it is important to us that you know that there is no lab-produced data to substantiate these claims. Silicones are used with cleansing ingredients that remove impurities from hair, allowing for only useful active ingredients to be sealed in. Once this seal is created, these active ingredients are able to penetrate your hairshaft deeply, instead of falling back out into your environment.


Silicones are also inert, which means they do not permanently bond with the hair or irritate the scalp. Whenever you wash your hair again, the temporary bond created by the silicone is removed, as silicone is soluble when exposed to a surfactant. The end result is (you guessed it) no buildup. Your hair is the same as before you applied the silicone, only now it has been nourished with the active ingredients included in your products!

Okay, sounds reasonable. Why does Formulate let me choose if I want silicones in my products or not?

All this being said, it is still up to you what ingredients you want included in your hair products. Your hair is your hair, and it's up to you with what you want to do with it! While, as scientific professionals, we certainly recommend the inclusion of silicones within your formulas, we built Formulate to empower consumers to make their own choices on what they want included in their hair products. Your hair, your choice.


The Formulate Team

Reference List
Assmus U, Augustin P, Hensen H, et al. Determination of the feel of hair after cosmetic treatment - sensory and objective test methods. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2009;31(3):244. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2009.00501_3.x.
Nazir H, Lv P, Wang L, Lian G, Zhu S, Ma G. Uniform-sized silicone oil microemulsions: Preparation, investigation of stability and deposition on hair surface. Journal of Colloid & Interface Science. 2011;364(1):56-64. doi:10.1016/j.jcis.2011.07.096.
Hössel, Dieing, Nörenberg, Pfau, Sander. Conditioning polymers in today's shampoo formulations - efficacy, mechanism and test methods. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2000;22(1):1-10. doi:10.1046/j.1467-2494.2000.00003.x.

Tammy Lisi
Lead Chemist
Caroline Schmidt