We may earn a commission if you click on a link, but at no extra cost to you. Read our disclosure policy for information.
“Why is silicone bad for hair?”, is one question you must ask yourself.
Amidst all the acclaim about how amazing silicone is, some controversies still exist as to how safe and beneficial it is for your hair.
The hair products industry has been around for quite a long time, as men and women from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece have used various hair care products.
The Egyptians used products that contain animal and plant fats, which acted like moisturizers in a hot climate, while the ancient Greeks used olive oil and beeswax, to make their hair look more healthy and shiny.
However, hair care is an ever-evolving industry, that keeps bursting with new ideas and innovations.
The hair care industry has grown into a $75.33 billion market worldwide, and $111.98 billion is the expected growth by 2026.
The growth of the chemical industry has catalyzed the flourishing of the hair care market, as synthetic chemicals have become the ingredients of hair products, replacing those olive oils and beeswax of the past.
Table of Contents
The Truth about Silicone?
One of the major ingredients in hair products currently facing a lot of criticism is silicone.
Really, what’s the big deal?
Why is silicone bad for hair?
When you look at the list of pros silicone has, it shouldn’t be a surprise that silicone is among the list of favorite ingredients, commonly used by the cosmetic industry.
You might have already seen many products labeled silicone-free, however, does that imply silicones contained in regular hair products are bad?
This article is a quest to uncover the truth about silicone, and hair products that contain silicone as an important ingredient.
In the hair care industry, the popular marketing terms used are ‘clean’ and ‘natural’, but let’s face it, a silicone added product can’t be all clean and natural.
Adhesives, sealants, lubricants, etc, use silicone, as silicone molds into just about anything like plastic.
Things like sand and quartz produce silicone, which is later tinkered in a lab to make a synthetic end product.
From shampoos and conditioners to hair sprays, silicone is a major ingredient, this is because silicone is effective in locking moisture in the hair, coating hair shafts, reducing frizz, and making hair look shinier.
It waterproofs each strand of hair and makes it smoother and silkier, thus helping to make damaged hair look healthy once again.
If you have curly or frizzy hair, silicone can make those strands unruly and smooth.
Silicone is also heat-resistant, so it protects your hair during heat styling.
Nevertheless, the question is, if it’s all good, why is there a recent backlash against silicone in the beauty community?
Why is Silicone Bad for Hair?
For something that comes with a lot of benefits, it’s hard to see any negatives.
For someone who wants to go the full natural route where they don’t want any synthetic chemical being applied on the hair, it’s a good idea to find out why silicone may not be a great choice for you.
Silicone is just like a plastic or rubber-like substance, actually, it’s not a natural substance at all.
It’s a man-made mineral that is extremely repellent to water, so, in reality, hair products containing silicone remove the very precious moisture content that is present in hair.
You might know that keratin protein is what makes up almost 97% of the hair, as the water gets displaced with silicone, those protein bonds will eventually become less stable and become more prone to break.
It may give an illusion of shiny hair, but it isn’t the natural shine of your hair, rather, it’s the shine that comes from a plastic coating around each strand of hair.
Therefore, in the long run, the hair becomes more thin and dry, ultimately becoming more likely to split.
As mentioned above, sealants use polymer silicone, thereby making a seal coating on each strand, which applies that same property, thus blocking any other nourishing ingredients entering the hair follicles.
Overall, the continuous use of a hair product that contains silicone, can result in hair that is more dry, dull in appearance, and weak in strength.
The Silicone Buildup
People buy hair products not only to look good in the short term but, also to improve the hair over time.
The thing with silicone is that it’s a hydrophobic substance, which means it can’t be washed off with water, thus, silicone will stay on the hair, causing the hair to look heavy and greasy at the end of the day.
When the hair is heavy and greasy, the consumer is more likely to wash and style the hair once again, which will do extra damage by leaving layers of silicone coating, when you use the same product more often than necessary.
Over time, this silicone buildup will lead to heavy and dull looking hair that nobody wants.
The plastic-like silicone coating will only allow the hair to moisturize from the inside, and any hair treatments that you do later will be just a waste of time, because silicone prevents them from entering the hair follicles.
As mentioned before, silicone does nothing but build a plastic sheath around the hair, so hair products use silicone to get that lubrication for a smooth feel, and nothing else.
Moisture is important for hair to improve its condition, however, silicone blocks any moisture content from entering the hair from the outside, which makes the hair more brittle and frizzy, which ultimately leads to breakage.
It doesn’t really do much for hair care, and only works like an engine oil that lubricates, but does not moisturize or make the hair look healthy in any other way.
To paint a bad scenario of using a silicone product, let’s assume you want to lighten your hair, or you’d like some gloss to add some depth to your hair.
If you have been using those supermarket hair products and now you want to add some colors to your hair, chances are you’re wasting your time, trying to achieve that Instagram-worthy hair.
The silicone build-up will act as a barrier for the color or the bleach, preventing it from penetrating your hair, as it has to go through another layer before it reaches the hair strand.
Silicone, however, will not allow anything to crack through its castle walls.
Not only does it prevent the color or bleach molecules from penetrating the hair, but silicone can also enter any chemical reaction, thus causing serious hair damage.
Is Silicone Toxic?
Silicone is a synthetic polymer that has its disadvantages, but there is nothing toxic about this substance.
From the 1970s itself, the hair industry has been using silicone, and it’s been proven as a safe chemical ingredient for the human body.
To be honest, it’s safe for applying on your hair.
The only thing it affects is the hair strength and appearance over time.
Silicone develops a hard-to-remove buildup in the hair through continuous use of products containing silicone, and even if someone stops using such hair products, the scars of the past usage may still exist.
I Don’t See Silicone on the Ingredients List
You will have a hard time looking for the ingredient name “silicone” on the backside of your shampoo bottle, as manufacturers don’t ship their product with the exact word “silicone” in the ingredient list.
It’s because there are different types of silicone with different names, and manufacturers use scientific names of silicone types on the ingredients list.
The most common silicone ingredients used in hair and cosmetic products are Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Phenyltrimethicone, Methicone, Divinyldimethicone, Amodimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone Copolyol, and Dimethiconol.
If you find any of the aforementioned names on top of the list behind the shampoo bottle you use, it’s sure that there is a higher amount of it in the product.
What If Your Conditioner Says It’s Silicone-free?
Do you believe everything a manufacturer says?
If a shampoo bottle says it’s silicone-free, what it means is it only contains the “good” silicone, not the “bad” silicone.
What exactly is good and bad silicone you may ask?
We will see about that in a moment, however, we must realize that only very few products are truly free from silicone.
So next time you see a product that says silicone-free, look for any of the scientific names of silicone on the backside of the bottle, in most cases, you are likely to see one!
Check out the ingredients list every time you buy a shampoo bottle, to make sure you are buying a truly silicone-free product.
Are All Silicones Bad?
Not all silicone is that bad, silicone is just a general name given to a family of chemicals.
Silicone varies in terms of how long it stays in the hair.
Some types of silicone stay on the hair for a long time, such silicone is hard to wash off from the hair, as they stay on the hair providing a smooth feel even after you rinse off the shampoo.
These silicone are likely to build up a coating on your hair, blocking hair follicles, and preventing nourishment.
If you care about your hair, stay away from such silicone as they are really bad for your hair.
On the other hand, some silicone is easier to wash off, as they are very light and will not stick on the hair unless it’s wet.
This is the type of silicone that you should stay away from, as these types of silicone are hard to remove with normal water.
They stick to the hair like plastic, thus preventing the entry of any nourishing agent or even moisture.
Eventually, hair becomes dry and leads to breakage.
Some of the most common non-soluble silicone found in hair products are; Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone, Amodimethicone, Cetearyl Methicone, Stearyl Dimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone, Dimethiconol, Amodimethicone (non-soluble when Trideceth-12 and Cetrimonium Chloride are absent), and ingredients ending with “-cone”.
As the name suggests, water-soluble silicon is soluble in water and has the opposite nature of non-soluble silicon.
These types of silicone will still leave a buildup but it’s not that heavy, as mild shampoo or conditioners can easily wash off water-soluble silicone.
Cyclomethicone is a commonly used water-soluble silicone that can be found in hair products.
You can look for products containing Cyclomethicone and you will have the benefits of silicone, without leaving a heavy buildup on your hair.
Dimethicone Copolyol is another water-soluble silicone that is a little bit expensive, but you will enjoy having only a very little build up on your hair.
Some other water-soluble silicones are Lauryl Methicone Copolyol or any silicone with PEG as a prefix.
Water-soluble silicone is not ‘evil’ like non-soluble silicone, but if it’s not properly removed, it can lead to mild silicone buildup anyway.
Manufacturers play a few tricks to sell their products, by confusing their consumers about what silicone does.
Whenever you see the word ‘lubricate’, remember it doesn’t mean ‘moisturize’.
Moisturizing is a property of water, and silicone is hydrophobic, as silicone is just an added chemical to develop a sheath-like property around hair strands.
It’s never going to nourish or rejuvenate your hair like an aloe-vera gel.
Why Do Manufacturers Use Silicone If It’s Harmful?
If you cut down the cost you’re more likely to have better profits.
Silicone is the cheapest and most efficient among the alternative lubricants acceptable in hair products.
What is efficiency from the perspective of a manufacturer?
It just means that the product needs to work as advertised.
You might already know silicone keeps the moisture inside the hair, therefore, sealing the moisture inside the hair after that hair has been moisturized is a desirable thing for the customer.
The silicone coating is slick, making the hair feel smooth to the touch and reflecting more light, to appear shiny.
Unlike natural oils, silicones are extremely stable and can withstand heat and sunlight, which is one of the main reasons they use silicone among all the beauty and hair products is that.
In general, there isn’t a better alternative to silicone for manufacturers, which is both efficient and cheap.
No manufacturer adds a harmful ingredient purposefully to their product, all they need is a product that is working for the customer, and silicone does that job.
The Silicone Wash Cycle:
Another reason that motivates manufacturers to add silicone is that once you use a silicone product, you’re more likely to use it again.
How is that?
When you use a silicone-containing hair product for such a long time, it’s obvious that your hair will weigh down and become greasy, thus, you enter the endless loop of the wash cycle.
The more you wash and style your hair with a silicone product, the more damaged your hair is and you will reach out for that product, so your hair can look nice once again.
So the endless loop of the wash cycle becomes an endless loop of hair damage and ultimately selling more products for the manufacturer.
How to Remove Silicone Buildup
As mentioned before, unless not properly cleared, all types of silicone can leave buildup over time.
If you happen to have such a buildup on your hair, you can use any silicone-free clarifying shampoo to remove it from your hair.
A clarifying shampoo is any hair product that contains surfactants.
Surfactants are the types of compounds that have the property of removing oil or dirt, including silicone.
Some of the surfactants that are present in products that do the job are sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, Cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate, and ammonium lauryl ether sulfate.
Products like clay masks can also be used to remove silicone buildup.
A clarifying shampoo will have a drying effect on the hair strand, but remember, most silicone is something that can’t otherwise be penetrated by just water.
Keep in mind that a clarifying shampoo will also remove all the natural oils present on the hair, therefore, use clarifying shampoo only a few times a month, depending on how often you use that silicone product.
It’s also recommended to use a deep conditioner after you apply the clarifying shampoo, and if you decide to use a silicone-containing hair product anyway, then it will be a good idea to use a clarifying shampoo or a clay mask sometimes, just to remove the silicone buildup.
If you are skeptical about using a clarifying shampoo, you can also try using apple cider vinegar, however, apple cider vinegar will only be enough if you have a mild silicone buildup.
How to Avoid Silicone Damaging Your Hair?
The damage caused by silicone is not something that you witness in one day, rather it’s a gradual weakening and thinning of hair.
If you don’t want silicone damaging your hair, don’t use hair products with silicone too often.
If you’re someone who uses hair products too often, this is very important to note, but if you’re someone who uses hair products occasionally, then silicone damage isn’t a major concern.
Even though you don’t use the products that much, try to do a silicone removal treatment once in a while you know, just to make sure you’re on the safe side.
Stepping off the Silicone Ladder Altogether
To step off the silicone ladder altogether, you need to do two things.
First, recover from the silicone buildup, and second, replace the silicone products with any of the alternatives.
Use a clarifying shampoo or apple cider for recovery treatment.
You can adopt natural hair treatment methods, or start using any other hair products that are completely silicone-free.
To substitute your silicone-based heat protectants, you can use 100% shea butter.
Shea butter is nothing but a natural oil that is known for locking moisture and protecting your hair against heat.
Shea butter is also good for blow-drying your hair on medium heat, and you can also, consider using heat styling tools not more than once or twice a month.
Don’t worry too much about the hair, just train it to grow out to its natural silky smooth beauty.
Should You Stop Using Silicone Products?
It’s not our job to tell you to stop using products that contain silicone, as the facts have been presented before you, now it’s up to you to decide.
We have done a fair analysis of the topic, to enable you to make an informed decision.
While silicone is not harmful to physical health and the human body, they’re not beneficial for the health of your hair.
They may give a shiny appearance in the short-run, but the silicone buildup is real and it’s not at all good, as it can have a damaging effect on your hair.
The characteristic of your hair can change with the use of silicone, as hair strands will start becoming fatty and dry, and can no longer breathe.
Silicone can give you silky smooth hair immediately, but you may know instant gratification is not always a good thing to follow.
If you happen to experience silicone buildup over your hair, you already know what you should do next to recover from it.
Always do a little research before you decide to buy any product for your hair, this way, you can identify silicone in a hair product, by looking for the chemical names that end with ‘-cone’.
Check out the ingredients list and understand what percentage each ingredient is, don’t just believe everything written on the product label.
If an ingredient is on top of the list, it means there is a higher percentage of it, but if it’s present at the bottom of the list, it means there is only a small percentage of that ingredient in the product.
Silicone is beneficial in the short-term but too much of everything is bad, so if you don’t feel comfortable using silicone products, you don’t have to depend on it for the rest of your life.
Study what type of hair you have and what kind of product will help you, rather than choosing some product blindly, and also, study the brands and the ingredients, to ensure you’re not damaging your hair unintentionally.
So, the next time you are asked, ‘why is silicone bad for hair’, you’ll have informed answers to elicit.
Remember, there are many products out there that are silicone-free, what you choose to use, however, is totally up to you.