Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about silicones within the hair and cosmetics industry. Are they good for your hair? Are they bad? These questions have been posed by hair professionals as well as consumers and members of the media who have been led to believe that the inclusion of silicones in hair products can be detrimental to the health of the hair. In reality the truth is a little more complex. But before delving deeper into the pros and cons of silicones it’s important to gain perspective on exactly what they are and what purpose they serve.
Silicones: A Brief History
Silicones are simply a natural ingredient made up of sand and oxygen. Silicone transforms into various compounds, which has many different properties and uses. The cosmetics industry first started introducing silicone as an ingredient in the 1940s. The first product was a lotion called Silicare, which as the name suggests, was designed to provide extra slip to the skin during application. I remember as a young chemist in the 70s being introduced to silicones. I was amazed at how they were able to impart a tremendously silky feel to the hair. Despite the excitement surrounding them, there were still solubility issues and compatibility issues in the beginning so they were not easy to formulate in finished products.
Hail the hair revolution
It was during the 70s, 80s and early 90s that silicones really began to take off. The most common types are: cyclomethicones – which are volatile in nature and evenly distribute high molecular weight dimethicone polymers. This compound helps to reduce damage from thermal styling. Additionally there is dimethicone polymers – which make hair fibres comb easily during wet and dry combing, and then there is also dimethicone copolyols – which provides mild conditioning benefits, reduce irritation to skin from surfactants, and act as co-solubilizers in clear formulations. They are used in baby shampoos. Silicones were seen as revolutionary because it made hair very easy to comb in its dry state. It was seen as a God send for African descent hair in particular which is known for being prone to tangling. In time, silicones became ubiquitous in ethnic haircare products.
So are silicones bad?
In recent years silicones have suffered a lot of bad press and there has been plenty of discussion surrounding how potentially damaging it might be to the health of our hair. In truth, products are being mixed with incorrect quantities by some manufacturers, which may cause some residual effect on the hair. Aside from potential hair health problems, there is cause for concern following suggestion that silicones can be hormone disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that at certain doses can interfere with the endocrine (or hormone system). These disruptions can lead to cancerous tumours, birth defects and other developmental disorders. So we don’t want to use compounds that can disrupt our hormones or our health, so there is definitely cause for concern there. But that’s where we come into it as chemists. We at Avlon are committed to scientific research, ensuring that our products remain of high quality and are able to perform without causing harmful effects. It’s a concerted effort to gain full clarity of the situation, but in my opinion silicones are not bad when they are properly formulated. And in fact, anything that isn’t formulated properly can be bad.