There is no single perfect recipe for hair care, products or styling. Not even all curlies who fall under one specific curl type need the same product or have the same miracle worker. One recent trend that's taken the curly hair product world by storm, however, is to avoid silicone hair products. As smart, curly women we must first ask ourselves and get the facts: is this needlessly limiting, or even based in fact?
The purpose of silicone hair products are to coat the hair with a micro-fine layer of conditioners creating sheen, reducing friction for easier combing and to prevent tangles and breakage. Silicones also help other ingredients in conditioners and lotions to spread easily. Silicones are not water-soluble unless they are modified to be, so they also form a water-sealing barrier to prevent loss of water from hair and help retain dye by making hair more hydrophobic (water-repellent).
Healthy, undamaged hair is also hydrophobic. In skin products, this effect is desirable – silicones slow down trans-epidermal water loss by sealing in moisture and slowing dehydration. Unlike vegetable oils, silicones are not likely to cause skin sensitivity reactions.
What Do Silicone Hair Products Do?
Silicones are generally used at a rate of 1 to 2 percent in hair conditioners and skin lotions. If you add one drop of dimethicone to 99 drops of hair conditioner – that is 1 percent. Diluted silicones spread around, but cannot form a 100 percent solid barrier.
Silicones bond to the hydrophobic, or undamaged, parts of hair better than the hydrophilic, or damaged, areas. When added to a conditioner containing cationic surfactants (positively charged conditioners) such as behentrimonium chloride/methosulfate, cetrimonium chloride/bromide, the interaction of ingredients helps silicone bond to damaged areas.
Can You Remove Silicone Build Up?
It was reported in a 1994 article in the journal Skin Pharmacology that silicones deposited on hair by 2-in-1 shampoos can be removed by a single washing with a silicone-free shampoo. This removed 90 percent of silicone residue. Oils and proteins applied to hair can also be removed by shampoo, but cationic surfactants, which provide benefits similar to silicones, are resistant to shampooing because they bond more tightly to the hair. This effect has been demonstrated by several studies reported in the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemistry.
You can remove silicone residue from hair or skin with cleansers containing Sodium or Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Sodium C14-17 Alkyl Sulfonate (Olefin Sulfonate), or Cocoamidopropyl Betaine. Skin constantly sheds cells, so silicone build up is rarely an issue.
Silicone build up is not a problem for everybody. If you use silicone hair products and never use shampoo, silicone will begin to accumulate on your hair. But there is a limited amount of surface on the hair for the silicone to bond to, and it will not accumulate indefinitely. If you use shampoos containing the ingredients above, you need not worry much about build up from silicone hair products. If you never use shampoo at all, or have very fine, silky hair, silicones may weigh your hair down with repeated use.
Our CurlChemist breaks down each silicone for you, letting you decide what works best for your hair type, texture, porosity and density.
Build-up of any product is only a concern if it causes your hair or skin to do something you do not want it to do. Be your own judge about what ingredients to avoid in hair care products. Consult the science, and most importantly — get feedback from your own hair and skin.