What are silicones?
Silicones are a family of specialty, high performance materials that are used in thousands of products from sealants to textiles to personal care products. Silicones are substances composed of organic and inorganic polymers created by the application of a specific formula and “silicones are produced by reacting silicon—one of the earth's most common elements- with methyl chloride and further reaction with water which removes the chlorine atom,” according to the American Chemistry Council.
Silicones and hair
The main objective of a silicone in a product is to seal in or insulate. They create a barrier around the hair strands and are excellent for usage in heat protectants, as they will protect the strands from the high temperatures from heat styling tools like curling wands, irons, blow-dryers, and flat irons. They even create amazing slip in hair products to help with detangling, as the coating it creates makes a slick or softer surface upon the strands.
There are definitely good silicones compared to bad ones and even some in-between when it comes hair care. Some are good or water-soluble and will not build up in the hair and can be washed out just with water. Some are in-between or slightly soluble and do not dissolve but evaporate from the hair and the rest are washed out by the use of shampoo and there is not as much build-up. The worst are the silicones that are non-soluble and may require a stronger shampoo (like s sulfate or clarifying shampoo) to remove.
What is cetyl dimethicone?
This amber colored liquid is a silicone polymer that functions as a skin-conditioning agent or an emollient. It is intended to give slip or make an application easier while also forming a protective barrier on the skin (or hair) that slows down water loss and leaves the surface soft and smooth. It is used in antiperspirants, lotions, hair products, makeup, and sunscreens, and generally considered to be safe.
If the objective is to stave off moisture or frizz, then cetyl dimethicone is an ideal ingredient. Since it coats the hair and can only be removed by sulfates it is an ideal ingredient in a heat protectant and it does create a softer surface upon the hair making it a good ingredient for slip.
Although considered safe when it comes to our hair, this silicone is considered one of the worst because cetyl dimethicone is a non-water soluble silicone that takes a lot to remove from the hair. They require the help of sulfate shampoos and conditioners to remove the silicone coating from the hair, and if a curly girl is resigned to not using sulfates or retaining moisture then the usage of these types of silicones are not ideal, especially if you co-wash only to cleanse your hair.
Cetyl dimethicone is a non-water soluble that requires sulfates to remove from the hair as it causes buildup. This silicone is also not a good idea for anyone who chooses to co-wash regularly but it is excellent for properly coating the hair especially for heat protectant products. Remember, that shampoo is needed for thorough removal.