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Good cosmetic ingredients tainted with a bad reputation – silicones

25.12.23
Adex
Good cosmetic ingredients tainted with a bad reputation – silicones

Silicones are synthetic organosilicon compounds derived from silica, obtained from the well-known sand. The characteristic and constant feature of all types of silicones is the presence of a siloxane skeleton, consisting of alternately arranged silicon and oxygen atoms. They are odorless, colorless, mostly insoluble in water, and most importantly, biologically inert, meaning non-toxic. Many industries benefit from their properties, including the medical, cosmetic, food, and construction sectors. They are most easily identified in ingredient lists by looking for words ending in: -cone, -conol, -silane, or -siloxane.

 

Types of silicones used in cosmetics

High-volatility silicones, characterized by low vaporization heat, are the lightest. They often take the form of cyclic compounds that create a closed-ring structure. Due to their high volatility, they do not weigh down hair and do not tend to build up on the skin or hair. They are commonly used in formulations where the desired effect is light consistency, quick and pleasant application, or low viscosity, such as stick antiperspirants/deodorants, UV-filter creams, mascaras, and fluids. A flagship example of silicone in this group is Cyclopentasiloxane (INCI name).

Other examples: Cyclohexasiloxane, Cyclomethicone, Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane.

Silicone oils are liquid substances—non-volatile and clear—with varying densities. Compared to volatile silicones, they form a protective and waterproof film without disturbing positive sensory feelings on the skin or hair. Silicone occlusion protects against external factors while not being greasy and does not affect the gas exchange process, which occurs minimally through the skin. Silicone oils are most commonly used in creams with protective properties and, due to their low thermal conductivity, in heat protection products.

Examples of silicone oils (INCI name): Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Amodimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone.

Silicone waxes are alkylsilicone polymers that, in addition to the standard polymer bond of oxygen-silicon, also have alkyl groups, e.g., -CH3. Their main role, from a formulation perspective, is to thicken emulsion systems, and sensorily, they provide a smooth skin feel, moisturizing effects, hair conditioning properties, and improved product water resistance.

Examples of silicone waxes (INCI name): C20-24 Alkyl Dimethicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, C30-45 Alkyl Dimethicone.

Silicone emulsifiers are usually alkylsilicone polymers additionally subjected to the action of ethylene oxide or propylene oxide. This solution allows achieving three essential characteristics: solubility in both the oil phase (alkyl groups) and the water phase (ethylene oxide polymer group – PEG), as well as pleasant sensory experiences (silicone skeleton). Emulsions based on silicone emulsifiers are more stable than standard emulsions, creating a pleasant texture on the skin without leaving a sticky feeling.

Examples of silicone emulsifiers (INCI name): PEG-8 Dimethicone, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, PEG/PPG-15/5 Dimethicone.

 

Dispelling myths

1. Silicones coat the hair

This is a myth often repeated in the context of hair care, stemming from a lack of understanding of their role and how to use them. Silicone products, such as conditioner or oil serum, should be the final step in hair care, smoothing and protecting them from the impact of high temperatures from straightening, low temperatures (cold), or other external factors. Additionally, it’s essential to regularly wash silicones from the hair length, considering the following aspects:

  • Volatile silicones mostly evaporate from the hair surface within minutes to a few hours, so they are not a cause for concern.
  • Silicone oils and waxes are best removed with SLES/SLS shampoo.
  • Silicone emulsifiers can be washed off with water alone.

2.  Silicones are comedogenic, prevent the skin from “breathing” and can be harmful to the skin

Silicones are biologically inert and safe even in very high concentrations, confirmed by opinions such as those of the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety): identification numbers SCCS/1241/10 and SCCS/1549/15. The film they create on the skin is permeable to water vapor and oxygen, does not irritate the skin, and facilitates the penetration of active ingredients. Combined with protective properties against external factors, silicones are excellently utilized in soothing products or wound healing. Moreover, concerns about comedogenicity and the potential to cause irritation by silicones were addressed back in the 80s. It was established then that plant oils and their derivatives often fare negatively in both aspects compared to silicones.

3. Silicones harm the environment

Two facts remain unchanged in this matter: silicones are not biodegradable, meaning they do not break down under the influence of biological factors, but they are degradable, meaning they break down over time under the influence of other environmental factors into smaller, simpler compounds: water, carbon dioxide, and the starting material – silica. The degradation process of volatile silicones, which evaporate into the atmosphere and then break down under UV radiation, is slightly different. As seen, the degradation process of silicones somewhat completes a full circle. It is still closely observed and studied by organizations such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

 

Summary

“What is too much is unhealthy” is an excellent Polish proverb that realistically describes the approach we should take regarding the use of silicone-containing cosmetics. Using them wisely can bring incredible benefits to the skin or hair. However, depending on the silicones used in the formulation, they should be washed off with the necessary frequency. Above all, let’s not be afraid of them.

 

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