The truth behind silicones: Debunking hair care's most-hated ingredient

The truth behind <i>silicones</i>: Debunking hair care's most-hated ingredient

Is the witch hunt against this slippery substance warranted?

In the haircare realm, very few products have earned the particular brand of controversy that’s reserved for those containing silicone. With claims floating around that silicone can do everything from leaving your hair greasy (at best) to making your strands fall out (at worst), it’s no surprise people are sceptical.

Unsurprisingly, many products caught containing this slippery substance have been instantly vilified and exiled to the darkest depths of bathroom cabinet shelves.

But is the witch hunt warranted?

Well, the issue isn’t clear cut. Below, we’ll present you with all the facts, so you’ll be empowered to make your own decision about silicones based on your personal needs. Let’s get into the deep dive.

What are silicones?

Now, for some science. In the context of haircare, silicones are multifunctional ingredients with a unique set of chemical and physical properties. They’re found in a variety of hair products including shampoos, conditioners, colourants, and styling aids. There are three types:

  1. Water-soluble silicones: We’re stating the obvious here, but this type of silicone is dissolvable in water and easily washed from hair with shampoo.

  2. Non-water-soluble silicones: These won’t dissolve in water, and you’ll need to use a clarifying shampoo to remove them, or build-up will occur.

  3. Evaporative (or ‘volatile’) silicones: Lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours after application, this type of silicone literally evaporates from the hair.

The good (what silicones might offer for your hair)

Here’s where things get hazy. “It’s not as easy as saying ‘silicones are bad’ as they do have a place in some products,” says Melbourne-based hairstylist and colourist, Danny Puopolo.

While Danny generally recommends going silicone-free, he emphasises that the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. “It depends on the person’s hair type and how they like it to feel,” continues Danny.

Some silicone-containing hair products can offer these benefits:

  1. Thermal protection: Regular heat-styling can damage the hair leaving locks brittle, dull, and dry. Research has shown that some speciality silicones can offer protection against heat damage thanks to their film-forming properties and low thermal conductivity.

  2. Colour longevity: As silicones are ‘hydrophobic,’ they repel water which can be helpful in promoting colour longevity, according to studies. There’s a caveat to this though - they can interfere with hair colouring processes (more on this below).

  3. Shine boosting: Dry, damaged hair becomes lacklustre due to the cuticle becoming rough. “Silicones help to smooth and fill the cuticle, resulting in shinier, softer-looking hair,” explains Danny.

  4. Improved manageability: Silicones may improve manageability for medium to dense and coarse hair types. “I always reach for a shine spray or oil when I’m working with knotty and dry hair types. It helps make the hair easier to work with and has a fabulously luxe result,” says Danny.

    All that in mind, if you are going to use products with silicones, Danny advises only choosing those with water-soluble silicones as they’re “much easier to wash away at the end of the day.”

    The bad (and why you might want to avoid silicones)

    Silicone build-up can give hair a greasy, lank appearance

    Although silicones might give some hair types a shinier, more manageable appearance, for others (especially finer strands), silicones can accumulate over time and weigh down the hair shaft. The result? Limp, lank and even greasy-looking locks.

    Silicones can ‘suffocate’ hair

    It might sound dramatic but because some silicones can’t be easily removed from the hair, silicone build-up over time can result in a coating that may ‘suffocate’ your strands. “This coating stops hair products from penetrating the hair, which over time has a damaging effect,” says Danny.

    Silicones can interfere with colouring processes

    Although silicones might help with colour longevity, silicone build-up can also negatively impact the colouring process. “Silicones can stop hair colour penetrating and lasting on the hair. In some cases, silicones can react to the hair colouring process - a hairdresser's nightmare,” says Danny.

    Convinced it’s time to go silicone-free?

    If you’re ready to step away from the silicones, it’s time to get cleansing. “Stop using the current products immediately and switch to a clarifying and purifying shampoo to gently start cleansing the build-up off,” advises Danny.

    Danny also says you’ll want to up the ante on your hydrating products “to keep the hair feeling healthy and replace to needed strength and moisture to the hair. The Oribe Gold Lust Mask is perfect for this.”

    How to know whether a hair product contains silicones

    As a rule of thumb, “most professional hair products should not contain any silicones that can build up and damage the hair,” says Danny. If you’d like to do your own due diligence, here are some common ones to watch out for.

    Non-water-soluble silicones to avoid

    Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Amodimethicone, Cetyl dimethicone, Cetearyl methicone

    Water-soluble silicones that might be OK (depending on your hair type)

    Stearoxy dimethicone, Dimethicone copolyol, Behenoxy dimethicone

    The TL;DR on whether to avoid silicones

    At worst, silicones might damage the hair and at best, they may provide some short-term benefits like increased shine and manageability. Silicones are more like a Band-Aid solution with temporary benefits, but they won’t benefit the long-term health of your hair.

    Here’s the TL;DR:

    1. If using silicones, choose products wisely taking into consideration your personal hair type.

    2. You’ll want to steer well clear of silicones if you've got fine hair.

    3. If using products with silicones, choose professional brands containing water-soluble silicones only.


    Share it with someone who likes to be in-the-know


    Based on your exceptional taste

    We think you might find these articles interesting, too

    Learn which ingridients to look out for, avoid, or add to your hair care routine

    Explore our A-Z ingredients directory

    Get to know your curl pattern better, plus the many ways you can embrace and nurture your natural style

    Discover the best products for your hair type, learn industry tricks, and explore some serious style inspo