Silicones in skincare and haircare

Why Silicones in Skincare and Haircare?

You may have noticed that many different silicones can be found in skincare and haircare products today. There are a number of reasons why formulators – and customers – like products containing silicone. With many names, some ending in “oxane”, they are in cosmetics, as well. There are also reasons to be cautious when using skincare and haircare products containing silicone. It’s important to know, first of all, what silicone is and how they are used in skincare and haircare products.

What Is Silicone?

Silicone – also called polysiloxane – is a synthetic polymer derived from the element silicon and oxygen atoms. Silicon is extracted from common sand with a variety of chemicals, most of which are recycled or inert (e.g. water). It’s been used in personal care products for more than 30 years, which comprises about 15% of all uses for silicones. It is now used in everything from breast implants and beauty blenders to products found at Home Depot. Because it repels water, it’s useful for projects that require a waterproofing substance. Two types of silicone are commonly used; water soluble and non-water soluble.

Silicones In Skincare

If you look at the labels on most skincare and cosmetic products, you’ll find ingredients like Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane and Cyclohexasiloxane. These silicones are not water soluble. Silicones are popular in primers for their ability to leave skin feeling silky smooth, and they tend to reflect light. Most recently, polymers like Polybutene and Polyisobutene may appear on your product labels. It’s becoming more difficult to identify silicones in beauty products. For those of us who are looking to avoid synthetics, it’s becoming almost impossible to avoid them in skincare products. That, in and of itself, is troubling. Consumers should be able to choose whether or not to use products containing synthetic polymers that don’t benefit the skin in any long-lasting way.

So what’s so wrong about silicone in skincare? The answer often depends on your skin type and personal preferences. The moisture-trapping nature of silicone may mean that it also traps other substances (like dirt and oils) that may cause breakouts. And while everyone loves smooth-looking skin, it’s a short-lived effect rather than the result of a product’s impact on the skin. Their water-repellent nature can also make them more difficult to remove, which requires more intense cleansing at the end of the day.

We’ve decided to avoid using silicones in our Whole Earth Body Actives Vitamin C Face Cream. Instead, we’ve incorporated isoflavones derived from bamboo to smooth and enhance the skin’s appearance.

Silicones in Haircare

At first, the benefits of using silicones in haircare may seem obvious. They serve to smooth our frizzines, and who doesn’t love that? However, the water-repellent nature of most silicones can cause them to accumulate in their hair, making it heavy. Removing this product from their hair then requires the use of a deep-cleaning (e.g. harsher) clarifying shampoo. For dry, curly hair, this can do more harm than good. For many, the use of a nourishing oil like coconut or argan would be preferable to smoothing a synthetic all over the hair. Recently, some products formulate with water-soluble silicones that are easier to wash out. Examples are hydrolyzed wheat protein and ingredients that begin with PEG.

Finally, there’s a question of sustainability and eco-friendliness with this ingredient. Petroleum by-products are used to create silicones, which begs the question: do we want such a by-product in our skincare and haircare products? There may also be a question of bioaccumulation in the environment and what this means for wildlife. Given the furor over the use of plastic beads, it’s something to think about.


Silicone discussion in Wikipedia
Dow Corning Information about Silicone
Health Canada’s webpage on the safety of cosmetic ingredients

When to throw out cosmetics

You may find yourself asking when you should throw out skincare and cosmetics that you may have been using for awhile. After all, not all products have expiration dates. Naturally-derived products, while more appealing to many, can be even more difficult to determine when it’s past its prime.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate cosmetics, which include most personal care products that we use today. Exceptions to this rule include products that function like drugs (e.g. sunscreens and acne medications). These types of products are regulated by the FDA and, as such, require expiration dates on their packaging. Once they expire, their effectiveness is not guaranteed, and they should be tossed.

Most other products do not require expiration dates, so it’s the consumer’s responsibility to track when a product was purchased, and when it’s no longer safe to use it. As a rule, products in tubes and pumps will maintain their integrity longer than products in jars. Products that come close to the eyes should also be thrown out sooner than other cosmetic products. Product composition is also important. Natural products with little or no preservatives should be refrigerated if they contain water, and will have a shorter lifespan than oil-based products. This is because products containing water are breeding grounds for bacteria and mold. Bacteria and mold, while they may be present, do not grow in oil-based products. However, you should not allow water to enter these products or they will go bad.

Regardless of what types of products are used, here are a few guidelines for knowing when to throw out your skincare and cosmetics products:

  • Mascara – 3 months
  • Liquid eyeliner – 3 months
  • Liquid foundation – 6 months
  • Cream formulas (water-based) – 6 months
  • Cream eye shadow – 6 months
  • Products in pumps – 1 year
  • Sunscreen – 6 months-1 year (after expiration date, not after opening)
  • Hair products – 1 year
  • Nail polish – 1-2 years (or when separation occurs)
  • Powders – 2 years
  • Pencil/powder eye shadow – 2 years
  • Lipstick/Lipgloss – 2 years

Regardless of the products used, it’s always a good idea to use common sense. If a product is causing redness or irritation, itching, or signs of infection on the skin, throw it out! Factors like high heat or dirty fingers can affect a product’s stability. Don’t use other people’s products. If you must use a lipstick or eye pencil, for example, use a knife or sharpener to remove the top layer first. After all, safety should be uppermost in our minds whenever we use a product on our skin. Huffington Post article on makeup expiration dates

In order to make this easier for our customers, we have created labels that can be used to mark the date for a product to be replaced. We will be sending them out with new orders for customers to test. Please let us know if you like the idea! You can visit us on Instagram or Facebook for a sneak-peek. We want to make using skincare as safe as it is uplifting.

FDA regulations on cosmetics
Good Housekeeping magazine article on expired cosmetics