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
Which Cleanser Is Right For My Skin Type?
There are three basic types of cleanser – 1)soaps; 2) surfactant (or detergent) cleansers; and 3) soap-free (or oil) cleansers. It may be difficult to know which cleanser is right for your skin type, with all of the choices available. Below are the basic differences to help you choose.
Soaps can be divided into bar soaps and liquid soaps. Soaps have been around for thousands of years. Essentially, a soap is classified as a product created by combining an oil or fat with lye, or sodium hydroxide. If this process doesn’t occur, it can’t be called a soap. An example would be WEBA’s Lavender/Rosemary Bar Soap. Soaps tend to be more basic, with a pH between 10 and 12, depending upon how much sodium hydroxide is left behind and whether or not they are “superfatted.” Unlike our bar soaps, which retain glycerin and use premium butters like cocoa and shea, commercial soaps remove the glycerin for sale. It’s important to read labels; not all bar soaps are created equal. Bar soaps travel well and cost less to use than liquid soaps.
Liquid soaps are made by combining fats or oils with potash, or potassium hydroxide. This is a “hot process” reaction – the ingredients are heated for a period of time until the reaction is done, after which water is added. If less water is added, you have a gel. More water produces a thinner formula. These also tend to be more basic. A major difference between liquid and bar soaps is that with liquid soaps, a preservative must be added due to the high water content. Again, read labels to see what preservatives or other ingredients are used.
Soaps, because they clean so well, are generally fine for people with combination or oily skin, although soaps can have ingredients added to them which make them more moisturizing for all skin types. Many also find liquid soaps convenient and more hygienic than bar soaps. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
Surfactant (detergent) cleansers
Surfactant cleansers include detergents (e.g. dish detergent, laundry detergent) and are generally synthetics (made in a lab). Many of the “Beauty Bars” are, in fact, a combination of surfactants formed into a bar under high pressure. Some surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate have fallen into disrepute lately, but there are other naturally-derived surfactants like Coco Betaine, which cleans more gently compared with soaps. These tend to be better for persons with problem skin (acne, ezcema, etc.). This class of cleansers is popular in shampoos, as well, because many have conditioning properties.
Soap-free (oil) cleansers
Soap-free cleansers can include oil-free cream and oil cleansers. They are good for dry, combination and oily skin and are good at removing makeup. Oil-free cleansers consist entirely of surfactants, some synthetic and some naturally-derived, with perhaps a wax and conditioning agents. Reading the labels on these products can be confusing because of the chemical names. What is polyethylene? (A plastic resin). What is Methyl Lactate? (A solvent.) It can also be difficult to determine whether ingredients come from plants or animals. Most have water as their first ingredients, necessitating a preservative. And just because these products are soap-free doesn’t mean that you can’t react to one or more ingredients. Companies are required to provide common names on their labels; you can search for information about an ingredient if you’re not sure what it is.
Oil cleansers are also soap-free, but usually contain a combination of oils along with other beneficial ingredients. Again, check the label if you want to be sure that you’re not sensitive to an ingredient like nuts or certain essential oils. One example of an oil cleanser is our Whole Earth Body Actives Gentle Facial Cleansing Oil and Makeup Remover. Ours is free of essential oils, perfumes and dyes. These also tend to be used exclusively for the face, unlike other cleansers. They tend to be less irritating to the eyes.
Our recommendation? It’s probably best to use a variety of cleansers, depending on your family’s skincare needs and their particular use. For travel, bar soaps are best. When skin is dry, try a cream cleanser. To remove makeup and excess oils, try an oil cleanser. Regardless of which you choose, always check labels so you know what is going on your skin, and to avoid irritation.
Aussie Soap Supplies article on surfactants
FDA webpage on ingredient names and labeling