Facts on Silicones in Skincare and Hair Products

If you were to ask your friends, “What is dimethicone?” you’d likely get a lot of blank stares. Buuut I’m also willing to bet you’d hear some very, very opinionated responses (if, you know, your friends happen to be beauty editors). Silicones (like dimethicone) in cosmetics is a controversial topic, and for every person who loves them and swears by their silicone-based makeup primer, there’s another person who actively avoids all silicones in skincare, haircare, and makeup.

So what’s the deal? Is dimethicone okay to use, or do you need to overhaul your medicine cabinet? Welp, allow me to present you with the facts and expert insights from a dermatologist and trichologist about using dimethicone in your skincare and hair products so that you can make that decision for yourself. Because, spoiler, it really is a you decision in the end.

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What is dimethicone used for?

Dimethicone is a silicon-based polymer that, when used in beauty products, gives the formula an incredibly smooth, velvety, slippery feel that you either love or hate (although I’ll never understand the people who hate it TBH. I freakin’ love the smooth feeling of silicones).

But dimethicone is not only used for its sensory properties—it also helps to temporarily smooth fine lines and wrinkles, functions as an emollient (aka a skin-conditioning agent), and also has some occlusive properties (meaning it prevents water loss by creating a seal or a barrier on your skin). And because of these properties, you’ll usually find dimethicone in your foundations, makeup primers, hair products, moisturizers, etc. Basically, unless a label specifically says it’s silicone-free, you can almost guarantee it’s in ev-ery-thing.

Is dimethicone safe for skin?

Despite what the haters may say, according to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, dimethicone is safe when used in cosmetic products. What’s more, the CIR Expert Panel also says because of the large molecular weight of dimethicone, it’s unlikely that it can be absorbed into the skin in a significant way. Board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, isn’t concerned either: “I think, all too often, people put things in categories and say, ‘all of this is bad,'” he says. “But in this case, I don’t know of many colleagues who are concerned with dimethicone in skincare products.”

Can dimethicone clog pores?

Now that I’ve painted the visual of dimethicone creating a seal on your skin, you’re probably wondering if this means your face is gonna be left with crazy clogged pores from using it. But, surprisingly, that’s not the case. Dr. Bhanusali says that unlike with other occlusives, dimethicone isn’t really heavy, which is why a lot of people with oily skin tend to like the feel of dimethicone in their makeup or skincare products.

“In general, this isn’t something that dermatologists are actually worried about,” says Dr. Bhanusali, and instead, “dimethicone is sometimes beneficial for acne patients, given the light nature it.” And as far as dimethicone being difficult to remove, Dr. Bhanusali says most cleansers are actually pretty effective at taking it off and recommends using a micellar-based formula, like Bioderma.

Why is dimethicone bad for hair?

Although dimethicone is fine for use on the skin, things get a little trickier when using it on your hair, mainly because it can coat your strands and weigh them down (which is not great for curls or fine hair). But, “if you have dry, damaged hair that’s prone to tangles, dimethicone can help create that sleek, slippery feel, making detangling easy and giving the appearance that the hair is super-conditioned and healthy,” says trichologist and creator of Colour Collective, Kerry E. Yates. “Dimethicone is also heavily used in styling products to help ‘glue’ the cuticles down to create that smooth, shiny effect in hair.”

But it’s this “gluing” mechanism that can also cause problems in the long-run—dimethicone tends to quickly build up on your strands, preventing water from penetrating your hair cuticle, leaving your hair lank, dry, and damaged. The good news? Silicones can easily be removed by washing with a silicone-free, sulfate-filled cleanser. Yes, it’ll be stripping and drying, but it’ll also “reset” your strands, so if you’re a big silicone user, try a reset wash once every few weeks to clear the buildup.

As far as worries of hair loss go, Dr. Bhanusali says dimethicone is not really something they consider or worry about, but as trichologist and creator of Colour Collective, Kerry E. Yates, explains it, the concern with dimethicone in hair products has more to do with the effect it has on the health and quality of your strands.

Sooo, does dimethicone build up on hair?

In short, yes. The reason why you might experience dry hair from using a dimethicone-based formula is that the product builds up, which prevents the hair from achieving a proper moisture balance. This is why excess use of dimethicone can result in dry, brittle ends that are prone to breakage.

For that reason, Yates argues that not all hair types and textures should use silicones—it can make fine hair look limp and oily, and it can make curly and coily hair textures drier and more brittle. “People with curly, coily hair should avoid using dimethicone, as the hair is already in a fragile state,” says Yates. “By contributing to that dryness, you intensify the level of breakage,” Yates says.

The bottom line

Just because the experts say dimethicone is not the enemy the internet has made it out to be, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Dimethicone has its pros and cons, so if you’ve read the above and decided you still don’t want to use it, don’t! No one’s making you! The beauty of an oversaturated beauty market is that you have tons of silicone-free options to use instead, like the below:

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