I had been reading some online forums from various sources recently about silicones in skincare and beauty products and how they are bad for the skin. I have been curious about it for a while, because this discussion about whether silicone is good or bad for the skin has been going on for some time.
Silicone is a chemically derived product with occlusive qualities. What this means in terms of skincare is that covers the skin to protect and keep the moisture in. By doing so, silicone also fills in uneven skin texture like fine lines and acne scars so it gives the illusion of great skin when foundation is applied over it. This is why most makeup primers in the market will contain silicones because it helps the primer do its work i.e. prime the skin for makeup.
To identify silicone in a product, look for Dimethicone or methicone in the ingredient list (definition). In fact, the general rule of thumb is that anything ending in “cone” is likely to be silicone. Opinions however are divided as to whether silicone is indeed good or bad for the skin.
Silicone is good for the skin
Proponents of the use of Silicone in skincare say that silicone is not bad for the skin. The molecules in Dimethicone are too large to penetrate into the skin layers and only sit on top of the skin. By having this silicone layer on top of the skin, the skin moisture is prevented from escaping, thus helping keep the skin moisturized. Silicone in skincare is also supposed to be better for those with sensitive skin due to this occlusive nature and it does not irritate the skin nor does it cause acne.
In the beauty world, Dimethicone is commonly used in primers and liquid foundations because it fills up imperfections in the skin and creates a smooth canvas for the foundation to go on. Just think of putting on makeup like painting a wall and you’ll get the general idea. If you use long wearing or waterproof makeup, chances are is that it contains silicones too because silicone repels water and sweat. (source) Silicones are also present in oil-control or mattifying products so you will notice that some products with silicone give a matte look to the skin. I reckon it is because it is holding the oil in under the layer of silicone so you don’t notice it so much.
In hair products, silicone is commonly found in hair serums and conditioners. It is what gives that shine to the hair and makes it feel smooth and soft. The principle is pretty much the same. The silicone coats the hair so it feels and looks soft and smooth.
Silicone is bad for the skin
On the other side of the fence are the detractors who say that silicones are in fact bad for the skin. Because the silicone sits in a layer on top of the skin keeping in moisture, it also keeps in any sebum, dirt and bacteria that may already be on the skin. Once the skin is irritated, it will breakout. So, it is common to hear people say that silicones in products break them out. (source)
Also, prolonged use of silicones may also lead to allergic reactions and may cause sensitive skin to react adversely. So, eczema flareups may occur and on the face acne or spots will form. I thought about it and this may be one of the reasons why my hair conditioner caused my acne. Also, large doses of silicone can be toxic.
Some people who complain that certain skincare serums or moisturizers break them out, or that they have foundations or primers causing spots and acne may be allergic to silicones or react to them.
Should I avoid products with Silicone?
On a personal note, I think avoiding products with silicone in them is not so easy. So many products these days have some element of silicone in it – the question is how much silicone will irritate your skin. However, if you find that certain products that contain silicone ingredients break you out, then you might want to stop using it and any other product containing silicone altogether.
I believe that the large majority of the population can tolerate silicone in products to a degree, depending on its quantity found in the product in question. In my case, I don’t really have very sensitive skin and I find that most products, even those containing silicone don’t cause breakouts. In my regular skincare routine, I’ve discovered that silicones are present in the Body Shop Vitamin C Skin Boost, Eucerin White Solution Sunscreen, Olay Total Effects moisturizer and Eucerin Hydro-Balance Refreshing Cream. However, these 4 products work well for me and I have no intention of discontinuing their use for now.
By contrast, silicones in Tresemme hair conditioner broke me out badly and so did the silicones in Redken’s Extreme Anti-Snap hair serum. It only took me a few days use to notice the breakouts on my face from coming into contact with the products. I think there may be more silicones in hair products than in skincare because hair conditioners and serums tend to feel more slippery, a sure sign of presence of silicones.
For myself, I ensure that I cleanse my skin well in the evenings to remove all traces of my makeup and skincare used in the day and for this, double cleansing works for me. In the morning, I also wash my face with a gentle facial cleanser before I put on any skincare. I don’t know if its enough, but since it works for me, I’ll continue doing what I do. Viva Woman also wrote an article about silicones which I found useful too.
In skincare, silicone is commonly found in serums and moisturisers.
In makeup, silicone is commonly found in primers and liquid foundations.
In hair products, silicone is commonly found in serums and conditioners.