Joycelyn and Rachael, the leading ladies at Afrocenchix are back and in this edition of 'The Science Series' we are tackling SILICONES. What are they? How are they used in hair products? Are they safe? We had so many questions and as usual, they deliver! Read on...
As a natural hair advocate, I have always received mixed messages about silicones. Since going natural almost 13 years ago, I opted to avoid them because in the beginning, the information I found on them was just as complex as understanding how to take care of my hair itself! Today, with my routine on lock and upon further research on silicones, I still choose to avoid them.
What are Silicones useful for?
There are many variants of silicones used in hair and skin care for protection against moisture loss. Often used in shampoos, conditioners and styling products to help create the all coveted “slip” for detangling, Silicones give hair a silky shine. Lightweight silicones are also used as heat protectants.
What problems do Silicones cause?
In terms of being harmful or not, the types of silicones used in hair care products are considered to be safe for human use and supported by scientific research. Silicones were developed in the 1950’s and are produced by a chemically heavy process. The shine that they give hair is synthetic and results from the effect of plastic. Whilst safe for us, some silicones have been found to affect animals that can’t digest them.
With prolonged use, silicones can make kinky/coily hair appear dull and lifeless due to build-up which weighs hair down. They can hold dirt and prevent moisture absorption which can lead to weakened afro hair.
For co-washing curly girl method lovers, they are not ideal as they will leave hair feeling weighed down as the silicone coating attracts debris and dirt. They prevent conditioner, moisture and nutrients from penetrating the surface, causing the hair to become brittle and break.
How to spot Silicones
1. Look at the label
You can tell that there are silicones in a product by finding ingredients that have -cone that the end of them. As a basic rule, the further up the list, the higher then percentage. Examples dimethicone, amodimethicone, dimethiconol, phenyl trimethicone, dimethicone copolymer, cyclomethicone, dimethicone copolyol, and cyclopentasiloxane.
2. What does the product feel like?
The thicker products leave-in treatments and serums gives fantastic conditioning benefits and a silky, shiny finish. Might look shiny and on curls but are tougher to wash out. These are non-water soluble silicones.
What are the alternatives?
Wheatgerm oil and stearic acid are good alternatives to silicones. There is some new technology being developed that is lightweight and also repels dirt. We use wheatgerm oil in Seal which has a similar feel to silicones but is beneficial to nourishing and smoothing afro hair.