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Silicone’s Place In Beauty

It’s 2023 and Silicones still take a prominent position in beauty products from clean to conventional, they’re everywhere. It’s estimated that the annual production of cosmetic silicones has reached 8-10 million tons per year. What was once considered a neutral issue has now become a significant environmental concern. It’s rare that an environmental issue can be traced to one cause, but that is the case as 100% of the silicones trapped in our ecosystem are from wash-off personal care products. Loved for their ability to fill in our pores, last for hours and give makeup, hair, skin and body products that silky feeling, you’ll find them on cosmetic labeled as dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, polydimethylsiloxane, cyclomethicone and the like. They’ve been hard for beauty brands to let go, and we know first-hand just how hard because aside from phenoxyethanol, it’s the most common ingredient that trips us up from launching a brand at Beauty Heroes.

It’s been 6 years since we said goodbye to Silicones at Beauty Heroes, not because they pose a harm to human health as much as the enormous toll, they are taking on the environment. Silicones don’t biodegrade. They degrade over time, but it’s a slow process that interacts with our environment as it happens. These slick, invisible molecules make their way into our groundwater, oceans, rivers and drinking water. They test at high levels in aquatic life and studies are still trying to understand the holistic impact silicones are having on fish, sea plants, coral and the rising temperature of our oceans. Just imagine pouring 8-10 million tons of liquid silicone into our waters per year. It’s easy to understand why that would be something to care about.

Formulating products without silicones that compete with products with silicones is a challenge, and one that has been met by Founders and Formulators who understand the impact of this ingredient on our ecosystem. There are alternatives, and more are on the way as ingredient suppliers rush to develop plant-based, fully biodegradable, high-performance alternatives. One could argue, however, the expectation for makeup to last all day, stay perfectly in place, coat the skin and hair to perfection, is not realistic or necessary. And certainly, beauty standards need to evolve. It’s our experience that products made without silicones (and their close cousins – petroleum-based ingredients), perform better in the ways that are more meaningful, allowing skin to ‘breathe’ (perspire), nourish or protect with antioxidants and essential fatty acids and easily wash away rather than cling to fill in (clog) pores and lines.

As we continue to educate on silicones in cosmetics (and wonder why they are STILL so prevalent), we asked a few leaders who formulate without them to weigh in. Let’s take a listen:

Fitglow Concealer “When it comes to using silicone in your skincare and makeup formulas, we choose not to use them due to various reasons, such as: environmental impact, reduction of active ingredient performance, and long-term impact to skin health. Silicones which are also hidden under many names, including: dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclohexasiloxane, cetearylmethicone and cyclopentasiloxane are occlusive and this like-liquid-plastic compromises sensitive, acne-prone and rosacea skin which can be highly problematic. Silicone is difficult to remove from the skin, trapping a build-up of dirt, oil and makeup, causing direct stress. Many makeup/skincare companies will add this ingredient for that immediate skin-smoothing ability, but in fact this is creating a false positive. This is not changing your skin but coating it – resulting in less penetration of skin ingredients and the build-up of toxins which have no way out of the skin, creating a compromised barrier.”
Anna Buss, Founder, Fitglow Beauty

Plume Beauty Brow Gel “Silicones, despite having delightful mechanical properties as film formers and waterproofing agents, don’t belong in beauty or personal care products. They are bio accumulative substances, meaning they build up in the ecosystem and often end up in the tissues of the living beings within that ecosystem. They aren’t known to be very good for your skin either. Plume chooses to formulate with plant-based alternatives that serve similar functions to silicone. They are generally more expensive and difficult to work with, but they don’t bioaccumulate. and, if we’re using them, they are going to be, at a minimum, gentle on your skin (and hair), and in most cases actually beneficial.”
Brett Billon, Co-Founder, Plume Cosmetics

Sappho Foundation “I live in Vancouver, and as one of the very first clean lines, I started my research into safe ingredients with David Suzuki’s dirty dozen list of environmental toxins. Siloxanes, were and still are on that list. I learned that silicones, added to formulas, if not absorbed, run the risk of polluting our earth. Going one step further, the research on dimethicone, although not a siloxane, consistently cited an extremely high risk of contamination in its creation. Clean beauty was imagined to save lives, toxic washing can have dire effects.”
JoAnn Fowler, Founder, Sappho Cosmetics

Rituel de Fille Eyeshadow “Silicones create the illusion of smoothness and moisture, but the effect vanishes when you wash your face. As much as illusion can be part of the fun of makeup, we believe in creating the best possible formulas for your skin. We take a different approach; we base our products on beneficial ingredients like jojoba and marula oil that create that perfected finish now and support the skin over time.”
Katherine Ramos, Co-Founder, Rituel de Fille

Y Et Beauté Lipsticks “Besides paraben-, phthalate- and sulfate-free, I believe we should also include silicone-free in the list of requirements for clean beauty. It is a superficial carrier that can easily be substituted with a plant-based ingredient and is ultimately healthier for the skin.”
Esther Sutjiawan, Founder, Y et Beauté