Smooth Operator: Silicones in Skincare
Want that “silky smooth” texture from a serum? Or a luxurious “shine” from your haircare treatment? Chances are, you’re wanting that special something that silicones in skincare often provide. Silicones slid their way into our makeup, skincare, personal care, and even kitchen accessories and appliances, as early as the industrial revolution. Silicones in skincare are highly functional, practically indestructible, water and heat resistant and made from one of the most abundant resources on earth, silica, meaning it’s cheap and easy to produce. When used in skincare and makeup, silicones are responsible for that airbrushed quality we all want, superficially filling in fine lines and wrinkles so skin looks smooth.
I remember when I first learned about silicones in skincare. A well-known green beauty authority taught me that while ‘cones’ weren’t really toxic for you, they had an occlusive property that could interfere with how skin “breathes” and detoxifies. This has been largely contested, but I remember it was precisely this point that grabbed my attention. I already suffered from clogged pores and breakouts. I certainly didn’t want to put anything on my skin that could make it worse.
As my understanding of clean ingredients evolved, silicones remained a mystery to me. On the one hand, they are made of an abundant natural resource and they are more inert than, say, plastic, meaning silicones have a lower chance of leaching chemicals. They offer an emollient slip to the surface of the skin, and because of silicones molecular size and structure, they are both porous and resistant to air. This means that they forms a breathable barrier on top of the skin, protecting moisture loss, while other active ingredients will be absorbed. Sounds like a pretty amazing ingredient for skincare, and the vast majority of skincare brands and their formulators agree.
But there’s an invisible truth to silicones that’s slowly coming to light: how this ingredient is affecting our environment.
Let’s take a closer look.
Whether we are talking about tiny particles added into your favorite lip gloss, or the flexible rubbery plastic covering for your favorite kitchen utensil, silicone is derivative of silicon, the most abundant element on earth after oxygen. Silicon, an element that results from heating silica (sand) at a high temperature, is called a metalloid element, which means it contains the properties of metals and nonmetals. Silicones are made synthetically of the element silicon bonded with other elements, most commonly hydrocarbons from fossil fuel, to form what we classify as silicone; and it’s got a very different makeup than where it started.
The methods for obtaining and processing silicones have received much criticism from environmentalists. While silicone is arguably more environmentally friendly than plastic in the kitchen when used in skin and haircare, tiny particles that are impossible to filter get washed down the drain and released back into our waterways and oceans. Whether silicones ever fully biodegrade is arguable, but we know that if they do, it takes a very long time. And in the meantime, these particles are being introduced into our water and food sources as invisible micro-silicone particles that we can’t see or sense, but we are ingesting. When you consider that somewhere around 50 percent (give or take) of all beauty and personal care products introduced into the marketplace contain one or several silicone ingredients, the sheer amount of this synthetic, persistent ingredient being introduced into the environment is staggering.
Until recently, these microparticles have been mostly ignored because if we can’t manage the volume of visible, large scale ocean plastic pollution, it seems futile to try to convince consumers that we must also stop invisible micro silicone particles from being introduced into our environment. It’s tempting to think that if you can’t see it, it can’t be doing that much harm. But, we know better.
So what do we do? The great news is that there are viable alternatives to silicones in skincare that give products a lovely feel, slip and glide, and they’re natural. Of course, this comes at a higher cost and finite access, but if you’re willing to pay to preserve the environment and your health, we believe it’s worth it.
Silicone-Free Beauty and Personal Care Products
Some of our favorite clean beauty brands formulate with plant oils, waxes and new ingredients that result from green chemistry that deliver fully biodegradable alternatives to silicones, and the user experience is just as luxurious.
Hair Love Prep Spray, Innersense Organic Beauty’s newest innovation that set’s you up for a good hair day, every time. This pre-styling spray helps hair achieve it’s healthiest state so it can withstand heat and styling making it a great swap for a silicone-laden heat protectant.
You won’t miss dimethicone with Rituel de Fille’s Ethereal Veil Concealer, a remarkable formula created from a boldly minimal list of natural ingredients. Choose from 12 chameleon shades that adapt to your undertones and offer a softly diffused, natural silk finish. The richly blendable texture builds to full coverage for spot concealing, under-eye brightening and full-face complexion enhancement.
Time Traveler, an SPF 30 face moisturizer and daily sunscreen from new on the block sun-care line Solara, uses an innovative blend of minerals, botanicals and actives that melt into the skin to plump the appearance of fine lines without anything resembling a silicone. The blend incorporates copper tripeptide, ashwaganda and ceramides – not your ordinary SPF. If you’ve been seeking a swap for your Hero product that is dimethicone-free, Time Traveler might just be your match.
Josh Rosebrook Hair Serum Spray is a styling serum that is formulated to loosely define hair texture while creating a relaxed, weightless finish, but also doubles as a scalp treatment with active botanicals. But it’s the blend of organic plant oils including marula, tamanu, hemp seed, and argan that nourish, moisturize, and condition with rich fatty acids that penetrate the hair shaft while aloe vera phytonutrients help smooth and soften hair and support scalp health.
Avoid silicones in lip products by opting for Fitglow’s Lip Color Serum, a deliciously glossy treatment that looks wears like makeup but treats like skincare. Organic pomegranate plant sterols, ceramics and beet extract supply the slip.
We gasped when we first tried Graydon’s Face Glow. It’s everything you want in a tinted primer and illuminator, without silicones. With a beautiful blend of butters, oils and mineral pigments, Face Glow evens out the appearance of discoloration and delivers a flawless finish.
And finally, Aether Beauty delivers the goods with their zero-waste, zero-silicone eyeshadow palettes. By replacing silicones with plant-based oils, the pigmented powders glide on, and stay on, without creasing.
If you’re shopping at Beauty Heroes, rest assured we do not carry any products that contain silicones. And if you’re shopping elsewhere, we’ll make it easy for you. Here are the most common silicones in skincare you should look for and avoid in your personal care and beauty products.
Silicones in Skincare
- Amino Bispropyl Dimethicone
- Aminopropyl Dimethicone
- Cetearyl Methicone
- Amodimethicone Hydroxystearate
- Behenoxy Dimethicone
- C24-28 Alkyl Dimethicone
- C30-45 Alkyl Dimethicone
- C30-45 Alkyl Methicone
- Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane
- Triethoxycaprylylsilane crosspolymer
- Dimethicone copolyol
- Stearoxy Dimethicone
- Stearyl Dimethicone
- Stearyl Methicone
- Phenyl Trimethicone
- Lauryl Methicone Copolyol