What are silicones and why are silicones used in the beauty industry?
Silicones are very widely used for beauty products from hair care to skin care to makeup. They are synthetically made and most can be identified by the end of their name. When looking for silicones in ingredients lists, look for those ending in -cone, -siloxane, or – conol. Silicones are extensively used in different industries outside the personal care industry too, e.g. in adhesives, sealants, and toys.
The silicone most commonly used in hair and skin care is Dimethicone (also called polymethylsiloxane). It is a synthetically produced polymer that functions as lubricant and conditioning agent. Other examples for silicones commonly found in beauty and personal care products are amodimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and polysilicones, just to name a few.
Silicones are very easily spreadable and not soluble in water. They temporarily coat and smooth the hair and skin surface which promotes smoothness and shine, and are used to give liquid products a silky, smooth feel and elegant texture.
Silicones can build up in hair over time. Usually, sulfate shampoo are required to remove 100% of dimethicone which means that if you use a gentler, sulfate-free shampoo like superzero to protect your hair cuticles and promote hair health and color protection over time, silicones can build up in your hair, weigh it down, and prevent natural waves and curls in your hair from forming. That means that you are getting short-term smoothness at the cost of long-term hair damage and weight.
Aside from weighing down your hair over time, what makes the use of silicones a big NO NO for superzero is that they are suspected to be an environmental toxin and to be persistent or bioaccumulative on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance list.
Dimethicone, Dimethicone Copolymer, Polysilicone-15, and other silicones are on the RED list of the Plastic Soup Foundation’s Beat the Microbead app because they are ingredients commonly considered to be microplastics. Such microplastics are very damaging to our environment and harmful to human health (see our post about microplastics and beauty). Even if silicones like dimethicone are caught in wastewater treatment plants after being rinsed down the drain, in many countries this sludge is applied to agricultural lands which is becoming another growing microplastics concern.
Now, with all that knowledge, why are silicones not replaced by beauty brands? The answer is simple: for one, these ingredients are very cheap and thus – combined with the fact that a very high percentage of liquid beauty products are water – drive up profits for beauty companies. In addition, it is difficult to find replacements that match the performance of silicones without the downside of weighing down your hair and without causing environmental.
At superzero, we turned to green and clean science and after months and months of obsessive research and lab trials, we have found amazing ingredients that are plant-derived, sustainable and match or even beat the performance of silicones in other premium products without weighing down your hair. The only small drawback is that their consistency is a little less thick so with our conditioners, in combination with the fact that they don’t contain water, you will need a bit more patience to spread them through your hair – with results that are very worth it and bring out the natural beauty of your hair. Below are some examples for natural silicone replacements we use in our hair care and body care products.
C13-15 Alkane (plant-derived)
C13-15 Alkane (plant-derived) is an outstanding and highly sustainable natural silicone replacement that smooths hair, reduces hair frizz, protects hair from color degradation, seals down hair cuticles, provides heat protection, makes combing easier, and improves elasticity – all while being easily biodegradable. It is made via the fermentation of sustainable, renewable sugar cane and grown sustainably without irrigation. It matches the performance of dimethicone in frizz reduction (both achieved about 29% in studies), delivers excellent color protection/maintenance, matches the performance of amodimethicone in terms of wet and dry combability, and offers the same heat protection performance as Polyquaternium 55, a polymer frequently used for thermal protection treatments. C13-15 Alkane has an excellent sensorial profile, is non-greasy, highly spreadable, and offers a silky and light texture. Given its outstanding conditioning performance, we use C13-15 Alkane at different levels in all our conditioner bars and our anti-frizz serum bar.
Ethyl Macamamiate is a low viscosity silicone alternative of macadamia esters. Macadamia’s high palmitoleic acid content is similar to that found within human skin surface lipids. Is has been proven to increase hair shine, reduce comb force, and provide heat protection, as well as to increase skin hydration and skin radiance in skin care applications (like our hand balm bars). It is biodegradable and provides a similar silky, smooth after feel as cyclopentasiloxane. Overall, an excellent high performance, low impact alternative to silicones in beauty products.
For decades, Squalene was sourced from shark liver oil which is now – gladly – banned in the EU. Our squalane is sugarcane derived in a highly sustainable and pure way. It is proven to smooth skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, it quickly and intensely moisturizes skin, and increase skin firmness. Some examples proven out in studies include a 28% reduction in skin roughness after 4 weeks, a 34% increase in cell renewal compared to an untreated control, a 51% improvement in skin moisturization, and a 14% reduction of transepidermal water loss after 21 days. A high performer that avoids the use of silicones in our hand balm bar while offering outstanding results and being easily biodegradable.There are other examples for ingredients we use to avoid the eco-unfriendliness of silicones in personal care products like our Triheptanoin, a 100% naturally derived triglyceride derived from castor oil. We are proud to be certified microplastic free by the Plastic Soup Foundation and committed to creating products that deliver outstanding results with the highest standards for eco-friendliness. You can read more about what’s behind our different ingredients in our ingredient dictionary.