Silicones In Skincare and Cosmetics

One of the controversial ingredients in cosmetics is – Silicones. There are a lot of rumours about the silicones like they are not safe for the environment, interfere with other ingredients, are not natural, and difficult to remove.

In this article we will be discussing the following points:

What are silicones?

Silicones are the compounds that are derived from the element silicon. Silicon is located just below carbon in the periodic table. Therefore it resembles some of the chemical bonding properties of carbon. Silicones used in cosmetics are derived from silica and are based on silicone-oxygen atoms (-Si-O-Si-) and also silicone-chlorine atoms (polymer chain continues).

Silicones are produced by conversion of quartz into silicon and further reacting this silicon with methyl chloride that produces chlorosilanes. These chlorosilanes are further reacted with water and silanols (-Si-OH-) are produced. Further, these silanols can be converted into Cyclomethicone, dimethicone, and other silicones that are used in cosmetic products.

Silicones have a unique molecular structure in which large molecules have a wide space between each molecule. Due to this it allows them to create a permeable barrier.

Why are silicones used in cosmetics?

Silicones are not only used in the chemical industry but also in cosmetics for several reasons. Some of them are:

  • Shine: Most of the silicones are not soluble in water. They leave a film on the surface where they are applied. This film-forming property is used in the hair products, making the hair shinier. This shiny effect is not only for the hair but also on the skin when incorporated in the makeup.

  • Feel: The silicones are lighter and more slippery on the skin due to its low surface tension property. This means that they improve the feel of the products of the skin. For hair products, they can also feel like fibres which are less rough and more smooth.

  • Barrier: Silicones protect the skin from chemical exposure and other environmental damages by forming a barrier on the skin when used in higher concentrations. The occlusive action of the silicone on the skin provides a great deal of moisturization.

  • Foam reduction: Silicones also possess foam reducing properties. Silicones are extremely useful in making cleansers that don't produce a lot of foam.

  • Spreadability: The surface tension of the silicones is lower than both water and oils. It means that it spreads more easily on the surfaces than those types of compounds.

  • What type of silicones are used in cosmetics?

    Dimethicone, silanols and Cyclomethicone and their derivatives are the most basic silicones in cosmetics.


    The general name for silicone polymers (-Si-O-) surrounded by methyl groups (-CH3) is dimethicone (organic compound). The properties of the material are steadily dependent upon the average molecular weight of the polymer. 

    The low molecular weight of the dimethicone indicates more fluid and more spreading on the surfaces and vice versa. The properties of both the high and low molecular weight version can be obtained by blending of the silicones. These are also called silicone fluids.


    Silanols are the water-soluble silicones. Silanols are the best option for the leave-in hair conditioners due to its shine, feel of silicone and slip property. These silicones can be easily washed out. Silanols are also known as dimethiconol as they have the -OH group which is a side group on the polymer.

    This reactive -OH group is useful for creating raw material from it. But they should be avoided in rinsed off products as they will get rinsed away without giving any benefit.


    These are the cyclic compounds having 4 (D4) or 5 (D5) silicone atoms. It is extremely volatile and evaporates more swiftly than ethanol and water. Therefore they can be used in products like antiperspirants where you don't want to leave a film on the surface. It provides slip on the wet hair therefore it works well in hair conditioners.

    Apart from these three types, silicones in any form like fluoro dimethicone, cationic silicones, silicone surfactants, silicone elastomers, silicone resins, and silicone rubbers.

    Are silicones harmful to the skin?

    The main advantage of silicones is the sensory effect. For hair, silicones coat them with a protective layer that makes the hair easier to disentangle and softer, protects the hair from dampness and give it volume and shape and also silicones offset the drying effects of surfactants.

    It is assumed that there is no danger on the skin and hair.

    The only drawback of silicone is the semi-occlusive effect. It means that they tend to smooth the scalp and the skin. But it depends upon the type of silicone you have used. Also, the layer can cumulate and silicones are hard to clean off.

    This accumulation of the silicones on the hair may lead to the less volume of the hair, and also the hair which holds on to rapid sebum secretion and fats needs more frequent washing.

    If you apply a thick layer of silicone on the skin, it might form, cause or worsen the skin condition by leaving little balls of itchy stuff which can result in rubbing the skin.

    The advantage of the semi-occlusive effect is that it protects the skin from harmful environmental influences, like environmental stress and pollution.

    Silicones should not be used regularly, as skin may become dependent on the product you are using and can become dull in the long run.

    Some of the silicones are willingly biodegradable and others can stay in the environment and can also accumulate and be toxic. The biodegradable grade of the silicone depends upon where it ends up. Also mostly these concerns are wrong and you will find the best-performing skin care products having silicone as the best ingredient choice. 


    1. Do silicone clog pores?

    Silicone fillers are widely used for reducing the appearance of scars caused due to acne. As most the silicones are volatile substances, therefore they do not clog the pores and do not accumulate dead skin cells.

    2. What is cosmetic silicone?

    Silicone-based cosmetic ingredients are hair and skin conditioning agents and they also act as emulsifiers, as they help to combine two or more substances. They are also used as emollients and surfactants.

    3. Is silicone good for the acne prone skin?

    Silicones that are applied topically are generally considered as safe. There is as such no claim that silicones on the face can be dangerous or problematic for the acne prone skin.

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