Silicone in hair care – Is it for curly hair?

Silicones are used as conditioning agents in most hair care products like shampoo, conditioners, treatments and leave-in products.

How silicones work
  • Due to their good spreadability, they make a thin film on hair which reduces hair porosity, and prevent hair from absorbing moisture from outside air. That’s how they provide anti-frizz and help in extreme humid condition.
  • Lubricates the surface of the hair to provide the slip that helps in wet and dry combing.
  • Silicone with refractive index of 1.5 and more reflects light from the hair surface and makes the hair look shiny.
  • Because of their silky feel, they are considered as good conditioning agents. Conditioning is different than moisturizing. Moisturizing agents penetrate hair and provide moisture to hair. While conditioning agents work superficially on hair to provide slip and help to lay the cuticles flat over hair surface.
Silicones provide all these benefits only superficially and give the perception of healthy hair. They do not penetrate hair shaft so don’t add anything to hair’s health internally. But, inspite of the benefits, they have become infamous lately. Reason is, sometime it is hard to remove silicon residue from the hair and on certain people the build up leaves an undesirable greasiness, limpness and dry strands.
Silicone behavior varies depending on their type. Here are different kind of silicones and their specific properties like how they can be washed out and their build-up capacity. It is hard to remember their names but usually their name ends with – cone, -oxane, -conol.


Volatile Silicones
These are not water soluble silicones but evaporate from hair after sometime. So there’s no worry about build up or moisture lock out with these. They are added in products to deliver other ingredients because of their good spreadability on hair. Due to evaporating property, these help hair to dry faster. They distribute into a thin, uniform film before evaporation. They also provide the wet-combing benefit due to their slip.

  • Cyclomethicone
  • Hexamethyl disiloxane
  • Octamethyl cyclotetrasiloxane
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Cyclotetrasiloxane
  • Cyclohexasiloxane


Water soluble silicone

These silicones can be washed out using water. So you get the benefits of silicone without any concern about their buildup. Any sort of PEG/PPG modified Methicone or Dimethicone belong to this category. For example PEG-8 Dimethicone, PEG-12 Dimethicone. Identify these silicone with PPG- and PEG- in their standard silicone name naming convention (-cone, -oxane, -conol in the end).

  • Dimethicone copolyol
  • DEA PG-Propyl PEG/PPG-18/21 Dimethicone
  • Dimethicone PEG-8 Phosphate
  • Dimethicone-PG Diethylmonium Chloride
  • PEG-40/PPG-8 Methylaminopropyl/Hydropropyl Dimethicone Copolymer
  • PEG/PPG-20/15 Dimethicone
  • PEG-12 Dimethicone
  • PEG/PPG-20/15 Dimethicone
  • PEG-7 Amodimethicone
  • PEG-8 Disteramonium Chloride PG-Dimethicone
  • PEG-33 (and) PEG-8 Dimethicone (and) PEG-14

Hard to Wash and don’t build Up on themselves
These silicones are generally the ones with names that have “amo”, “amino”, or “amine”. These silicone are highly substantive to hair especially on damaged hair. So, these provide great reduction in forces for wet and dry combing. They make a thin layer on the hair shaft which is hard to remove without a sulfate shampoo. But they do not build up on themselves as subsequent layers are repelled by the first. You need to use a sulfate shampoo to remove these from hair. These are suitable for people who use clarifying shampoo containing lauryl or laureth sulfates or cocamidopropyl betaine on weekly basis. Their deposition rate on hair sometimes depend on other ingredients in the product. They show more deposition rate if they are used with other cationic surfactants like behentrimonuim chloride etc (read more about cationic surfactant) and deposition rate is reduced if they are used with cationic polymer like polyquaternium-X. X could be any number. So, a lot depends on the product formulation.

  • Aminopropyl Dimethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Bis-Amino PEG/PPG-41/3 Aminoethyl PG-Propyl Dimethicone
  • Bis-aminopropyl Dimethicone
  • Dimethicone crosspolymer
  • Trimethyl silylamodimethicone
  • Vinyldimethicone Crosspolymer
  • Aminopropyltriethoxysilane

Hard to Wash and builds Up

These silicones are also good conditioner. But repeated use of them leads to build up on hair, causing greasiness, weigh hair down and make hair dry over a period of time. Due to their hydrophobic nature, they are also hard to remove from hair. You have to use a clarifying shampoo and some may even need multiple washes to remove them completely. If these are not removed, moisture can be blocked out of the hair shaft, resulting in dry strands and potential breakage.

  • Dimethicone
  • Behenoxy dimethicone
  • Bis-Phenylpropyl Dimethicone
  • Cetyl dimethicone
  • Cetearyl methicone
  • Dimethiconol hydroxystearate
  • Polysilicone-18 Cetyl Phosphate
  • Propyl Dimethicone
  • Stearoxy dimethicone
  • Stearyl dimethicone
  • Stearyl methicone


Bottom Line

Everybody’s hair is different, so any particular ingredient works differently on different people. Some people notice more build up due to silicones than others. Also it depends on the number of silicone products you use. If you are using shampoo, conditioner, leave-in, masks and serum and all of them contain silicones then there are high chances that you will get more build up. In this scenerio hair serums are the worst. Because their basic ingredients are silicones and these contain 80-90% silicone as compared to conditoner and other hair products which generally contain silicones upto 5% and less. Silicones can be part of your hair care regime considering their benefits if you use a clarifying shampoo made of sulfates regularly (clarifying shampoo does not contain conditioning agent and silicones). If you do not remove it then your hair can become dry over a period of time and leads to breakage due to lack of moisture. We already know sulfates are too drying for curly hair and mild shampoos do not remove silicone completely. So, it is advisable not to use silicones that are hard to remove for curly hair.


“Silicones in Cosmetics” Principles of Polymer Science and Technology in Cosmetics and Personal Care  In Goddard, E.D. & Gruber, J.V. (Eds.)

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4 thoughts on “Silicone in hair care – Is it for curly hair?

  • mrina

    for two years i use streax and loreal serum and dove shampoo and conditioner for 7 years . my hair type is 2c or 3a . now condition of my hair is very bad. loss natural hair color . black turns to brown. i think this is effect of sulfate and silicon. for few day i follow your blog. and i order rain forest shampoo and conditioner . i mainly use serum for untangle hair . week days i dont get enough time for untangle after bath. for those days use serum on little wet hair . now need a hair spry or cream or conditioner or others silicon free product which is sutable for me for detangle hair instead of serum . i live in kolkata. it is very dusty in here. please keep this mind.

    • Asha Barrak Post author

      Mrina, detangle your hair in the shower while your conditioner is on. Conditioner will provide you slip and also prevent breakage. Start from ends and move up to the root. Use your fingers to detangle and be very very gentle. After detangling follow the routine of applying other products as I have mentioned on the blog. Go for regular trims to get rid of damaged ends. Do not comb your hair when it is dry as it separates your curls and makes it frizzy. You can wash your hair every third day in the dusty environment.

    • Asha Barrak Post author

      Vijetha, there a lots of variety of conditioning agents. To name a few, Polyquaterniums, cetrimonium chloride, behentrimonium chloride etc. Silicone and oils also considered conditioning agents as well. You can post the ingredients here and i will help in identifying it for you 🙂