are silicones bad for skin?

Ah, silicones. No one wants them. But, when they aren’t there, everyone complains.

Well, they don’t complain of a lack of silicones. They complain of thick pastes that spread like chalk or hair that refuses to be combed through. You know, all those things silicones are there to fix.

Turns out, silicones are quite the handymen. But, they totally suck at self-promotion. They’re even too shy to tell women how they can help. So, others did it for them and now they’re stuck with a bad rep.

How unfair! It’s time to set the record straight once and for all about silicones. Here’s what silicones in skincare do and why you shouldn’t be scared of them (plus the REAL reason why some of you may want to avoid them after all):

What Are Silicones?

Silicones are derived from silica, a common mineral that makes up a huge part of the Earth’s crust.

Here’s an easy trick to spot them on the label: they end in “cone” or “siloxane”:

  • Amodimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclohexasiloxane
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Dimethicone
  • Phenyl trimethicone

There are more, but it’ll take too long to listen them all. These are the most common and you know how to recognise the rest now.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Silicones In Skincare?

Here are the 3 most common silicones you’ll find in skincare and haircare products. Although they belong to the same family, they all behave a little differently:

Amodimethicone: A silicone that’s been modified to better stick to hair. It’s a great moisturiser, but hard to remove. May cause buildup overtime.

Cyclopentasiloxane: One of the most volatile silicones (it’s water-based), it gives amazing slip to moisturisers and conditioners. It makes them glide on smoothly and then quickly evaporates. No need to worry about buildup with this one.

Dimethicone: The heaviest silicone of all. It’s not water-soluble so it’s the most difficult to remove. If you use too much of it, it can buildup overtime.


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What Do Silicones In Skincare Do?

Think of silicones as foundation or concealer. They make everything look and feel that little bit better and hide all sorts of imperfections:

  • Silicones give serums and moisturizers a luxurious texture that spreads effortlessly on the skin
  • Silicones create a film on the skin that locks moisture in, keeping skin hydrated
  • Silicones fill in fine lines and wrinkles so they look smaller
  • Silicones makes skin feel silky soft to the touch
  • Silicones make hair super shiny (they smoothen out the cuticles so they can better reflect light)
  • Silicones makes detangling and combing through hair a breeze (this reduces breakage, too)
  • Silicones protect hair from heat

But just like foundation, once you take silicones off, your imperfections are still there, as obvious as before.

Should You Avoid Silicones In Skincare?

Silicones are accused of all kinds of bad stuff, so let’s go through these “dangers” one by one, shall we?

Do Silicones Suffocate Skin?

It’s true that silicones create a barrier on the skin that locks moisture in. But, this barrier doesn’t suffocate skin. Skin doesn’t have lungs. Without lungs, it can’t breathe or be suffocated.

“Ok, know-it-all”, I hear you say, “but doesn’t that barrier prevent skin from doing its thing (i.e. perspire)?”

Nope. You see, this barrier is quite peculiar. Silicones have a particular molecule structure, which is made of larger molecules with wider spaces between each molecule.

That means they can trap water in without interfering with your skin’s natural functions, like perspiration. Phew!

VERDICT: Silicones don’t suffocate skin.

cult 51 immediate effect serum 01

Do Silicones Prevent Other Skincare Ingredients From Penetrating Into The Skin?

This myth is closely related to the previous one. If the barrier silicones create suffocates skin, it makes sense it also prevents active ingredients (like retinol and Vitamin C) to penetrate into your skin, where they can do their antiaging magic.

But you already know this barrier has gaps that allow skin to perspire. Vitamin C, retinol, & co also gets through those gaps and into your skin – just where you want them.

VERDICT: No, silicones don’t prevent active ingredients from penetrating into your skin completely.

Related: Do Silicones Prevent Other Ingredients From Penetrating The Skin?

Are Silicones Comedogenic?

Some people use silicones and break out like crazy. Others use them and don’t get a single pimple. What’s going on?

Here’s the deal: silicones themselves are NOT comedogenic. Not even Dimethicone, the heaviest of them all. But, if you use silicones together with comedogenic ingredients, they can make you break out.

Why? Simple: the protective barrier silicones create on your skin traps everything underneath (ok, it’s not 100% foolproof, but it does trap a lot of stuff where there are no gaps).

If something highly comedogenic, like coconut oil, gets trapped underneath this barrier, you’ll likely get a few pimples.

Luckily, this is easy to avoid. Just be careful what you use silicones with!

VERDICT: No, silicones are not comedogenic. But they’ll make you breakout if you use them with comedogenic ingredients.

Related: What Ingredients Are Comedogenic?

bioderma hydrabio creme riche

Do Silicones Cause Product Buildup On Hair?

Silicones do accumulate on your scalp, this much is true. That residue weights your locks down, turning your voluminous mane into a flat pancake.

But, I’m assuming you’re washing your hair, right? If you do, you’ll remove the old silicones residue before adding a new dose (usually with a conditioner).

If you do, they never have the time to accumulate to the point buildup becomes an issue. Phew!

VERDICT: Silicones cause hair buildup, but a good washing gets rid of it quickly.

Related: How To Easily Remove Silicones Buildup From Hair

Do Silicones Make Your Skin Age Faster?

There’s this rumour going around that silicones damage skin and make it age faster. I don’t know how it started, but it’s 100% false. There’s not the tiniest shred of evidence this is true.

But if silicones don’t make your skin age faster, they don’t even make it age more slowly.

As I mentioned above, silicones are like foundation: they prettify skin, but don’t really have any skincare benefits.

Think of silicones like junk food: they satisfy the craving but don’t nourish the body.  

If you want something that makes your wrinkles look smaller while your retinol takes its sweet time to work, silicones will do the trick. But, once you take them off, your wrinkles are still there, as big as before.

This doesn’t make silicones bad or useless. It just depends on what you’re looking for in your cosmetics.

VERDICT: Silicones don’t make you age faster. But they don’t slow down premature aging, either.

Related: Prevention VS Treatment: What Really Works To Get Rid Of Wrinkles?

Paula's Choice Anti-Aging Clear Skin Hydrator

Are Silicones Bad For The Environment?

If you must give up on silicones, do it for a valid reason. Like this one: silicones aren’t biodegradable.

Some types of silicones can be recycled, but that’s unlikely to happen to the silicones you wash down the drain when you cleanse your skin at night.

If this is a big issue for you, you may want to use silicones less or not at all.

VERDICT: Silicones aren’t bad for skin. But they are bad for the environment.

The Bottom Line

Silicones don’t ruin your skin or cause any serious damage. They simply provide a quick fix for wrinkles and a better sensory experience with cosmetics. If you’re looking for more or are worried about their impact on the environment, give them a pass. Otherwise, there’s no reason not to play with them.

Do you use products with silicones or prefer to avoid them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.