Silicones are quickly becoming a cult topic of discussion, not only in the online curly world but more recently in the worldwide beauty media. Large commercial hair care brands are now following in the footsteps of natural hair care and swapping harsh synthetic chemicals for gentler ones to appeal to the growing wave of clued in consumers.
Let’s face it you’ve probably heard of silicones by now. A simple google search brings up a treasure trove of articles - it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s start with the basics. A silicone is a synthetic polymer (a type of plastic) which coats the hair making it feel smooth and appear healthy and shiny. It fills any gaps in the hair strand, making detangling easier (referred to as having good ‘slip’) and is most noticeable when used on particularly damaged (high porosity) tresses.
However, the downside to this is that the plastic coating forms an impenetrable barrier to water, rejecting much needed moisture from getting into the hair follicle. Remember that the key to happy curls is hydration. While there are water soluble silicones (cyclomethicone, dimethicone copolyol, PEG silicones) most are likely to build up in the hair over time with continual use. To see silicones in action check out the two clips below by Evan Joseph (@evanjosephcurls) and Lorraine Massey (@curlyworldllc) who demonstrate it perfectly.
See how the silicone is forming a coating around the finger and repelling the water? And See how the pinecone in the beaker lays flat compared to the pinecone on the desk? The pines represent the cuticle layer of a hair follicle.
By now you’re probably wondering ‘so...why on earth would you want to put plastic in your hair?’ At CurlyGalLal I like to try out things so that YOU don’t have to. I had been silicone free for nearly three years. I tasked myself with using only silicone products for a week. Here’s my experience:
Day 1: Wash day. I used shampoo, conditioner and styling product which all contained silicones in differing forms. My curls came out well but I did notice that it didn’t feel as hydrated as normal. However, the slip that the silicones provided was a HUGE bonus while detangling in the shower and styling my curls. I have to say that it definitely reduced the time spent doing my wash and go.
Day 2: Dry dry dry. The lack of hydration was real. My hair clearly hadn’t been able to stand up to the general day to day, and it already felt dried out and needed refreshing. In my regular silicone free routine my hair can easily stretch to day three/four (sometimes day five) depending on the product/ routine. I found the refreshing to be tricky. The combination of silicone build-up and my low porosity hair (which struggles to absorb water) was really noticeable. However using warm water to help open the cuticle and a teeny weeny bit of the same styler I used on wash day I was able to reactivate the curl.
Day 3: The itch. I noticed I had been itching more than normal, which I put down to the steady build up suffocating my hair and scalp (and this was only day 3!) - This is a large part of why I left silicones behind to begin with. Eventually I ended up putting my hair in a bun for a couple of days to get me safely to wash day. Easy, but kind of defeated the point.
Wash day: Caught up in day to day life my week with silicones actually turned into two. I’d forgotten to purchase a sulphate shampoo (force of habit I suppose) which is necessary for removing the silicone build-up, so I just reached for one of my regular cleansers. I proceeded with my wash day as normal. After applying my original (silicone- free) styling products my hair came out unusually stringy and weighed down. A few more days passed and I was feeling really deflated: why was my hair not performing well? - something wasn’t right. (At this point I should mention that I’d totally forgotten that I needed to actually rinse out the silicone. It was a busy week okay). After a day or two of me (quite literally) scratching my head, I came to the sudden realisation that I’d not rinsed out the silicones correctly. I was so astonished at the difference in my hair after rinsing out the silicones! My curls were back, albeit a little dried out, but nothing a few DC seshes wouldn’t fix!
Final thoughts: This ‘test’ confirmed all that I had anticipated: Firstly, that my hair would get clogged by the silicones which would prevent my normal products working on my curls. Secondly, the resulting build up would weigh my down hair. Thirdly, my hair wasn’t receiving the hydration it desperately needed and resulted in dry, brittle strands and curls not forming as they should. Lastly (and most importantly) the dreaded itchy scalp.
Silicones can be beneficial as they can make hair feel more manageable, however using sulfates too often will dry your hair out. It’s a difficult balance and everyones hair has different needs! Personally, the lustre and health of my hair since ditching such ingredients and using products such as Bouclème speaks for itself. I’m a convert, hair health first always!
For more info on other ingredients to be aware of please check out my blog: ‘Clean Up Your Haircare: Ingredients to Avoid & Why’
Great article – I had a similar experience by accidentally using a silicone product – first day it felt great but Not so great after the first day so had to clarify to get rid of it.